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House of Commons

Wednesday 14 December 2005

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]




That Mr Geoffrey Clifton-Brown be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Mr Andrew Robathan be added to the Committee.—[Mr. Watts.]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

House Building Targets

1. Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): What assessment the Government have made of the infrastructure needed to support their communities plan and regional house building targets. [37194]

The Minister of Communities and Local Government (Mr. David Miliband): The Government believe that infrastructure investment must support housing growth, using funding from mainstream programmes, investment by the private sector and top-up funding from the growth areas programme. For the first five years of the sustainable communities plan, we have committed £1.2 billion of growth area funding to supplement £3.5 billion of transport investment.

Mr. Jackson: I thank the Minister for that answer. Given that in my region, the eastern region, a recent independent report found that £18.5 billion will be required for investment in infrastructure over the next 15 years, may we have a cast-iron guarantee from the Minister that the planning gain supplement announced in the pre-Budget report will not be another of the Chancellor's stealth taxes, and will be ring-fenced to pay for the much-needed infrastructure in the coming years?

Mr. Miliband: A measure that is announced in a pre-Budget statement is an unusual definition of a stealth tax. I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have been clearer and more open about it. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the planning gain supplement, which provides that those who own land and benefit from planning gain should make a contribution to the essential infrastructure. My right hon. Friend has made
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it clear how that will benefit local people. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support. I hope that he will persuade Opposition Front Benchers accordingly.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that this is an important question because house building is important? Is he aware that, for instance, in Birmingham many of the cases that are brought to my advice surgeries involve people who are having difficulty in finding a home? I have some criticisms of Birmingham's handling of homelessness, but there is an urgent need to increase not only house building but the availability of affordable houses for rent as well as purchase.

Mr. Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The House will know that although about 190,000 new households are formed every year, we are building only 150,000 new houses every year. That explains some of the affordability challenges that we face. That speaks directly to my hon. Friend's point, which is that we must increase house building both in the private sector and in the social housing sector.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that local transport links are essential to successful housing development as part of regeneration? Will he agree to support an alternative to Merseytram to link local areas on Merseyside to employment areas and local amenities now that the Government have rejected that vital Merseytram project?

Mr. Miliband: It is tempting for me to make transport policy this morning. However, I will pass on my hon. Friend's concerns to the Department for Transport.

My hon. Friend is right that transport is a vital part of the infrastructure investment that we are discussing. The Department for Transport is making some allocations today in respect of capital funding, which will be of interest to the entire House.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): Does the Minister recognise that the Deputy Prime Minister's apparent desire to smother the garden of England with housing is leading to badly built houses, unsupported by adequate schools and medical services at primary level and by roads? Does he think that that is desirable?

Mr. Miliband: My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is standing up for the next generation, who need greater housing provision. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not joining him in doing that. He talks about smothering the garden of England. Currently, 11.4 per cent. of the south-east is covered by development. My right hon. Friend proposes to raise that to 11.9 per cent. That is not smothering the garden of England but delivering the houses that the next generation needs.

Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): Thousands of new houses have been built in Taunton Deane and elsewhere without adequate shops, public transport or
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other necessary amenities. Does the Minister share my view that it is one thing to construct a group of houses but another thing to build a community?

Mr. Miliband: I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman that we need decent communities as well as decent housing. That is why we are putting so much stress on building a strong economy. We do not control and own shops ourselves—my party has moved on from that. We are committed to transport and other areas of infrastructure that are essential if we are to build the decent communities that we are discussing.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): It was just a touch stealthy that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention the new land development tax for infrastructure from the outset. Perhaps he shares my scepticism that it may never emerge from the Treasury intact. More importantly, on 5 December it was said that this tax would inevitably have to be controlled by unelected regional bodies. Is this simply taxation without any representation?

Mr. Miliband: We should congratulate the hon. Lady on her reappointment. Other Departments' loss is our gain, because I could not have made clearer the position on the planning gain supplement. We believe that people who hold land and benefit from planning permission should contribute to infrastructure costs—that is the right balance. We have made it clear that the majority of returns from the planning gain supplement will be used within the local authority area. [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady contains herself she might learn something. The majority of the money will be used within the local authority area, and the rest will be used to support local people. I am sure that she agrees that it makes sense to build sewerage works and infrastructure development, which, while they may not be within the local authority area, will benefit local people. The money spent on sewerage works and transport may not all be spent directly in the area, but it will still benefit local people.

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): What environmental factors do the Government take into account in their assessment of infrastructure and house building? Will the Minister confirm that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has not signed up to any public service agreement on climate change?

Mr. Miliband: The sustainability appraisals that are at the heart of the environmental work of the ODPM are central to such development. I should have thought that the hon. Lady would welcome the new guidance issued by my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, which shows a 40 per cent. increase in the energy efficiency of all new housing.

Sarah Teather indicated dissent.

Mr. Miliband: The hon. Lady may shake her head and say that it is not good enough, but it is better than standards elsewhere in Europe, so I should have thought that it was good enough for her.
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House Building

2. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect of international migration on the need for house building in the east and south of England. [37195]

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): International migration is a factor in UK population growth, and it is important to the growth of the economy. Household growth is higher than population growth due to demographic and lifestyle changes, particularly an increase in the number of people living alone. The result is growing demand for housing, which affects the south and east of England.

Mr. Turner: I thank the hon. Lady for her reply. Is she aware that Home Office figures accept that migration is such that it requires a new town the size of Slough every two years or a new city the size of Birmingham every 10 years to accommodate people coming to this country? Whose job is it in Government to balance the needs of the economy, to which she referred, with the need to protect the environment? Which Minister is responsible?

Yvette Cooper: I can see the way in which the Tory party wants to campaign on housing policy. We look at the projections for household growth, two thirds of which is the result of more people living alone. The figure will grow from 3.4 million in 1971 to 8.5 million in 2012. It is true that the 29 per cent. of NHS doctors who were born abroad need homes to live in, as do pensioners and widows who live alone as well as the next generation of first-time buyers. In the end, that is the issue. The hon. Gentleman's policy would mean that 70 per cent.—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Will the Minister confirm that the major sources of population growth in the south of England are migration to the south-east from London and increased longevity? In relation to the second group, what steps are being taken to make sure that new house building in the south takes account of the needs of the elderly population?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is exactly right. We need to take account of an ageing and growing population. If we do not do so, in 20 years' time, 70 per cent. of 30-year-old couples who are first-time buyers will not be able to afford their own home. That is the consequence of sticking with existing rates of house building, which is the approach taken by the Opposition. Their leader may say all those nice things about not campaigning on immigration—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady defies the Chair when she keeps going on about Opposition policy. She will not do so again.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): I very much welcome the statement that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made about shared ownership in the pre-Budget statement. It is very valuable, and a great deal of
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money is attached to it. However, will the Minister confirm that it is not new money, as it comes out of the overall housing budget, so every penny spent on shared ownership schemes means that less will be spent on refurbishment or new local authority housing?

Yvette Cooper: No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The proposals that we announced as part of the pre-Budget report are about building a public-private partnership to get more private developers and mortgage lenders to increase the amount of investment in shared equity housing. We think it is right to support shared equity housing. We have set out a big increase in investment in social housing and in shared equity housing. We believe it is right to go further and to bring in additional private sector money as well as additional public sector funding, so that we can support the next generation of home owners.

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