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Andrew George: I accept the broad-brush analysis of national figures, but the point that I was seeking to make was that one cannot apply that rather homogenised approach to everywhere in the country. The figures that I supplied to the Minister show that Cornwall has not lacked growth—its growth was faster than that in many other places—but it has still not addressed the problem of affordability. This requires a much more sophisticated approach than merely heaping more housing on the place.

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the situation is more complex in some areas than in others. My next point is that we then have to examine individual housing markets, many of which reflect a much more complex picture. The nature of the national housing market often means that if, nationally, we do not build more houses, the effects will be felt in every part of the country. Sometimes it will take time for that to happen and sometimes there will be lags in the process, but those effects will be felt.

It is right to say that there are variations. For example, the housing market around Salford in Manchester will be complex because a booming city centre sits alongside areas of low demand, where people have moved out and there is boarded-up housing, with the problems that that brings. Part of the low demand pathfinder approach has been about addressing such problems and the fact that high-demand and low-demand areas can be close to each other.

Similarly, let us consider the relationship between Burnley and Warrington, which are very close together. Burnley has experienced serious problems of low demand, whereas Warrington has experienced a rapid rise in house prices. Rural areas face different pressures because of the need for additional protection for the countryside, and differences in, for example, agricultural wages. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there are particular pressures because of the seasonal labour market, tourism, the impact on wages, and the level of retirement, as well as the demand for second homes. He knows that, and it is not easy to find fair and workable measures to respond to the demand for second homes, which is high in some areas but low in others. The Rural Affordable Housing Commission looked at that in detail and suggested that Michael Lyons should look at it further. It is clear that those problems do not apply to every area and that it is difficult to find an effective response.

Local and regional strategies must reflect local circumstances. The new PPS3, which we introduced 10 days ago, provides greater local flexibility and supports stronger action by local authorities to ensure that additional homes are delivered.

We have also introduced the national housing and planning advice unit, which will look at providing more detailed analysis at regional and local housing market level to support local decision making on how to respond to pressures within the housing market. We want to ensure that we can look at local complexity as well as the national picture. The overall need is for additional supply, but with greater sensitivity in individual areas.

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The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) defended economic liberalism—I think that was his position when teasing the Liberal Democrats—but the problem with his approach is that he is an economic liberal except when local communities, and in particular Conservative local councils, tell him otherwise and that they disagree with his approach. It is for him to decide whether he wants to describe that as economic populism, community populism, Conservative populism, nimbyism or simply having jam on it, but he knows that his approach is inconsistent.

We have set out our approach to planning for housing in PPS3 and we believe that it is the right approach. It emphasises the need to bring forward more land for housing and to take more account of housing demand pressures. It also makes clear the priority for brownfield development in the planning system. Local authorities will have to set their own brownfield targets to help to meet the national target, and they will have to do more to bring forward brownfield land. English Partnerships is working on additional strategies to help them to bring forward more brownfield land. PPS3 also includes additional safeguards compared with the first draft of the statement. There will also be greater flexibility to decide what sort of brownfield land should be developed and what densities should be in their areas, and stronger emphasis on quality, design, green space, homes for families and spaces for children. It also emphasises the need to consider sustainability, and we will make it clear that that must be implemented alongside the new planning policy statement on climate change, which we will publish in draft later this week alongside the timetable to deliver zero-carbon homes.

Our approach to new housing is that we want increased quantity and increased quality at the same time; we want to give local authorities greater flexibility and responsibility at the same time; we want to deliver new homes and higher environmental standards at the same time. That has evolved from the initial Kate Barker report, and our discussions and debates throughout the country. We think that that is the right way forward.

Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. She is being very generous. She said that her Department intended to give local authorities greater powers and flexibility. Taking that into account and the case that I have made to her today, will she tell us whether that will include local authorities’ ability to ensure that an intermediate market can genuinely be developed and that they are not constrained in the way that many local authorities have been by pressure to grant more and more permissions for unfettered housing development?

Yvette Cooper: I question the hon. Gentleman’s argument that the way to develop an intermediate market, shared-ownership housing or lower-cost home ownership is to restrict other kinds of market development. We want more market housing, more shared-ownership housing and more social housing. We believe that all three are necessary. We said that, as part of the new planning policy, local authorities should have greater powers to require more affordable
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housing, shared ownership and social housing on smaller sites, and not simply be limited to larger sites. That is particularly significant in rural areas.

The rural exceptions policy is already in place and we are looking at other ways to expand shared ownership. I think that local authorities could have a much stronger role in shared ownership, particularly in the use of local authority land, but also in other ways of promoting it. We are looking at that further.

Michael Gove: How many local authorities support the social homebuyers scheme?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman often asks that question and I am sure that he has read the answers to parliamentary questions on this in great detail. The social homebuyers scheme has only just begun, as have the local authority and housing association pilots. The first homes were marketed only in November last year and more local authorities are expecting to do so in April. The social homebuyer scheme is an important way of allowing council house and housing association tenants the chance to buy a share in their own home. We also think that there is much wider scope for shared ownership for all sorts of first-time buyers, which is why we set out the shared equity taskforce, which will extend opportunities for home ownership to 160,000 people over the next few years.

I want briefly to cover the remaining issues that were raised as part of the response to the second Kate Barker review. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey raised the importance of community consultation. Part of the reason behind the 2004 Act was to have much greater community involvement at the beginning of the process. If people’s only engagement in the planning is when the notice goes up on the lamp post at the end of their street saying that there will be a new development in the area, they tend to react negatively. Communities should be involved more positively from the beginning.
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That continues to be our approach and it is extremely important because it is the best way to have a positive debate throughout the community about how to meet the additional needs, whether for jobs or housing, in those areas. We take that very seriously.

Our approach to supporting town centres has helped to deliver urban renaissance in many of our towns and cities throughout the country. Regeneration and renaissance are extremely important. The current system requires a series of tests on new developments, including the impact test, the accessibility test, the sequential test, and so on. Some of them overlap and Kate Barker argued that some tests are unnecessary and do not offer out-of-town-centre protection. We shall be interested to hear people’s views on whether there are ways to simplify the process and at the same time to emphasis, if not strengthen, the focus on town centre development, which is extremely important, while also supporting economic development.

I think that everyone agrees that major infrastructure development is a problem under the current planning system. We have already made changes to housing and major retail development processes under the Town and Country Planning Acts. That was the right approach and we are looking more widely at major infrastructure. Again, there will plenty of opportunities for further consultation.

We believe that the green belt plays a vital role in preventing unsustainable urban sprawl. It is critical, and the general presumption against inappropriate development in the green belt is also extremely important. Those key principles of green belt policy should be supported. We also think that a range of areas throughout the report have not been properly understood in the first round of reporting on the proposals, and that wider debate is necessary on the proposals and particular responses to them, which we will consider. The Secretary of State has made it clear that she wants to hear views on the proposals before we set out the Government’s response.

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Children with Disabilities

11 am

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on this important issue. I want to concentrate on the report that I, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) and hon. Members from all political parties have produced, with support from a consortium of children’s charities: Children Now, Contact A Family, the Council for Disabled Children, Mencap and the Special Education Consortium.

The background to our report and to the debate is that the Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills asked us to provide a report that would feed into the 2007 comprehensive spending review. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor had previously announced that the CSR would include a review to consider

My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill and I convened a series of parliamentary hearings to support the Treasury/DFES review. In July, we held hearings that focused on uncovering evidence of good practice and on finding ways to improve the outcomes and life chances of poor disabled children. The report from the hearings will feed into the review and, I hope, provide solutions to the challenges of improving services for those young people and their families.

A cross-party group of about 20 MPs took part in the hearings, which covered three areas: early years support, family support in children’s services and the transition to adulthood. The hearings were well publicised by the consortium of charities, and Children Now produced a flyer. On the back there is a list of vital statistics, some of which are repeated regularly. It is worth repeating them again, however, so that we understand what we are talking about. There are 770,000 children with disabilities in the UK; over 90 per cent. of disabled children live at home and are supported by their families; only one in 13 families receives services from their local social services; disabled children are 13 times more likely to be excluded from school; and, sadly, eight out of 10 families with disabled children are at breaking point.

One quarter of those families say that services are poor or lack co-ordination. In fact, when we undertook our inquiry one deeply disturbing statistic that we found was that not only did over 80 per cent. of families believe that they receive poor services, but over 80 per cent. of professionals believed that they delivered poor services. Clearly, there are issues that we must address, and our hearings considered them in detail.

Lest the Minister become concerned that I am being too negative, we also recognise that the Government have made substantial progress: £13 million has been provided to fund the early support programme, £27 million has been announced for children’s hospices, and the Department of Health and DFES children’s national service framework has a specific standard for disabled children. It says:

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We applaud that.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I, too, congratulate the Government on their work, particularly the provision to the children’s hospices of £27 million, which has now been divided among them for the next three years. However, will the Minister bear in mind the need to provide a fair funding formula, and the need for the Department of Health to work with the Association of Children’s Hospices to establish that formula for the long term?

Mrs. Humble: I am sure that the Minister has heard the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Indeed, there is an excellent children’s hospice, Brian House, in Blackpool. I visit it regularly and I see the amazing work of its staff, so I agree that children’s hospices do an excellent job and I applaud the Government’s provision of additional money.

The Prime Minister’s strategy unit report, “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People”, also prioritised early years service and the transition to adulthood. Most recently, “Opportunity for All”, the eighth annual report from the Department for Work and Pensions, said:

The report then lists the elements of that programme, but I shall not take time by listing them now. DWP is also part of a cross-departmental focus on services for children with disabilities and their families.

I shall make some comments about the importance of key working, which we highlight in our report. Initially, however, I shall outline the report’s priority recommendations. The first and by far the most important recommendation is that significant additional resources should be targeted at disabled children and their families, and that they should be made available to planners and commissioners of universal and specialist services. Secondly, additional funding should be linked to the development of minimum standards or to a “core offer” for disabled children and families, creating a universal entitlement to a minimum level of service. Thirdly, Ministers should ensure that services for disabled children are part of every local agreement, and that national public service agreement targets are developed for disabled children. We make a series of recommendations, and I advise Members who have not done so to look at our summer report, which goes through them.

I should like to speak at length to many other recommendations, including the development of advocacy services; however, from our public inquiry, which incorporated three evidence sessions, there came powerful evidence of good practice in the use of key workers on the early support programme, and powerful
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evidence of how difficult life was for parents if they had to negotiate a variety of agencies all by themselves. One parent told us of her frustration. She said that rather than concentrating on caring for her son:

Sharon Kelly, a mother who gave evidence at our first session, said:

Coincidentally, the early support pilot in my constituency has concentrated on mainstreaming the principle of early support.

As well as visiting projects in Manchester during the summer with my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, talking with early support practitioners in Salford and visiting Tower Hamlets, I met Janet Berry, the co-ordinator of my local child development centre in Blackpool, and a group of parents and children. It was clear that the parents welcomed key workers into their lives as single individuals who could help them to co-ordinate services, but it was also clear in my discussions with professionals that key working necessitated major training for the staff of the different agencies involved and meant introducing new literature for parents and new material for training sessions. All that costs money. It does not happen by magic. Blackpool is fortunate to have been one of the pilot areas, so it can use that money to develop key working. When we spoke to key workers in Salford, we saw that additional resources had to be put into the system to develop it. If key working is to be mainstream, the Government will have to consider what additional resources are needed to co-ordinate that excellent service.

In the introduction to the August 2006 report of the Blackpool early support pathfinder, Janet Berry says:

I want that vision to be translated all over the country. We are developing it in Blackpool. Evidence for our review came from people who did not benefit from that vision and people who did.

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