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The Minister for Housing (Yvette Cooper): We are increasing investment in new social housing, and I can today announce more than £10 billion funding for the regional housing pot over the next three years, to invest in new social housing, new shared ownership housing and housing renewal. That is an increase of nearly 40 per cent. compared with the previous three years.
Gordon Banks: I thank my right hon. Friend for that announcement and congratulate her on making it in the House today. Is not it important that all communities in the United Kingdom build increasing amounts of social housing? Following the research that has enabled her to make her announcement today, what advice can she offer the devolved Administration in Scotlandunfortunately, there are no Members of devolved Administrations in the House todaythat would be useful in devolved areas?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. As he knows, housing is a devolved matter. We know that throughout the country we have a growing ageing population, with more people living alone, which means that we need more homes and more affordable housing. That requires new investment, which cannot be provided if unfunded tax cuts are being proposed.
Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): What hope does the Minister offer the 330,000 families on the housing waiting list in London, or the 1.6 million families on the waiting list nationwide, of ever getting decent social housing? Is not it the case that it will take 35 years for those people to be taken off the list? With house prices still risingthe average is £400,000 in Londonthe chance of their ever having an affordable home is shrinking. Does not she accept that we need to increase dramatically the amount of social housing and affordable housing, and that the figures in the comprehensive spending review do not go nearly far enough towards achieving that?
I agree that we need to build more social housing, more shared-ownership housing and more housing across the board, and that we need to raise more resources from planning gain to provide additional funding. We are putting in several billion
pounds of additional funding over the next three years. It is important that we take a responsible approach to the public finances, and increases in public investment have to be paid for. For London, we are supporting a 27 per cent. increase in the regional funding over the next three years, in addition to extra help for people who want to move out of London to find more affordable housing.
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the acute shortage of social housing in Leeds, which has prompted the Leeds Tenants Federation to launch its Right to Rent campaign? Does she understand the federations concern that Leeds is not sufficiently committed to providing more social housing or putting pressure on developers to deliver the proportion of affordable housing laid down in planning permissions? Will she examine these concerns?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend raises an important point. I know that there has been hostility from some on Leeds city council to supporting sufficient additional and affordable housing. Every council and every area needs to do more to support more affordable housing for their local communities. We are supporting a 32 per cent. increase in the funding for Yorkshire and Humberside, which will enable substantial increases in social housing and continued housing renewal to be supported. I urge Leeds city council to work with other housing associations and local developers to bid for that funding in order to support tenants in my hon. Friends area.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): The social homebuy scheme is meant to help social tenants to buy or part-buy their rented homes, so why are only 78 of the 1,400 housing associations offering the scheme?
Yvette Cooper: The social homebuy scheme is a pilot scheme, as we have always said. The pilot concludes in March and we will then take decisions about how to take the scheme forward. It is right to examine different innovative ways to help more people on to the housing ladder and to help first-time buyers. I must say to Conservative Members that they cannot help first-time buyers if they are not prepared to back the building of the new homes that Britain needs.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): In the housing Green Paper, we announced a 50 per cent. increase in investment for affordable homes of at least £8 billion over the next three years. Furthermore, the Housing Corporation is inviting local providers to bid for affordable homes investment.
Wirral metropolitan borough council is working to make better use of public sector land assets, which has already enabled it to provide 270 additional affordable homes in one area. It is also reviewing its affordable housing policy.
Ben Chapman: Does my hon. Friend accept that that demonstrates that the policy of restricting house building in parts of Wirral, South often, if not always, works well and results in appropriate development? Does he understand that its reduction or removal is likely to lead to the development of executive homes rather than low-cost housing and result in a victory for a well-funded housing lobby?
Mr. Wright: My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. He knows the importance of mixed communities and diversity in the housing offer, particularly in terms of affordable housing. Housing has the potential to be a source of inequality over the next few years. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing has announced an £801 million cash boost for the north-west region to tackle affordable housing. I hope that Wirral, South receives its fair share.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): Using the methodology of Kate Barkers review of housing supply, the Department estimates newly arising need that cannot be met in the market or by existing stock of at least 40,000 new social rented homes per annum. In the housing Green Paper, we announced an increase in new affordable housing to at least 70,000 per annum by 2010-11, of which 45,000 homes will be for social rent. We have a goal to go further in subsequent years, to 50,000 new social homes a year in the next spending review period.
Chris McCafferty: I welcome my hon. Friends strong and long-standing commitment to affordable and social housing. I also welcome the announcements today and the statement yesterday on a proposed independent, stand-alone regulatory body for housing, including affordable housing. Will my hon. Friend look carefully at honeypot areas, such as Hebden Bridge in my constituency, where there are many second homes in converted mills, but very few houses for families?
Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend makes a good point and I hope that she will refer it to the regional assembly to consider. With regard to housing allocation, it is well worth considering other affordable housing options. Since 1997, 400,000 new affordable homes have been builtthe figure also includes refurbished properties, which goes to show what can be done with existing properties.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The Government always look at the supply side of housing, not the demand side. Will the Minister confirm that more than 1 million of the 3 million houses that the Government wish to build over the next 15 years will be needed for future immigration? Will he tell us what assessment he has made of the impact of immigration and asylum on affordable and social housing over the past 10 years?
Mr. Dhanda: The hon. Gentleman needs to be aware that more than 70 per cent. of the demand for housing between now and 2020 will be due to people living in single-person households and other demographic factors. It is not all about migration. We have a migration impacts forum, which I chair jointly with a Minister from the Home Office, but we should also consider the contribution of migrants to this country. They contribute more, in terms of gross domestic product, than they take out, and the percentage is growing over the years.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Historically, my constituency had a large, poor quality housing stock and a low-value private stock. Now, it has a thriving private sector market and a hugely improved social housing stock, but an acute shortage of affordable housing. In spite of all the developments, not enough property is coming on to the market. Can my hon. Friend assure me that he will work with the local authorities and developers to ensure that that supply of housing improves?
Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend makes a good point. He has mentioned the enhanced allocations in the west midlands, including some 41 per cent. for his own area. The national allocation will be 70,000 more affordable homes per year by 2010-11, which will, I hope, make a huge difference to his constituency and region, and to the whole country.
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): I am sure that the Minister is aware that all too many affordable homes are not affordable at all when they go on the market, being far too expensive for many first-time buyers. Will the Government commit to putting large quantities of public land, such as that belonging to the Ministry of Defence and the NHSwhich they have talked about releasinginto community land trusts, which hold the land and sell on the bricks and mortar at an affordable price?
Mr. Dhanda: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point; we are piloting such schemes presently. In terms of getting people on to the housing ladder for the first time, he should be aware that 26,000 key workers have benefited since the scheme was put in place in 2001 and 80,000 people have also been helped by shared equity schemes in recent years.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I welcome the Governments proposal for eco-towns, but can the Minister reassure me that the same high environmental standards will be applied to new affordable housing, so that they are not just affordable for the people who rent or buy them, but affordable to run, in terms of heating bills?
Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend is probably aware that there are higher standards for affordable housing than for other types of allocation. He makes a good point about eco-homes, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing will take it on board.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Hazel Blears): Our proposals for nationally significant infrastructure projects will involve the public at every stageon the development of national policy, on project proposals as they are being developed, and at the inquiry stage. We propose to create a legal requirement for promoters to consult the public before submitting an application for a nationally significant infrastructure project. That will be a big step forward, bringing about the early engagement of people affected by proposals for new or changed infrastructure.
Norman Baker: The question is who takes the decision, and although the Secretary of State has helpfully suggested that there should be less control on local authorities, through reduced targets, which I very much welcome, the fact is that in recent years responsibility for planning decisions has moved away from local councils to regional government, then to unelected regional development agencies, and now to a national body. Does she not agree that local decisions are best taken locally by elected people?
Hazel Blears: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming our increased flexibility for local government. There will certainly be both ministerial and parliamentary involvement in drawing up the national policy statements, which will provide a robust, accountable framework for the policy for major infrastructure projects. Through that system, we want to achieve increased certainty, more transparency and key accountability. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that five years to get major infrastructure proposals agreed to is far too long for the future of the country. If we want to ensure economic prosperity, balanced with environmental sustainability, we need a new planning regime that gives us certainty, timeliness and accountability.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the planning policy guidance note that Opposition parties largely hold responsible for reducing councils room to manoeuvre was replaced some time ago with planning policy statement 3 on housing? That planning policy statement largely leaves local councils discretion on housing planning matters, including on the density of development, and on garden development policy. Every time that a Tory or Liberal Democrat councillor
Hazel Blears: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the way in which local authorities have increased flexibility to meet the needs of their local communities. I am sure that he will agree that the best local councils do exactly that through housing and planning decisions for their neighbourhoods. Coincidentally, those best councils, who are in touch with their communities, may well be the kind of councils that my hon. Friend mentioned.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): As a result of Government diktat, Kettering borough council has had a statutory duty placed on it to draw up plans for an extra 13,100 houses. That will increase the number of homes in Kettering by one third in the next 15 years. If there were a local referendum on whether local people agreed with those plans, would the Secretary of State take a blind bit of notice?
Hazel Blears: I am disappointed and rather shocked by the hon. Gentlemans way of expressing himself. He said that there is a diktat that requires the homes to be built. I would ask him to think a bit more carefully about the views of his community and the people whom he represents. Many of those people will have familiessons and daughterswho are in desperate need of new homes. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that he does not want to provide new homes for first-time buyers, and that he will continue to betray them?
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Recently, Boltons planning committee turned down an application to erect a mobile telephone mast right in the heart of Little Lever precinct in my constituency. What does my right hon. Friend have to say to the angry residents of Little Lever, who found that T-Mobile turned up early one Sunday morning and erected the mast without planning permission? Should not firms like that be fined for their absolute arrogance?
Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend raises an issue of importance to local communities, and it is vital that the companies that are involved are sensitive to the needs of local people, conduct their business in a proper way with integrity, and consult the local community. If in the instance that the hon. Gentleman mentions, local views have simply been ignored and trampled on, clearly that is a matter that we will want to look into, because the basis of the system is trust and confidence. Where that is lacking, decisions will not have the support of the constituency.
The Minister for Local Government (John Healey):
We are committed to ensuring that the areas hit by the
floods in the summer recover as soon as possible. So far we have made available comprehensive support of up to £57 million. However, we know that full recovery for many households, businesses and communities may yet take months. We will remain available and give the support needed for them to achieve that.
Martin Horwood: Given that some houses that were flash-flooded in Cheltenham in June and July now face spiralling insurance premiums and, possibly, a fall in price, is it wise or unwise to plan to build more homes in flood-risk areas such as Leckhampton? In time, houses built in such areas could be unsaleable and uninsurable, and could exacerbate flooding in nearby communities in Cheltenham.
John Healey: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have tightened up considerably planning legislation and regulations; we did so in December last year. That means that the preference now is for locations with a low flood risk. Given the area from which he comes, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is not always possible to avoid flood risk altogether. Therefore, where there is a flood risk, we have built into the process a requirement for the Environment Agency to offer an assessment of the risks entailed to the planning authority. That is reducing the risk for developments in the future.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): It is clear from the evidence that we have received on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, as part of an inquiry into flooding, that the advice of the Environment Agency on development on flood plains is far too often set aside. What plans are there to toughen up the framework so that at least those who can predict reasonably accurately where floods might take place will not see their advice rejected and floods taking place in the years that follow?
John Healey: That is exactly why we tightened up the regulation and process in the first place. First, the new guidance requires developers and planners to take account of the flood risk. Secondly, it directs development to areas of lowest risk. Thirdly, where there remains a flooding risk, the guidance requires that the Environment Agency assessment and advice should be made available as part of the planning authoritys decision. Although it is early days, the evidence so far suggests that the number of go-aheads given contrary to Environment Agency advice is falling.
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