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As well as helping to prevent climate change, we need to ensure that our homes are resilient to its consequences. Over centuries, many homes have been built in high-risk flood areas, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of
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State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has set out immediate action to support the families suffering dreadfully from the extreme weather.

Since 1997, we have progressively strengthened the rules on planning to protect homes from flooding, with much higher standards brought in last year. The new rules require councils to consult the Environment Agency, and where the Environment Agency says that the risk is too high and councils persist against that advice, we in government will be prepared to take over those decisions ourselves. We will also look further at what needs to be done to be ready for future challenges. Later this year, we will publish a new planning policy statement, which will require councils to plan more widely for the consequences of climate change.

Thirdly, we believe that a decent home should be for the many and not only for the few. I can announce that we will invest £8 billion in increasing affordable housing over the next three years, a £3 billion increase compared with the previous spending review. That is on top of continuing investment in decent homes, including more than £2 billion on the arm’s length management organisation programme over the next three years.

We have listened to the evidence from Shelter and the National Housing Federation, which says that we need 70,000 affordable homes a year, of which 50,000 should be new social housing. I can announce that by 2010-11 we will deliver more than 70,000 new affordable homes a year. By 2010-11, we will deliver 45,000 new social homes a year with a goal of 50,000 homes in the next spending review. That is a 50 per cent. increase in new social housing over a three-year period, and it will more than double the amount of social housing in a six-year period. We will also deliver 25,000 new shared ownership homes through expanding existing programmes. In addition, we will look to support tens of thousands of additional shared ownership homes through public sector land and local housing companies, and we will set out further details later in the year.

As rural areas face particular pressures, we will set a specific target for increasing affordable homes in rural areas later this year after consultation with the regional assemblies. We want to see more work by local councils, housing associations and the private sector to increase affordable housing both to buy and to rent. We are announcing today the first 10 arm’s length management organisations—ALMOs—and local authority special venture vehicles approved to bid for social housing grant in order to build council homes. We are also consulting on changes to the rules on the treatment of rents and receipts from new homes, which would give councils more flexibility to build on their land, within responsible public finance rules.

We also believe that first-time buyers need more flexible and competitive products. The Treasury is consulting on new ways to support more affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgages. We have also commissioned further work, led by Bryan Pomeroy, on expanding private sector shared equity products, and we will launch new shared equity products next year. In the meantime, we will, from today, offer a new 17.5 per cent. Government equity loan for key workers and other priority first-time buyers.

Taken together, these proposals represent not just the most significant programme of house building for decades but an ambitious, positive response to the
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growing challenges that many people face in their day-to-day lives. To deliver, we will need a expanded skilled work force, and the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will lead work to expand construction apprenticeships and work with partners in the sector to raise skills.

We know there is no quick fix to the issues that we face: building more homes takes time. However, this must be a shared endeavour. Central Government are today setting a bolder framework for the future, but we will achieve our goals only if those at regional and local levels, in the public, private and third sectors, and in local communities, all play their part in supporting the homes we need. Building the sustainable homes needed by young people today and by future generations is a test of our commitment to supporting people’s aspirations and to achieving social justice. I commend these proposals to the House.

Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of her statement, and I join her in expressing sympathies to all the thousands of victims of flooding in recent days.

The last housing Green Paper in 2000 pledged to be the

and offered

and “decent homes for all”. That rhetoric has not exactly been matched by reality. Home ownership has fallen for the first time since records began, numbers of first-time buyers are at their lowest since 1980, housing waiting lists have grown by 60,000, and less social housing is being built every year under this Government than under the Major or the Thatcher Government. The Prime Minister’s higher taxes have made it harder than ever to get on the housing ladder. The Minister cannot deny that the average first-time buyer now has to pay £1,500 in stamp duty, but is she also aware that the average first-time buyer in London pays £8,000 in stamp duty? Meanwhile, her own Department’s research into the Conservative right-to-buy policy praises it as

However, right-to-buy discounts have continued to be squeezed. Will not her ongoing refusal to offer the right to buy to housing association tenants undermine her own goals of creating a greater social mix within communities?

Today’s Green Paper talks about 70,000 more affordable homes, but why should we trust the Government when their own social homebuy scheme, which is meant to help social tenants to get on to the housing ladder, is failing? On page 82 of the Green Paper, the Minister admits that of 1,400 housing associations, only 78 have offered the scheme. In April this year, she came to the House and told us that only 33 houses had been sold under the scheme. Perhaps she can give us an update today.

We absolutely accept the need to build more houses. [Hon. Members: “Where?”] I will come to that in a moment. We will lend our cross-party support to measures that build sustainable eco-friendly communities on brownfield sites. We welcome the use of surplus public sector land. However, does the Minister accept that
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with the NHS in London already conducting estate audits with a view to closing hospitals and selling off land, the public will be worried that more homes will come only at the expense of fewer hospitals? Does she accept that her Government’s policies of closing accident and emergency and maternity departments will in any case hinder sustainable growth of local communities?

We heard last week that regional assemblies are to be sidelined, but is not criticism from regional assemblies the real reason why their powers are being seized? Page 30 of the Green Paper says that regional spatial strategies will be reviewed by 2011. Will the Minister promise the House that none of those regional plans will involve the deletion of green belt protection?

In my constituency, we are running a campaign called “No Way To 10k”—in other words, no way to 10,000 houses. However— [ Interruption. ] Wait for it. We fully back the building of 6,000 houses, and have already undertaken to start building them. It is simply the case that 10,000 will overload our local infrastructure, at a time when the local hospital is being closed. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the local Labour party is wrong to back my campaign.

We are concerned that the Government’s regional building targets are unsustainable. Has the Minister read the Roger Tym report, commissioned by her own Department, into increasing building targets in the south-east? It says that the Government’s building plans will

and the green belt. Trunk roads will be unable to cope, leading to congestion, pollution and soaring carbon dioxide emissions— [ Interruption. ] Labour Members may say, “Rubbish,” but I am talking about the Government’s own report. There will be increased

so we can expect more flash floods of the type that we have experienced in recent days and weeks.

Yesterday, the BBC reported that the Green Paper stated that it is “not realistic” to prevent development taking place in areas at risk of flooding. Will the Minister confirm that that wording is no longer in the Green Paper, and how does that square with the 2005 agreement struck between insurers and the Government that areas at risk of flood will be insured only provided that the Government limit such developments?

Labour is not planning the eco-towns of the 21st century; it is planning the sink estates of tomorrow. The Conservative party has been responsible for most of the progressive housing policies of the past 50 years. We built more social housing, spread home ownership and created mixed communities. Does the Minister agree that to solve the housing crisis, it is vital to end the ham-fisted nature of top-down, Whitehall-driven targets? Instead, we should switch to the empowering of local communities to build the homes that stand the test of time.

Yvette Cooper: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. I congratulate him on his appointment to the Conservative Front Bench, and his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. He was not here for our oral questions two weeks ago. We wondered where he was—and I understand that he was masterminding the by-election in Ealing, Southall. I congratulate him on
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that particular result, too. My guess is that some of his colleagues sitting behind him might wish he had taken his parliamentary responsibilities a little more seriously, and joined us in the House instead.

I look forward to debating the issues with the hon. Gentleman; I know that he has a long-standing interest in housing. He referred to his “No Way To 10k” campaign against additional housing in Welwyn Hatfield. I am sorry that his new appointment has forced him to change his website. Before he took up his new post, two weeks ago, it read:

He has deleted that since, and the website now says:

That is a rather rapid turnaround in one paragraph, in the space of just a couple of weeks.

The hon. Gentleman raised a few points, and criticised our record. However, to have lifted 1 million children out of bad housing—cold and damp homes—through the decent homes programme is something of which the House should be proud, and of which his party should feel ashamed. His party left more than 1 million children in appalling housing by failing to deliver proper decent homes, and the council housing improvements that were needed.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Association of British Insurers, which backs the new guidance that was introduced last year, with new, tougher requirements on flooding and planning for flooding He mentioned the Roger Tym report, which was commissioned to inform the planning process. The process needs to be properly informed if sensible decisions are to be taken.

In the end, we must recognise a national collective responsibility to provide for the homes that the future needs. The hon. Gentleman gave us warm words. He said that his party accepted the need for more homes; but will he back 240,000 zero-carbon homes for 2016? Now, across the country, the LGA, house builders, councils and green groups back that target. The challenge for the Conservative party is to back their commitment; otherwise it will be letting down first-time buyers.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): I thank the Minister for advance sight of the Green Paper, although as I had 55 minutes to read 128 pages I am sure that I will have missed some of the detailed nuances of policy. I have a few points on which I request clarification.

I want, first, to welcome the intent of the Green Paper. At last, after 10 years, the Government recognise the scale of the housing crisis over which they have presided: with 71 per cent. home ownership—the highest rate in Europe—our market is under-supplied with land and houses and overheated in terms of demand and reckless mortgage lending. We approach the dangers of another wave of negative equity, such as we experienced in the ’80s and early ’90s. Mortgage debt is up 150 per cent., people are falling behind on mortgages at a rate double that of last year, and repossessions have trebled since last year. That is just the start: 2 million people on fixed-term mortgages with low interest rates will experience a hike in rates in the next 18 months. First-time buyers and key workers
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cannot get on to the housing ladder in 93 per cent. of urban areas. The Minister spoke of the highest rate of building for 17 years, but she failed to point out that that is from a record low base, with the 2001 rate one of the lowest on record.

If the ownership crisis was due to Government neglect, the rented housing crisis is directly due to dogmatic Government policy. In the past 10 years, the Government have ended council house building and starved councils of funds, despite tenants’ choice to stay with the council. Housing associations have managed to build only half the stock that is needed to replace right-to-buy losses, and only about a third of what the Barker review says is needed. The result is that waiting lists have soared from 1 million to 1.6 million.

We welcome the Green Paper’s proposed increases in social housing, but will the Minister confirm that despite all the media trailing by her and by the Prime Minister, the small print means more of the same for the 140 councils whose tenants have democratically chosen to stay with them? Will she confirm that the small print says that any extra money will go to housing associations and 60 arm’s length management organisations, and that just a small number of councils will be able to launch partnerships with the private sector on the basis of special Government selection? Will she confirm that it is still proposed to rob the 140 councils that have retained their housing stock of 75 per cent. of right-to-buy money, and that most of those councils will lose up to an average of 25 per cent. of their council rents, whereas a housing association taking over that stock would be allowed to keep the entire sum? The housing and regeneration Bill is supposed to put tenants at the heart of social housing; why, then, in the Green Paper, is the Minister ignoring and punishing those very tenants for exercising their democratic choice to stay with the council as landlord?

The Barker review said that 56,000 new social houses a year would be needed if we were to make any impact on the growing waiting list for social housing. Currently, housing associations have managed an average of about 25,000 houses a year. The Green Paper proposes an increase, by 2011, to only 45,000. Will the Minister explain such poverty of ambition after all the hype, in the face of desperate housing need?

On sustainability—

Hon. Members: Come on.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Gentleman must be heard.

Paul Holmes: Will the Minister say why councils are not allowed to set higher environmental energy standards for private developments, as they are on affordable housing? That gives private developers an unfair financial advantage over affordable builders and produces fewer sustainable buildings. Why is the Government’s aim for all new houses to be zero carbon by only 2016, when a target of 2011 is perfectly attainable in this country and has already been achieved in Germany?

Finally, will the Minister explain why, despite all the talk at other times in recent weeks of restoring democracy and autonomy to local authorities, the Green Paper represents the imposition of yet more central control, with the Government dictating what
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houses will be built, where, by which councils and in partnership with whom? Why not simply restore autonomy to local authorities? Why not allow them to decide what they will build in their areas and get the benefit from that, and restore financial control to them?

Yvette Cooper: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to support the delivery of 240,000 zero-carbon homes by 2016, because it is important to increase housing in this country. He is missing the point on affordable housing. We have set out proposals for 70,000 affordable homes by 2010. That is a substantial increase in social housing and includes councils, too, being able to build homes. However, many areas will find it more cost-effective to do that in partnership with housing associations or private developers. We have said specifically—it is in the consultation paper—that we are approving ALMOs and councils with special venture vehicles to build council homes and bid for social housing grant in order to do so. The important issue is about providing the additional homes that we need. We want the flexibility for housing associations, councils and private developers to be able to contribute to the building of more social and shared ownership housing. Local housing companies offer a great opportunity to do so.

The decent homes programme continues in its current form, and all bar one council have now identified ways of meeting that standard, including as a result of the substantial investment that has gone to individual councils. We have the most ambitious target to get to zero carbon of any country in the world. The target includes standards not only for heating and power, but for appliances in the home. The standards are extremely ambitious. We will need improvements in technology and strong co-operation between local councils and private developers to meet them. They are ambitious standards, but we have a dual aim: to be able to deliver more homes that are both affordable and sustainable. That requires a little hard-headedness, not just the flaky sums that the Liberal Democrats often provide.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I repeat the plea that I made during the earlier statement. This statement is important, but there is a further important statement and the main business of the House to follow. I ask hon. Members to discipline themselves to one supplementary question and a brief response; otherwise, I am afraid that many of them will be unsuccessful in catching my eye.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): I am pleased that the Minister has taken up the recommendation that was made by Shelter and endorsed by the Communities and Local Government Committee to increase social rented housing, but I am still not clear about how the Government’s proposals will ensure that social rented housing is provided in response to local needs, particularly in areas where councils are rated relatively poorly and have therefore not been allowed the rights of more highly rated councils.

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