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When I served as an elected member on the Trafford local authority in the north-west, I represented a town-centre ward for nine years. That part of Trafford is a desirable area with good schools, so it was a target
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for housing development. Most of the substantial planning applications resulted in a large volume of objections from local residents, and a key part of my work as an elected member was dealing with them. However, at the same time, we had a shortage of homes in the area. The situation was difficult for couples, families and young people who wanted to get their first independent accommodation and move out of their parents’ home.

We know that the number of households has increased by 30 per cent. over the past 30 years. We clearly have an ageing population because people are living longer. However, we must balance other key factors when we consider the mix of housing that we need. There are now more lone-parent households. Most elected representatives, especially those in local government, will find that they are continually dealing with couples who have split up, both of whom want accommodation in which their children can live for part of the time, which also increases the numbers of houses that we need.

It is predicted that the population will have grown by 11 per cent., or 5.7 million people, by 2026. The number of households is increasing by 209,000 a year, of which 72 per cent. will be single-person households, which is a key point. However, there is a gap, because we are building only 168,000 extra homes a year. We must acknowledge that there is thus a shortfall in housing. The Government’s ambition in response to the Barker review is to increase the supply of new homes to 200,000 a year by 2016. Of course, it is also recognised that new homes must be in sustainable communities.

Planning guidance has been changing since I served in local government. The main guidance for planning policy on housing was set out in planning policy guidance note 3, which was published in 2000. PPG3 became a well-known acronym in local government. However, I understand that it will be replaced later this year by planning policy statement 3. The main difference seems to be a move away from the simple predict-and-provide approach to housing towards one of planning, monitoring and managing. We need such an approach on planning, so the choice is to be applauded.

The local housing market has not responded to local need, and it is no exaggeration to say that the shortage of housing causes absolute misery in communities. We want residents to be able to get their first step on the housing ladder. People often want to take that first step in the area in which they grew up, where their family and friends are. However, my experience shows that areas often become overheated. In the town centre that I represented, small, new apartments that were built were put on the market for about £200,000, which was way above what a young person or couple in that area could afford.

The planning system has a role to play in improving the responsiveness and flexibility of the housing market because everything that I saw suggested that if the housing market was left to its own devices, it would not meet all needs. So we need affordable units of starter accommodation for couples and young people and in other areas we need affordable family homes. We also need much more accommodation for older people. The area I represented had the largest concentration of older people anywhere in the borough. Some of
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it—sheltered housing, for example—was very good, but nowhere near enough of that type of housing was available to support the many people growing older and frailer.

The Bill may prevent the development of sufficient accommodation for older people’s needs, which is one of my main concerns about it. We are considering what we need in sustainable communities, but I feel that the needs of older people merit much more consideration.

A constituent told me about one of his friends who had grown older and whose wife had died. His standards declined and he even failed to wash or keep up at all with how he looked. He simply could not keep up the maintenance of his home, which was burgled, so he became fearful and his health went into even further decline. My constituent, speaking on behalf of his friend, asked whether there was a service to help with the very difficult move from his lifelong home. The man was living in the place he had shared with his wife and he needed to move somewhere warm and secure that would be more suitable for him as he got older. I faced the difficulty that local government did not really have such a service at that time, when the housing market just produced what the housing market produced and there was nobody around to help that person with the move.

At that time, the sort of help that the man required did not exist, but I believe that it is more available now because we have sheltered housing with wardens and even a move to extra care in housing, so that people can remain in their own homes and receive the sort of care that was previously available only in nursing homes. That is the mix of housing needed in most areas. Having suitable and sufficient accommodation for older people and a change in the type of accommodation as people grow older is increasingly becoming a problem. It has started to be recognised, but we need to pay much more attention to it.

I have spoken about the mix of houses needed in most areas. Without the appropriate mix of accommodation to meet the needs of older people, their health can rapidly decline, so we really need the right mix. We also need a mix of measures to make new houses sustainable, to make them energy efficient and efficient in the use of water in the kitchen and bathroom, which the last two speakers mentioned. Improved fittings and appliances can help. The bigger issue is that water companies must address the level of leaks, but that matter is probably outside the scope of today’s debate.

I understand that there is to be a strengthened code for sustainable homes, which will ensure that new homes are efficient in energy and water. That is important not just for the environment, because as the code suggests, householders need better information about the running costs of their homes. There is now a virtuous circle: using less water and energy is the aim, but it entails saving money on utility bills, which most people want. I believe that the strengthened code will incorporate that.

In growth areas such as health and education, I understand that the Government are ensuring that the main public expenditure programmes are flexible and responsive to growing communities. In my constituency,
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education presents the opposite problem to securing adequate supply because we have falling rolls. Schools across my constituency, particularly primary schools, are having to contemplate school mergers because not enough children are being born in our communities. Having a better housing mix, particularly more family homes in some areas, would help to ensure the continuing viability of our schools. It is not only a question of there being too few homes, because in some areas it is the type of home that is unsuitable.

I want to return to health planning, which the Bill touches on and we discussed in today’s earlier debate. For me, health planning, as I mentioned in an intervention earlier today, is not about saving small hospitals. The key point about hospitals in respect of what communities need as more houses are built is that they should provide safe and effective services. A difficult tension is developing. There is a tendency for hon. Members of all parties to argue for “save the local hospital” campaigns when we should campaign for safe and effective services for our constituents. We need hospitals with appropriate neo-natal and paediatric services. Those are often highly specialised units and it is not possible for them to be available in every hospital. We need suitable diagnostics, and every hospital should have an MRI scanner and the other sorts of scanner that are needed for care and treatment.

All the discussions that I have held with NHS professionals suggest that we need hospitals of a sufficient size to provide the right number of staff with expertise, especially consultants. When I was in local government, we had a long-running battle to try to hang on to our district general hospital but, as we discussed the matter with NHS professionals, we began to realise that there was a problem with the number of consultants that a hospital of that size could sustain. We discussed whether it was safe, whether there would be a proper career path and whether we would get the right and best people for our hospital. Those matters are important, too.

Not just anybody can diagnose cancer. It requires expertise, and operations and treatment should be conducted by those who are experienced and can manage to perform the required number of operations every year. Health planning must therefore be linked to more effective community and primary care services. That is beginning to develop in a—dare I say it?—healthy way in my area.

In the Leigh area, there is an admirable walk-in centre, which also serves my constituency. A new primary care centre is about to be built in Walkden in the centre of my constituency. The new local improvement finance trust—LIFT—centre will include GP services, a clinic that offers physiotherapy, rehabilitation, audiology and a children’s clinic. It is vital to my community for all those service to come together so that, for example, an older person who has had a stroke will not have to travel to Hope hospital some distance away, or to Bolton or Wigan, but can get the rehabilitation treatment and physiotherapy locally. That also means that family members could accompany the person more easily.

Transport, which the Bill describes as condition 6, has been mentioned in the debate. The measure would provide for

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That is peculiar. Most people in local government have been working with the assumption that we should encourage people to use public transport. In my area of the north-west, that means the Metrolink tram. A guided busway from Leigh to Manchester will soon be added to that. The tram has led to people switching from private to public transport and lessening road use. As with the tube in London, people find that the tram is a good mode of public transport.

Transport is another weak aspect of the Bill because we should not simply cater for an increasing amount of traffic. The assumption in planning is to encourage the use of public transport. To go by the staff who work in my constituency office, we cannot assume that younger people will drive to work. We should encourage them to use public transport. The Bill does not cover that and is therefore deficient.

I understand the competing issues that affect planning and I have several years’ experience of dealing with residents who are concerned about new housing developments. Such concerns are still expressed to me as a Member of Parliament, and that happens to many other hon. Members, too. However, people in all age groups are affected by the problem of not finding a home suitable for their needs. In my constituency, that means young people, including couples, families and older people. If the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) does not believe the amount of homelessness that exists—some of his comments implied that he did not—I suggest that he attend the surgery of one my hon. Friends with a London constituency.

Lyn Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that it might be a good idea for the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) to visit one of my constituency surgeries, given that two of the wards in my constituency have the highest amount of overcrowding in the country?

Barbara Keeley: Yes, I do. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be interested in that invitation, but he does not seem to be responding to it at the moment.

A recent case in my constituency involved a mother with a 14-year-old daughter who had always lived in an upstairs flat and had never had a garden to play in. There are also an awful lot of old or frail people who cannot find a home suitable for their needs. It will be very difficult to deal with such people, or with people being treated for cancer or other conditions, who are living in unsuitable accommodation, if we do not proceed in a different way to provide the necessary growth in housing.

There is a case for housing growth, and we have to listen to it; otherwise, we shall condemn children and families to live in overcrowded homes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) mentioned. We need to reflect on this issue and to take it seriously, although some hon. Members do not appear to do so. There are people bringing up a family over many years—perhaps decades—in a two-bedroom flat. As the children get older, it becomes more difficult for siblings of different genders to share a bedroom, so the living space has to be used as bedrooms. If all the accommodation space is used as bedroom space, there
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is no living room in which the children can do their homework and study. Educational underachievement then becomes a factor of overcrowding, as well as poor quality of life.

Lyn Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that overcrowded households can also have an impact on the health of the children and families involved? We often see an almost constant succession of illnesses in such households, owing to the fact that there is inadequate space and ventilation for a growing family.

Barbara Keeley: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. This affects not only children, although we think primarily of children when we are discussing overcrowding and housing need. After all, why should a child grow up in an overcrowded home? Anyone who uses Westminster tube station will have seen, going down the escalator, the large poster showing this Chamber overcrowded with babies and children. Every time I see it, I think it is a powerful image. Those of us who are adequately accommodated should think through what it is like for people trying to bring up a family in an overcrowded situation. We cannot have that.

I am talking not only about the start of life, although these problems are bad enough at that time. If we read through to the end of life—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I should like to remind the hon. Lady that the Bill is about an infrastructure audit. I would be greatly comforted if her remarks could come back to that subject.

Barbara Keeley: I was just about to refer the effect of overcrowding at the end of someone’s life, in that people cannot be discharged from hospital to die at home, even if that is their wish, if their home is overcrowded. Those who propose measures such as those in the Bill that would reduce or restrain housing development should take overcrowding into account. It is the biggest driving factor in these issues, and we cannot have that.

We must provide the homes that our communities need, in terms of the mix of housing that I have mentioned, and of the energy and water efficiency measures. I welcome the fact that the Government have changed their planning approach, through planning policy statement 3, from the plan, monitor and manage approach to a plan-led approach that will allocate land for housing and then assess the capacity of existing and planned social and transport infrastructures.

The Bill applies to the construction of more than 150 houses or flats by the same developer on a single site, or on contiguous sites, within a period of five years. I do not think that that aspect of the Bill really helps.

As I said earlier, I have had experience of a housing hot spot. Developers there were keen to build expensive apartments in quite small numbers. They would buy a plot containing one or two large properties, of which there were many in the town-centre ward that I represented, then build 10 or 15 expensive luxury apartments. They would repeat the process on many sites. Housing change of that kind caused a number of problems in itself. When we speak of audits, or of planning that will affect
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only areas containing at least 150 houses, we ignore the fact that a community can be significantly affected by small numbers of units.

As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South, those who build small developments consisting of 10 or 15 luxury apartments can avoid the requirement to provide affordable homes. We found again and again that it was the small developments that did not provide such homes. Some of the larger developments of flats or houses—the few that we had—were more likely to provide them. I think that local authorities could do more to ensure that some mid-scale housing developments supplied affordable housing, to the benefit of the community.

I believe that the plan-led approach of PPS3 can ensure that local authorities provide homes, and that sustainable communities and homes are developed.

2.6 pm

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) on the Bill, and the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who presented it so ably on his behalf.

I understand the reasoning behind the Bill because of my background in architecture. I spent most of my life as a junior in an office talking to other architects, who would sit and puzzle over how we would design, for instance, a housing estate. The planners would debate with us what could be on the estate, and about the height and design of the houses, while failing utterly to provide the infrastructure that the estate required. I found it puzzling that there was so little joined-up thinking about how we developed our towns. It must be said, though, that having seen what planners did in the 1960s as a result of joined-up thinking, we have knocked a good deal of it down. Perhaps the lack of any real planning constituted a reaction to some of the appalling planning decisions of the late 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s.

I understand the problems that we are discussing. When I first set eyes on Teignbridge in about 1990, the electorate was 74,000. It is now the fourth largest in the country, at 88,000. We envisage more development to deal with an increase of 10,000 in the population, and even more at a later stage. We are suffering from the consequences of the lack of joined-up thinking. There are pressures from time to time on the health service—on doctors’ practices and on hospitals—to say nothing of roads and water.

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