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Dr. Starkey: The hon. Gentleman may be approached by not as many private tenants with problems as council tenants because his constituents believe that an MP has more influence over elected councillors, particularly if they both belong to the same party, than over private landlords.
Mr. Hands: The hon. Lady makes a good and valid point, but my experience in Hammersmith and Fulham does not bear out her argument about the number of people who complain about their RSL compared with the number who make an approach about a private landlord.
The Bill should include measures to improve accountability, not just in the Housing Corporation but in local housing associations. Tenant participation is still low in many RSLs. Tenants associations are packed with placemen who agree with the political direction of the borough in question, or are filled with people deemed politically acceptable to the individuals in charge. We need to strengthen tenants' rights and their participation in housing associations. Housing association tenants are the poor cousins when it comes to tenant power, and that must change.
Another matter over which tenants lack control, and which may be affected by the Bill, is the speed of escalating rent rises, especially in London. It is shame that none of the measures in the Bill will do anything to control housing association rent rises under Labour or make them easier to challenge. The Minister may guffaw, but I am about to challenge him by citing one of his allies. The central Government formula introduced by Labour in 2001 allows housing associations to raise rents according to a formula of the retail price index plus 0.5 per cent plus £2 a weekwe were told that that was "rent restructuring". In practice, most housing associations have levied the maximum allowable annual increase. The Minister does not have to take my word for itI urge him to listen to the words of my Labour predecessor in Hammersmith and Fulham, who told the House on 5 December 2001 at column 134WH:
"In my borough, the Government proposals will lead to higher rent increases in the next 10 years than in the past decadeI remind my hon. Friend that the majority of that was spent under a Conservative Administrationdespite the fact that we have proved that London rent increases have been well above average during that time. The average rent increase in Hammersmith and Fulham over the past 10 years was 23.2 per cent., compared with the projection based on the current proposals"
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is beginning to spin out of orbit so far as the Bill is concerned. This is not the appropriate platform for a general comparative discussion of rents and rates of increase. He should come back to the terms of the Bill.
Mr. Hands: I accept your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely pointing out that great play was made in 1998 of rent rises. That was reversed by rent restructuring in 2001, which led to the Housing Corporation, having previously teamed up with councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham and being a backer of low rentsremember the words of my predecessor: tenants would, ironically, have been better off under the Conservativesbeing metamorphosed overnight into a facilitator of inflation-busting rent rises. We are half way through the so-called rent restructuring, which will see housing association rents rise.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) is trying to be of assistance to the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands). However, as I have already suggested, a wider discussion about rents is out of place.
That brings me to another aspect of the work of the Housing Corporation that is barely addressed but could be endangered by the provisions of the Billthat is, the creation of more shared ownership housing in London. I had the great pleasure of welcoming my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to my constituency last month to look at a shared ownership scheme at Invermead close in Hammersmith, which we hope and expect to be successful. According to the census that I mentioned earlier, shared ownership is just under 1 per cent. of the total housing stock in Hammersmith and Fulham.
The Opposition support shared ownership schemes as a way of helping people on to the property ladder in expensive areas such as Hammersmith and Fulham. We need to consider how the Housing Corporation can encourage more shared ownership builds. Increased powers of delegation may help, although I believe that the shared ownership decision should probably be taken at board level.
Not all shared ownership schemes are a success. One in my constituency has been a spectacular failure to date. Two weeks ago I chaired a meeting of the residents of Mallard house in the new Imperial Wharf development in Fulham, together with officers of the housing associations. It is a pity that the Housing Corporation was not represented. Imperial Wharf is the largest residential housing development seen in west London for many years, with 2,000-odd homes approved so far. It is a flagship development for new Labour, the council and the Housing Corporation. Ken Livingstone described it as
The scheme is half private, half social and is heavily funded by the Housing Corporation, but unfortunately the economics of the scheme do not work for local people. The private housing is extremely expensive. I have some recent property supplements in which homes in Imperial Wharf are advertised at £1.75 million, £1.35 million and so on. Few people can afford that. The social housing was funded by the Housing Corporation under delegated powers that may or may not have been proper. Even local Labour councillors condemn the poor construction and small size of that housing.
The biggest criticism of all, which should be of great interest to the Housing Corporation, stems from the price of the 15 per cent. of the units that are shared ownership, pitched at key workers. Those cost between £320,000 and £410,000 and the scheme is reckoned to be Britain's most expensive so-called affordable housing scheme funded by the Housing Corporation. In rent and mortgage, a typical couple appear to be paying £1,005 a year to live there. In a six-storey block, perhaps
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The more I hear on this subject from the hon. Gentleman, the more I think it would be appropriate for an Adjournment debate, but certainly not for the debate on the Second Reading of the Bill. He is going far too wide in presenting his arguments.
Mr. Hands: The debate on this Bill is being watched closely in Hammersmith and Fulham. Notting Hill Housing Group is one of the biggest recipients of funds under delegated powers from the Housing Corporation. About two years ago, I issued an appeal in our local papers for tenants who had suffered under the group and was amazed by the response. I received e-mails from people complaining about how the group had treated them, and the examples included walls that had fallen down not being repaired and other failings.
The Bill allows powers to be delegated within the Housing Corporation, which could set an unwelcome precedent for some of the housing associations that are administered by and were regulated by the Housing Corporation. It will be difficult to tell housing associations that they cannot have those sweeping delegated powers if the Housing Corporation is allowed them. Residents of estates such as the Chambon, Solon Housing's estate on the river on Carnwath road and Orbit's development at Gwyn close would not like to see increased delegated powers.
Notting Hill Housing Group has a famous history and an exemplary mission, namely to provide low-cost housing in areas of west London with expensive property prices and high private sector rents. It provides more than 11,000 affordable homes, more than 4,000 of which are in Hammersmith and Fulham, and it is taking a keen interest in our debate today.
25 Apr 2006 : Column 531
Nothing prepared me for the public response to the appeal that I put out a couple of years ago. I am currently dealing with a number of Notting Hill Housing Group tenants who are experiencing significant problems and who are watching this debate closely to see whether the delegated powers will have an impact on them. For example, Collette Murray must share her bedroom with her son aged nine, because they cannot use their sitting room owing to the antisocial behaviour of the tenant below. Mrs. Jacobs of Shepherd's Bush road had had her floorboards up for eight years, until I inspected her property.
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