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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): We have already put in place policies to protect supply and achieve a higher proportion of affordable homes in rural areas, partly through the planning system, but mainly because we have doubled overall funding for affordable homes since 1997 and supported the creation of 230,000 new homes.
Mr. Beith: Assuming that the Government recognise, as I take to be the implication of the Minister's reply, that young families on low rural wages are completely priced out of the market for very expensive housing in rural areas, how does he believe that the arbitrary restriction, proposed by the unelected regional assembly, to about 70 houses a year for each of the Berwick and Alnwick areas will allow for the building of small groups of affordable homes in rural communities?
Jim Fitzpatrick: The right hon. Gentleman obviously raises a concern about Berwick, but I hope that he accepts that investment in affordable housing there has risen to £2 million per year since 2003 and that resources are finite. As he suggests, the North East Housing Board is now looking into how to allocate its resources for the period from 2006 to 2008. Berwick has the opportunity to submit an application that I am sure will be looked at carefully.
Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that, while it is important to provide affordable housing in rural areas, it is equally important to ensure that that housing is decent and of high quality?
Jim Fitzpatrick: Since 1997, the Government have doubled the funding for affordable housing and, as I mentioned, supported the creation of 230,000 new homes. Overall, the capital spending allocation for housing between 1993 and 1997 was halved, whereas we have tripled it to £5 billion. We recently published the document "HomeBuy: Expanding the Opportunity to Own", which is targeted at the lower end of the market. I commend that document to the House.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
(PC): The question of affordable housing has been a massive issue in Wales over the past 10 years. Will the Minister say what consequential payments from the funds to which he has referred were made to Wales?
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Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): Just before the general election, I met a woman in Etwall in my constituency who told me that her daughter works in the NHS and has found it impossible to get on the first rung of the housing ladder. What can my hon. Friend do to facilitate shared ownership in rural areas so that people can remain in their communities and serve them by working in the public service?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The starter home initiative has already provided more than 10,000 homes for first-time buyers. The key worker housing budget is £725 million, and regional housing boards are considering the problem that he has highlighted. In due course, we hope to be able to help 110,000 key workers with accommodation.
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): The Government have allocated funding of £30.5 million for the provision of affordable housing in North Yorkshire through the Housing Corporation's approved development programme in 200405 and 200506 to provide more than 740 affordable homes.
Miss McIntosh: I thank the Minister for that answer, and take this opportunity to congratulate him on his new appointment. Does he accept that the shortage of affordable homes in north Yorkshire has reached acute levels? Nationally, there are 400,000 first-time house buyers in any one year. However, the shared equity scheme will help only 100,000 such people over five years. How can he say that the provisions go far enough in areas such as mine?
Mr. Woolas: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks. I can reassure her that, in preparation for this Question Time, the pressures on her constituency were brought fully to my attention. Those pressures are a serious problem in her part of Yorkshire. In addition to the money being made available, consultation is being held throughout the region about what should happen in the region in future. Moreover, I remind her that other affordable homes are being made available by the market under the provisions of section 106 of the Planning and Compensation Act 1991. However, we acknowledge the pressures in her part of the worldwhich, I may say, is a particularly beautiful one.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)
(Lab): Is the Minister aware that, in my constituency, we suffer from many of the same problems that affect more northern areas of the county? Ilkley is in a very beautiful part of my constituency, but the economic boom in Leeds and the
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excellent train service along the Wharf valley mean that there is a grave shortage of affordable homes for first-time buyers. Would he agree also
Mr. Woolas: I can confirm that the Ilkley area is also a beautiful part of Yorkshire. The problems to which my hon. Friend refers are due to the success of the Government's economic and transport policies. However, I assure her that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and my Front-Bench colleagues are fully aware of the pressures that she has described. That is why we have adopted our policies in respect of affordable homes and first-time buyers.
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): The housing market renewal pathfinders are investing £1.2 billion to create sustainable communities in parts of the north and midlands. My hon. Friend's constituency is already benefiting from £30 million for the north Staffordshire pathfinder up to March next year. Work is under way in the Coalville and Meir estates. Like the other pathfinders, north Staffordshire "Renew" is helping to deliver stronger neighbourhoods and a better mix of housing which people will want to rent or buy.
Mr. Flello: May I seek further reassurance for my constituents that local residents will be at the heart of the plan and their views will be more than taken into consideration all the way through the process?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Indeed, the survey done on the original programmes showed that 80 per cent. of the people participating in the programme very much agreed with it.
The Deputy Prime Minister: The £1.2 billion programme is from Government financing, but all the pathfinder programmes are a combination of public and private financing. The programmes cover some 34,000 homes, 21,000 of which will be refurbished and 10,000 demolished. That is nowhere near the stupid figure quoted in the press, of 400,000 being demolished.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
(Lab): I welcome the fact-finding mission that officials from his office are making to Burslem as we speak. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a follow-up meeting with north Staffordshire MPs, so that we can ensure that all aspects
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of Government policy are joined up to action on the ground in the north Staffordshire pathfinder housing "Renew"?
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