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The Deputy Prime Minister: As usual, the right hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. He is thinking about the transferability of value, which will obviously be part of the debate. We do not envisage that happening, but we are issuing a consultation document. We will pay serious attention to the point. In regard to best value land, the matter is agreed with the Treasury. That does not alter the fact that most of the land will still be operating under best value. It is interesting to consider whether it is best value for the community for people to get a home. At the end of the day, if we go for best value in everything, what happens is that the land is sold at a very high price and houses are built on it. The people who provide the social housing that is included in the mix through section 106 come to me and say, "Look, if you want this, given the cost of land and housing, you will have to pay a subsidy." In some cases, grants for key worker homes are up to £80,000. This is ever escalating. I think that there is a better way of doing it, instead of fuelling market prices by selling land at the top price.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab):
I welcome the proposals in today's statement, especially as they give local authorities a level playing field. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the relinkage of jobs and housing which, just as the 1947 Labour Government did with the new town project, gives people opportunities through a job and a home. Does he agree that many people, particularly in the Conservative party in West Sussex, do not want to make sure that everyone still has a good
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chance of a home? They have turned their backs on many people who desperately need houses and embraced silly rhetoric about concreting over the south-east. They are not getting down to the real issue and good young families cannot secure housing in West Sussex, because those people are happy to treat the matter as an election issue.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Sustainable communities are not only about building housing but providing the supporting infrastructure in education, health and transport systems. The extra investment that we are putting into the new growth areas does precisely that and will also be critical in providing jobs. Our approach to new towns reflected that and our new community growth areas will certainly do so. I have mentioned the possibility of giving more information to people who are considering moving to a different area. They might want to move from my hon. Friend's constituency up to Hull, where houses and jobs are available. We will therefore provide more information, as it is important to connect jobs as well as housing to quality of life. Too often in the past, we have given people houses, but there were no jobs, so we had to pay housing benefit, and those people just existed. That was the policy, in particular, under the previous Administration.
As for the Conservatives' arguments about concreting over the south-east, the fact that density has increased and that I can build 200,000 more houses on the same land on which they envisaged 900,000 suggests much more effective land usage. We can build more houses without taking any more land. That is an intelligent approach to the housing problem. The previous Administration got into a mess because they did not have any commonsense policies.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it will cause misery for the whole population if extra houses are provided in already overcrowded areas without the provision of additional facilities such as roads and health services? Does he agree that, in Southend, where we have a serious housing problem and a large number of houses in multiple occupation, providing additional houses would simply make the already appalling traffic congestion worse unless the Government make provision for the ring road that we have needed for a desperately long time?
The Deputy Prime Minister:
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. In the growth areas, including the Thames gateway near his constituency, we are putting those things together. However, he raised the problem of growth in established towns, and the question of whether facilities will be available to make that growth sustainable. I announced today another £40 million for growth areas that require such investment if they are to be sustainable. The transport infrastructure fund that we announced was intended to ensure the proper investment necessary for sustainable communities, so that more and more people are not packed into an area where the services cannot carry them. It is a serious point, and we are addressing it.
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Peter Bradley (The Wrekin) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister mentioned the problem of sons and daughters who cannot afford to live where they were brought up. That is certainly the case in many rural communities in my constituency and elsewhere. Does he acknowledge that the issue is not just how many new homes are provided, but where they are provided? Does he accept that the sequential test has the unfortunate consequence of directing the provision of affordable housing to market towns and often away from the villages where it is desperately needed? Will he review his policies and draw up proposals to remove the barriers to the provision of affordable housing in rural communities, where there is support from the community? That is the only way to guarantee their sustainability.
The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the distribution of housing, particularly in rural areas, whether in market towns or villages. There is a responsibility on the Housing Corporation and now the regional housing boards to achieve a balance in the amount of housing and where it is situated. As regards rural areas, I proposed in my statement that local authorities that have land should start ring-fencing it to ensure that the homes are affordable to people who live in the area. We hear in the news that some planning bodies have decided to restrict houses being built in the area. That will not help the people who live there. All it will do is restrict the existing problem. The previous Administration introduced the right to buy in some rural areas, with the restriction that the homes should be sold only to people who live in the area. As I learned from visits to the Lake district and other areas, the house is indeed sold to someone who lives in the area, but usually a wealthy person who wants the property as a holiday let. It does not necessarily go to the young person with a job who wants to stay in the area. We have started introducing some restrictions, but the rural case is important. My proposal today to local authorities is that, if they have some land, why do they not consider providing houses at a price that people can afford, so that they can live in the area, help towards its prosperity and maintain the sustainability that comes from a family living together?
The Deputy Prime Minister:
Yes, it can be to 100 per cent. if tenants so wish, but eventually they may want to buy the house or move on and use the value from the house to buy one in the private market. There were similar schemes previously which allowed that. The difficulty is knowing whether the share should go below 50 per cent. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in these circumstances there are always difficulties with accepting responsibility for maintenance, particularly in the low income groups for which the policies are designed.
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Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on resisting the advocates of extending the right to buy to housing association tenants, with the damaging effects that that would have had in areas of high housing need? May I also congratulate him on reasserting the point that providing people with somewhere decent and permanent to live takes a higher priority than the right to buy?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's comments. Having read the press reports, I do not confirm that there was a battle going on about that at all. It made for good, exciting press chat[Interruption.] Well, nobody quoted anybody who said anything. It was always attributed to a high source, a low source or some other source, but never an actual quote of anybody saying it. It was one of those media battles. The priorities that my right hon. Friend mentioned and the importance of getting houses to people who need them are what concentrate my mind.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister's statement with its support for Plaid Cymru's long-standing policies of extending shared equity, separating the costs of houses and land, and ring-fencing land in rural areas for low-cost housing for local people, but could he tell the House who described those policies last month as being spiteful, desperate, extreme and on the margins of politics? I see that the Deputy Prime Minister is puzzled, so perhaps I can extend to him a kindness and whisper the name of the rightly obscure deputy social justice Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government, Mr. Huw Lewis. What will the Deputy Prime Minister do to inform this personage of this latest policy flip-flop?
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