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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick): I can inform my hon. Friend that, recognising the acute need for affordable housing in the south-west, the Government have given a 48 per cent. increase in capital fundingthe highest funding increase of all the English regionsto the south-west. That will be used to support the provision of up to 9,500 additional affordable homes over the next two years.
Linda Gilroy: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I know that he understands the misery caused by overcrowding and all the other problems associated with the lack of a suitable housing supply, so he will also understand the need to do even more than has been done so far, although we welcome it greatly. Will he take an interest in and, indeed, support the work being done in Plymouth to explore the role of community land trusts and the mutual home ownership model in helping us to increase the housing supply in Plymouth and the south-west?
My hon. Friend raises a useful point. The Government are always interested in innovative new ideas for the provision of affordable housing, although such proposals should be assessed rigorously. I am informed that English Partnerships is exploring the
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possibility of piloting a community land trust model in Stroud. We shall closely monitor developments there and in Plymouth.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): When the Minister and his Department consider affordable housing, will he not forget the contribution made by the tens of thousands of almshouses throughout the country? The evidence from the Almshouse Association is that some of the smaller and weaker almshouses are being overwhelmed by regulation, to such an extent that they are applying to the Charity Commission for permission to change their charitable objectives so that they can sell their housing stock and become grant-making charities, which helps no one.
Jim Fitzpatrick: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The Government have made it clear that housing and affordable social housing are at the top of the Deputy Prime Minister's agenda. We are spending some £3 billion this year and next investing in affordable social homes and we will provide 100,000 homes for new buyers between now and 2010. We will address all aspects of housing to ensure that the decades of under-investment in house building and the provision of homes are reversed.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend read the report recently produced by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, "Affordability and the intermediate housing market"? If not, I recommend that he does so. It is a thorough report, which highlights concerns relating to the measures of affordability currently used by his Department and confirms that they do not fairly assess affordability in the south-west, which is the least affordable area in the country.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I listened closely to my hon. Friend's points. I have said that we accept and acknowledge the particular difficulty in the south-west. I am familiar with the excellent Joseph Rowntree report. Indeed, I was interviewed about it on ITV London on Sunday. It supports the Government's proposals on new house building and identifies the fact that we have been under-building for decades and need to address that deficiency.
Julia Goldsworthy: Will the Minister elaborate on exactly where in the south-west support will be focused and give his Department's definition of affordable housing? He will know that in Cornwall the gap between incomes and house prices is the greatest in the country. There are concerns that we will not see any benefit from the investment.
The hon. Lady takes a keen interest in these matters and I welcome her participation in this Question Time. Affordable social housing schemes from
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the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister cover all aspects of housing, including rent, shared ownership, equity schemes and key worker schemes. We are looking at ways to bring housing into the market for people on all levels of income. As for the south-west, she will know that the regional housing boards have identified their regions priorities and are responsible for drawing up plans to tackle those priorities.
The Minister of Communities and Local Government (Mr. David Miliband): On 20 September, my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Deputy Prime Minster announced an extension to the terms of reference of Sir Michael Lyons' independent inquiry. It will review the current and emerging role of local government and produce a series of documents ending with his final report at the end of 2006. Sir Michael will set out his case in the interim report later this year.
Christine Russell: I thank my right hon. Friend for his helpful reply. Does he agree that the principle of fairness must be central to any reform of local government funding? Will he look at the present situation, as it is estimated that one in three low-income households entitled to council tax benefit does not make a claim?
Mr. Miliband: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and I assure her that we are working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that council tax benefit is claimed by people who are entitled to it.
Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): Can the Minister confirm that the Lyons inquiry and revaluation were postponed after detailed analysis showed that 2.2 million households would go up one or more council tax bands and that the cost of appeals would be so large that it would destabilise local government finance?
Mr. Miliband: What I can confirm is that the decisions were made after detailed discussions with Sir Michael Lyons. They include reflection on the fact that the worst thing that we can do is clobber two teachers living together with a local income tax. We shall certainly not do that.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper):
In September, the Government announced that articles 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the energy performance of buildings directive will be implemented in April next year in the changes to part L of the building regulations.
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Dr. Whitehead: I welcome the commitment to part L and the working party on existing private sector housing. Is my hon. Friend aware of remaining concerns about self-certification and measurements of buildings? Is she willing to meet the directive implementation advisory groupthe professional body that is looking at the problemto discuss those concerns?
Yvette Cooper: I will happily meet my hon. Friend and the experts whom he chooses to bring with him. I know that he has great expertise and interest in the matter, which is why he tabled a private Member's Bill on the subject. We have already issued proposals relating to self-certification and I am happy to discuss that with him.
The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): The Thurrock Thames Gateway development corporation will drive regeneration and economic development and accommodate the borough's growth. The corporation is preparing a regeneration framework in consultation with Thurrock council and others.
Andrew Mackinlay: Now that extensive planning powers have been granted to the development corporation, will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to reaffirm the Government's commitment to the green belt, and indicate to the development corporation that there should be a presumption that all development will be within the footprint of brown land, derelict land or land that has appropriate use?
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