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54 per cent. of Londoners oppose plans to award the Mayor of London extra powers to decide planning applications across the capital.
Mr. Slaughter: To respond to the hon. Gentlemans second point, it all depends on how the question is put, although I am sure that Conservative-controlled London Councilsor whatever it is called nowasked it in an impartial manner. I have seen the wording of the questions in the GLA survey, which seemed absolutely clear. The survey revealed that Londoners supported the extension of planning powers. They see the terrible mess that Tory councils are making of planning in London.
The hon. Gentleman was treading on thinner ice when he mentioned the decent homes programme. I am sure that Westminster council is giving the Government full credit for supplying all the funds for the programme and that it is explaining why in the previous 20 years it could do nothing to renew and improve its housing stock. I remind him that the Tory housing spokesman in his borough said of the decent homes programme:
It saddled us with £192 million worth of debt.
The reason we need greater emphasis on affordable housing and the planning powers that will deliver it in London is twofold, the first of which is simple humanitarian grounds. I do not intend to detain the House today, but in the hot air and statistics that are sometimes generated, we often lose sight of real human misery. We can argue about the politics of it one way or another, but the housing crisis in London is a consequence of the overheating of the London housing
market, making both rented and for-sale housing simply unaffordableand not just to people on low incomes, but to people on several times as much. Many people are living in temporary and often overcrowded accommodation. Surely all London Members, and particularly inner-London Members, encounter that problem every week in their surgeries.
In the 20 or more years during which I have had to deal with these matters, I cannot remember so many people coming to my surgeries, telling me that they have five children and are living in a one-bedroom flat. They are now being told by the local authority that it is statutory overcrowding because the fifth child has reached one year of age, so they can move up one band in the choice-based letting scheme. That makes a bit of a mockery of the idea of choice-based lettings. Equally, people are living in temporary accommodation for several yearsa better quality of accommodation on the whole and certainly in comparison with the bed-and-breakfast accommodation that the Tory Government subjected people to, but it is not really suitable as a home. It can be former bed-sit accommodation, which people cannot settle into and which has, scandalously, been rented in my constituency for £300 or £400 a week for a one or two-bedroom flat. That makes a mockery of the housing market, producing not only human misery, but profiteering. That must be dealt with.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I am listening carefully to my hon. Friends argument. Is not the critical factor that there are different housing markets in different parts of the country, which makes it important that London receives the support that Londons particular housing market needs? Who better to reflect that than the person who has overall democratic control of the London region? Does my hon. Friend support the Mayors view that affordable rented accommodation should be the overwhelming priority for Londons needs?
Mr. Slaughter: I certainly support that view and I wish only that Conservative councils in my constituency supported itor, indeed, were indifferent to it. In fact, they take the exact opposite view. In Hammersmith and Fulham borough, the inner one of the two boroughs that my constituency covers, there are 8,400 people on the waiting list, 1,700 people in temporary accommodation and 9 per cent. of families live in overcrowded accommodation
I hear an uncharacteristically cheap point, shouted from a sedentary position by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). He might not be following my argument, but I thought that I was setting out in a non-political wayI shall come to the political part laterwhy the London housing market has produced such results. I freely say that more affordable rented homes should be built and I sincerely hope that the Government will address that in the comprehensive spending review. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to reflect on why, against that backgroundand against the fact that the Labour council in Hammersmith and Fulham has the best
record in London on building affordable homesthe first decision of the new Conservative administration was to cancel, wherever possible, the affordable rented homes programme.
Mr. Slaughter: I hear another sedentary comment that it is not true, so I shall provide one or two examples. I was not going to do so, but now I shall. What possible motivation, other than one of extreme ideology or electoral manipulation, could there be for an inner-London council to go out of its way to cancel an affordable rented homes programme that had already received funding from the Housing Corporation and already had planning permission? I cannot see any justification for that. Departing slightly from my brief, I shall provide two examples, only one of which indicts a callous Tory council, as the other involves a housing association.
I apologise for raising an issue that I have already raised at some length in an Adjournment debate, but I do so because further developments have taken place, which exemplify exactly why the Mayor needs extra powers. The largest single housing development in my constituency at the moment was originally a 75 per cent. affordable housing development. The incoming Conservative council, by way of agreeing small changes to the application, insisted that the percentage of affordable housing be reduced to 64 per cent. Nevertheless, it was still a good scheme: it was roughly a third market, a third shared ownership and a third social rented housing.
On one clear working day before the planning committee made a decision, the leader of the council called in the developer and insisted that the rented housing be changed to shared ownership housing. That is a matter ultimately, as I have said previously, for the Standards Board for England. What happened then is an interesting development. The GLA was waiting expectantly for this schemeit was a large scheme of 450 homesto be referred to it, but the Conservative councils said that they were not ready and were not sure. Meanwhile, the Housing Corporation had withdrawn the £30 million of public money because the scheme was no longer worthy of being funded.
What has happened since that timeabout six weeks agois that in a Dutch auction the social housing developer, Genesis Housing Group, went to the Housing Corporation and asked what minimum amount of social rented housing could be put on the site in order to get public funding. It literally asked whether it was 70, 80, 90 or 91 units.
Kate Hoey: When I hear the word Genesis, it immediately makes me want to jump up. Is my hon. Friend aware that that same housing association is the body that bought the Church Commissioners property through some sort of multi-deal and is now trying to sell as many off as possible, despite the fact that those homes were intended for people on lower incomes? Some of these housing associations get away with a lot of things, simply because they are housing associations, but in many cases they are not much better than some private developers.
Mr. Slaughter: My hon. Friend anticipates the point that I was coming on tothat it is not only Conservative and Liberal councillors who are taking liberties with affordable housing in London, because housing associations and statutory bodies such as the Housing Corporation are also doing it.
Mr. Dismore: I am listening with great interest to my hon. Friends example. Does he think that the Conservative-controlled council that he mentioned has hired Lady Porter as one of its consultants? One of the policies that was never really examined as part of the homes for votes scandal was her complete abuse of the planning system to ensure that poor people who might well have been Labour voters were never allowed to live in Westminster.
Mr. Slaughter: I notice that there has been a hastily drafted new priority for the Conservative council in Hammersmith, which is always to prioritise home ownership. What we read into that is that social rented housing is always de-prioritised. I do not wish to detain the House, but this is a fascinating saga [Interruption.] It is no wonder that Conservative Members do not wish to hear the ins and outs of it
Peabody Trust is a significant social landlordrather similar to Genesisthat operates a large number of social rented houses in my constituency. I was somewhat perturbed to find out a few months ago that it is in the process of selling a total of 1,100 good-quality, high-space, standard social rented homes in order to produce some form of income or capital to renew the rest of its stock. That has been done with the consent of the Housing Corporation. Given the lengths to which Labour councils, Labour councillors and the Government go to ensure the provision of more social rented units in London, it is a scandal that existing RSLs are selling good-quality homes on the open market. Those homes will never be replaced in that form.
Jeremy Corbyn: I agree with my hon. Friends point about the Peabody Trust. It was set up as a charity to provide housing for people in desperate housing need in London. The bunch who run it at the moment have no right to sell off those properties and we look to the Housing Corporation to protect social tenants in London, not allow them to be thrown to the wolves of the private market.
If the statutory bodies such as the Housing Corporation, the Tory elected boroughs and, in some cases, the RSLs in London were doing the job that we would all like them to do, some of the provisions in the Bill might not be necessary. It makes sense that
strategic powers for housing and planning should pass to the strategic body, with the caveat that we must safeguard local decisions. However, we probably would not be debating this Bill were it not for the mostly deliberate neglect by Conservative councils and the spineless attitude of some of the statutory bodies.
The debate is moving on from the 50 per cent. point. I know that most Conservatives, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) has suggested, are still not persuaded of that point, but an increasing number of Conservative councils areand that makes me suspicious. They are persuaded of it because they wish to build housing for salenot low-cost housing, but housing that will sell for £200,000, £300,000 and even £400,000. It is an act of the utmost cynicism to purport to build affordable housing while actually building housing that is way out of reach not only of people who wish to move out of rented social housing, but of anybody
That is a scandal, and it is one that the GLA and the Mayor, to whom I have spoken about it, are in a position to address. In boroughs such as Hammersmith and Ealing, it is virtually impossible for anyone who does not have a telephone number salary or a substantial private income to get on to the housing ladder. We must build either genuine low-cost housing for sale or affordable rented housing. Without those two parts of the equation we will not address the issue. It is a scandal that the Conservatives intend to pursue their line.
Mr. Dismore: To emphasise my hon. Friends point, I would add that it is essential that affordable rented accommodation is available throughout London and not ghettoised in those areas where land prices are lower, if we are to maintain sustainable communities throughout the capital. That is why the Bill is so important.
In the current climate, the Bill is the right thing to do, although the safeguards are necessary, because there is a crisis in housing in London and those who are charged with addressing it are not doing so properly. Indeed, Conservative councils are doing the opposite. Their attempts to contain the development of affordable housing are victimising the most vulnerable people whom they should be representing in their boroughs. Plus ça change.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con):
Localism has been one of the themes of this debate. I think, and I am sure that many of my hon. Friends agree, that localism is becoming more important, not less. For example, on
the issue of social exclusion, it is often the most marginalised in our society who have the most difficulty with remote bureaucracy. If we can bring bureaucracy closer to people, it can assist with that problem, as well as many others that have been discussed this evening.
As well as espousing localism in its true form, I also support mayors. Local mayors have much to commend them and there are some interesting examples round the country. In many instances, therefore, I support the transfer of powers from central Government to mayors. The problem with the Bill, and its flawed psychologyably spelled out by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait)is that while it includes some transfers from central Government to the Mayor, it also includes crucial transfers of power from the boroughs to the Mayor. Although the Minister for Housing and Planning is a very logical woman, there is no logical way to defend the transfer of powers on housing and planning from the boroughs to the Mayor and espouse localism at the same time.
Much of the difficulty stems from the original conception behind the Mayor and the Greater London assembly. The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) went into the history of the issue, and we all remember that the Government essentially chose to avoid hard choices and fudged many of the issues by inserting a third tier of government between central Government and the existing boroughs. That inevitably requires a precise definition of what each layer of government will do. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, that leads to tensions, wrangling, the need to redefine the position in the light of experiencewhich is what is happening this eveningand increased complexity.
I submit that complexity is the enemy of democracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) made an important point when she said that if we want people to participate in local democracy, to vote and be involved, we must keep it simple. Complexity of the sort that we have in London is inimical to real involvement. If it is over-complex, it becomes a matter for the experts, not the people who are not experts and do not understand, even though they wish to do so.
To take a local example from Orpington, one of my constituents, Mr. Vic Heasman, was concerned about large lorries going down a country lane. They were damaging the pavements and hedgerows and were a safety hazard for local residents and the children of a nearby school. He therefore tried to find out who gave the lorries permission to travel down that narrow country lane. He asked Bromley council, but it was nothing to do with it. He asked Transport for London, but it was nothing to do with it. He asked the Mayors office, but it was nothing to do with him. He asked the police, but it was nothing to do with them. In fact, he discovered, after three months of trying, that the Association of Local Government issued the permits for those large lorries. It took three months of hard effort by that determined constituent to discover who was responsible before anything could be done about the issue. That exemplifies the problem, created by the Government, of a complicated system of local government in London.
It need not have been like that. The Government may claim that it was the only way forward given the existing situation in London, but there were other models. Paris has a different model, for example. It is defined by the historic core inside the boulevard périphérique and banlieues outside it. London could have adopted a similar model, with only two layers of government rather than three. Many of the difficulties that we now face, which have occasioned the Bill, would have been done away with, but the Government chose a three-tier system. It is increasingly centralised and over complicated.
I am especially concerned about housing, where the complexities and difficulties are most severe. I shall not spell out the details, as we are short of time and, unlike the previous speaker, I wish to be brief. The truth is that the powers that boroughs such as Bromley have in relation to housing are circumscribed and directed by the Mayor who, in turn, must pay attention to the national housing strategy.
We know a lot more about the national housing strategy after the second report from Mrs. Barker. Like her first, it is a crude and soulless throwback to the era of predict and provide. She has simply taken the forecasts of possible housing demand and advocated that the necessary housing can be supplied by a process of densification an invented, ugly, word for an ugly process that causes suffering to people in the suburbs, and elsewhere.
In her report, Mrs. Barker makes no attempt to analyse the demand for housing. For example, I and others have often made the point that a significant element in housing demand, especially in London, is the high level of immigration. In the Select Committee the other day, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality was asked whether he had looked into the effect of high levels of immigration on housing in London. He had no answer, but immigration is a factor. We all know that we benefit economically from high levels of immigration, but we must consider the implications for housing and public services. Whatever ones conclusion, it is absurd not to consider the matter.
Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman mentioned his unhappiness with what the Barker report had to say about housing, as it proposes a laissez-faire approach that would let the market rip. However, is he aware that that is exactly the position adopted by his own Front-Bench spokesman? Perhaps he should take the matter up with him.
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