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Yvette Cooper: We are clear that we need to increase social housing in all areas of the country. We are concerned that the level of social housing has not increased in some areas, perhaps in part because housing associations in those areas did not bid for new developments. That is one of the reasons we want local councils to play a stronger role—including through local housing companies and by using their own land—in delivering mixed communities and, potentially, high levels of new housing in their areas.

In addition to the work of housing associations and the partnerships that are possible between housing associations and local councils, we are saying that local councils should be able to build council homes, where it offers value for money to do so. We are identifying certain ALMOs that will be able to bid, and consulting on proposals to enable councils to keep the rents and capital receipts from the new homes that they build. We are opening the next round of pre-qualification to ALMOs that have a two-star rating and to local authorities, so as to widen the number of organisations that can apply, but they will need to ensure that they have the appropriate skills in place to carry out the necessary development work.

This is not about returning to the old council estates. It needs to be about mixed communities and about developing, in partnership, communities that people want to live in. There is a range of different ways of doing that, and we will work closely with local councils and housing associations to take this forward.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): But none of this is going to happen if the planning system does not permit it. The Government are making it easier to build conservatories, granny annexes and nuclear power stations, but they are not doing a lot to make it easier to build houses. Would not it be a good start to abandon and rule out definitively their ill-conceived proposals for a planning gain tax, and to concentrate on getting more out of the devil that everyone knows—section 106 agreements—or on moving to a roof tax? At least we would then have some certainty.

Yvette Cooper: I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to the Green Paper proposals that set out a series of alternatives to a planning gain supplement. We think that a planning gain supplement has the potential to raise the most resources for infrastructure while not deterring development, because it is value sensitive. We are prepared to consult on and discuss a range of alternatives before we bring in a planning gain supplement Bill, but we will require councils and other developers to make serious proposals on how they would make those alternatives work. As I have said, we believe that there are advantages to a planning gain supplement.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on her announcement and on the Green Paper. I give my wholehearted support to the commitment to expand the housing programme, which will be warmly welcomed by sane people throughout the country. The lesson from the past that everyone should learn is that the mono-tenure estates that we created in the last century—in the owner-occupied sector
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and in the public housing sector—were a serious mistake. Will my hon. Friend remain adamant about maintaining mixed communities involving a partnership between different providers, and not be tempted by the blandishments of the back-to-the-future Liberal Democrats, who appear to want to take us back to some kind of failed response, which would be a serious mistake?

Yvette Cooper: My right hon. Friend is right. Mixed communities are hugely important in sustaining those areas and providing opportunities for the people who live in them. Establishing such communities was one of the aspirations of the post-war generation, but it did not manage to achieve it. It is crucial that we get those partnerships working, and we believe that there is potential for local housing companies to develop exactly that kind of approach, to ensure that we do not have mono-tenure estates involving unfair segregation, with social housing estates on one side of town and the executive estate on the other.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I, too, welcome the proposals to increase the supply of housing. I note the announcement of a £3 billion increase in the budget for affordable housing. Will the Minister confirm that she was successful in getting all that money out of the Treasury, and that she has not had to raid any other part of her Department’s budget to find it?

Yvette Cooper: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the increase in affordable housing, and in housing across the board. I know that, as a former housing Minister, he takes a strong interest in these matters. As part of this investment, we are getting greater efficiencies from housing associations—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] In addition to the £3 billion additional public sector investment going into social housing and shared ownership housing, we shall get efficiencies from housing associations, because we believe that many of them are not using their assets sufficiently effectively. We want to ensure that we get better results and better value for money.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that there used to be an excellent firm in my constituency called British Mohair Spinners? Unfortunately, it went down the tubes many years ago, but it is good to know that its factory site is now being used to create many apartments, which will be of great use to my constituents. Is my hon. Friend quite sure that firms that are not keen on developing such brownfield sites are being allowed to use greenfield sites only when there are absolutely no brownfield sites left in the area?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to regenerate brownfield sites and the need to require developers to consider them. Local councils must decide how land should be identified in the area, to determine which sites are appropriate and to set their own brownfield targets. PPS3, the new planning policy on housing, gives local councils the flexibility to set their own brownfield targets and to take action if they think that developers are cherry-picking on greenfield sites.

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Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): Does the Minister accept that we have a housing crisis because of this Government’s failure over the past 10 years? Paragraph 40 of her policy statement refers to the building of council homes. Will the Minister clarify how many of the 2 million new homes envisaged by the year 2016 will be council homes?

Yvette Cooper: That will depend on the decisions that councils take, including about ALMOs. It will also depend on what proposals they make in connection with local housing companies or bids for social housing grants. What we can say is that we believe that, by 2010, 70,000 new homes need to be affordable and 45,000 of them should be social homes. The proportion of council homes will depend, as I say, on decisions taken by councils, developers and housing associations across the country. We believe that, in many cases, housing associations will be able to bring in additional private sector resources and additional borrowing. We also think that the best results are likely to happen where there is partnership between the different organisations.

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that today’s statement provides opportunities for the 13,000 families on my local authority waiting list if, and only if, local authorities take full advantage of the opportunities to ensure decent homes for these people?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right that there is a huge responsibility on local councils to do more to improve and increase housing in their areas. We are giving local councils more flexibility and more powers—different options, different ways forward, different ways of using their own resources, different ways of drawing in additional resources either from central Government or from the private sector. We are giving local councils a much stronger role in housing in the local area, but we need them to rise to the challenge and do their bit to deliver the homes that their communities need.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) (Con): Two weeks ago, Scarborough council’s planning committee refused permission for 300 new homes opposite Filey school because it believed that the main drainage and foul drainage were inadequate. The drainage system overflowed and was proved to be inadequate in the Filey floods last week. Will the Minister use this new planning policy statement as an opportunity to place greater emphasis on the importance of adequate drainage and foul drainage, which are the cause of so much suffering during the current floods?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about drainage. Some terrible events over the last month are due to poor drainage or drainage simply overflowing as a result of the level of rainfall and water. We think that more can be done to improve drainage. There are some good examples, as in the design of Milton Keynes, which had very good drainage proposals ensuring the use of balancing pools into which water can flow. There are also new designs, which improve drainage by providing sustainable urban drainage systems that do not take all of the water into existing mains drains. The hon. Gentleman is also right
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that there are other ways of using the opportunity of new development—by accessing section 106 money, for example—to improve the infrastructure, including the drainage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking into a wider range of issues surrounding improving drainage in response to flooding, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are looking into taking proposals forward, not just as part of the new planning policy statement on climate change, but as part of a wider programme of work to deliver more sustainable housing.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): In welcoming my hon. Friend’s statement, may I draw her attention to one of the problems in areas such as inner-city Manchester? An awful lot of new houses have been built that it was hoped would be affordable, but the process was frustrated by the speculative buying of many people from this country and outside Britain who bought to let, pushing prices up and putting houses out of the reach of ordinary people? Will she look specifically at that? There is nothing wrong with the rental market, but there is something wrong with speculative purchase, which pushes prices up and up.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend will agree that affordable private rented housing is important, but we need to ensure that it is both affordable and of an appropriate quality. I have particular concerns about some of the investment that is not buy to let, but buy to leave, whereby flats or new developments are left empty as a result of investors or speculators sitting on properties. Local councils should think carefully about using some of their empty homes powers to bring some of those properties back into use. They have the powers to do so, but we are looking at more incentives as part of the Green Paper to support that.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): Last December, the Minister and her colleagues endorsed a housing development that would result in the concreting over of 1,500 acres of green belt land in my constituency. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister promised at that Dispatch Box that such land will be robustly protected. Will the Minister confirm that her previous policy has changed and that that land is now safe, or are we not to trust the new Prime Minister’s promises?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman will know that we do not comment on individual planning decisions in the House, but our policy on the green belt remains precisely the same as it has always been. We have made that clear both in the planning White Paper and in the House as part of the Green Paper.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and the increase in funding for housing. My area has a thriving private sector market, mostly on brownfield sites, and a successful ALMO, which has hugely improved the number of decent homes, but there is still an acute shortage of social housing. Will she ensure that there are new models of working between local authorities, ALMOs, housing associations and funders such as
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local building societies to assess housing need and secure the models that will deliver those houses for people?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. His local council is under a responsibility to assess housing need in the area, but it needs to draw together different organisations to ensure that it can respond to that need. We are giving councils greater flexibility to do so, and I hope that they will be able to find partners to join them to rise to that challenge.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The Minister set forward the aim of creating more affordable homes, but does she not recognise that there are a number of contradictions in the Green Paper? The standards that will be required—higher standards and new designs and technologies—will involve extra upfront costs. The green spaces that will be required for greener homes and green spaces will involve less intensive land use. All those factors, along with the fact that the £3 billion is not even an extra £3 billion, will make it very difficult to deliver homes that are more affordable and not more costly.

Yvette Cooper: No, the £3 billion is extra public sector funding for affordable housing. On top of that, we will get additional efficiencies from housing associations. That is what allows us to reach the figure of 70,000 additional homes that we will provide. In addition, it is true that we are raising standards at the same time as we deliver new homes. That is challenging to the industry, housing associations and developers across the country. It is an opportunity for us to raise additional resources through planning gain, which can contribute to that. Some of the higher standards, particularly in environmental technologies, will be delivered and will have the potential to deliver economies of scale, which, over time, should drive the costs of those new technologies down. I do not think that we have a choice. We cannot simply choose between quantity and quality. We have to provide both.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I welcome the part of my right hon. Friend’s statement that emphasises partnership work between local authorities, the private sector and housing associations. In my constituency, there are some excellent examples of that already, which are delivering affordable homes and regenerating former coal-mining villages. However, that work is under threat from the regional spatial strategy, which will put an artificial limit on the number of new houses that can be built in Durham. When the regional spatial strategy is agreed, will she ensure that these artificial limits, which will kill off communities and not do what she wants, are not allowed?

Yvette Cooper: I cannot comment on the detail of the regional spatial strategy at this stage of the process. We need additional house building in the north and the south. The approach taken in the previous regional planning guidance and the previous restrictions that were in place contributed to the lack of affordability across the north. We have to make sure that that does not happen again.

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Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): The Minister said:

including in Aldershot. Is this, perchance, the same scheme that has been up and running for the past three years—Project Connaught—or is it a brand new scheme? In either case, who will decide the mix between affordable and other forms of housing? Thanks to the former Deputy Prime Minister’s garden-grabbing policy, we have a surfeit of apartments and flats, when what we need in Aldershot and Farnborough is more family homes. I would like an assurance from the Minister that we will get them.

Yvette Cooper: We are announcing today additional land agreed in partnership between the Ministry of Defence and English Partnerships, with 50 per cent. affordable housing on those sites. The local planning authority will decide the appropriate mix to ensure that there are sufficient family homes. He is right to raise the issue of family homes. There are many areas where we need more family homes to meet the needs of the local community. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make representations to his local planning authority.

Mr. Andy Slaughter (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab): My constituents will welcome the Government’s commitment to build more affordable homes, as did those in my neighbouring constituency of Ealing, Southall last Thursday. What can my right hon. Friend do about Tory councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham that have adopted policies to cut by half the amount of affordable housing being built and to cut the number of affordable rented homes to a quarter of the amount achieved by the previous Labour council?

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Yvette Cooper: It is disappointing when councils oppose additional affordable homes, including more social housing, as included in the Green Paper. We will expect councils across the country, whatever their political complexion, to respond to that challenge.

Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): The Minister announced that Chichester, in addition to Aldershot, will take extra houses on a MOD site. How many will Chichester be expected to take? Is it realistic for Chichester to cope with those houses in view of the fact that the Government are intending to downgrade St. Richard’s, the major hospital there?

Yvette Cooper: I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would take the opportunity to welcome the possibility of additional affordable homes in his constituency. Around 50 per cent. of the new homes on MOD sites will need to be affordable, including social housing and shared-ownership housing. I am sure that first-time buyers in and around his constituency will welcome that. At this stage, we cannot anticipate the planning process. We need full assessments of the level of housing on a particular site and the level of infrastructure required. The Government are investing substantial sums in additional infrastructure and although Opposition Members call for more infrastructure, they are never willing to back the extra money for it.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We must now conclude questions on this statement. I realise that many Members will be disappointed, but I hope that they understand that there is a further statement and the main business to follow.

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Intergovernmental Conference

5.14 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): I would like to make a statement on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office White Paper on the United Kingdom’s approach to the European Union intergovernmental conference. The White Paper will be laid before the House today. Copies will be placed in the Library of the House, and they can also be obtained from the Vote Office. It will also be available on the FCO website.

I will publish tomorrow a written ministerial statement to accompany a Command Paper that will examine the non-IGC priorities of the Portuguese presidency for the remainder of 2007. In a meeting today in Brussels attended by the Foreign Secretary, the 27 EU member states will launch an IGC to draw up a reform treaty for the enlarged EU. We expect a first draft of the treaty text to be published at that meeting. It will be an amending treaty, which will be good for the UK and the EU, and it will be prepared on the basis of the IGC mandate agreed by the June European Council. The IGC will agree changes to the existing EC and EU treaties to make the EU’s institutions more transparent, effective and efficient.

The Portuguese presidency plans to update Foreign Ministers on the progress of the IGC at its informal meeting on 8 September. The presidency aims to reach agreement on a text at the informal European Council meeting in Lisbon on 18 October, and to sign it off formally at the December European Council. That is an ambitious timetable but, on the basis of the very good deal the UK secured at the June European Council, the Government support the aim of reaching an early agreement.

The process should help bring to a close several years of debate on institutional reform, and resolve that for the foreseeable future. The proposed reform treaty will be an amending treaty based on the existing EU treaties. As paragraph 1 of the IGC mandate states:

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