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Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman knows that I obviously cannot comment on the details of the south-east plan, which is still going through the planning process. However, he will be aware of my frequently stated view that at a time when we face growing pressure from first-time buyers and rising demand for new housing the South East England regional assembly’s proposal to cut the level of new housing in the south-east is bonkers. It is not an appropriate position for that regional assembly to have adopted. We need more housing, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need more investment in infrastructure. From my Department alone, we set out proposals to increase the level of infrastructure to £1.9 billion over the next few years; there are proposals from other Departments, too. Today, as part of the Planning Bill, we published details of the community infrastructure levy that will allow local councils to raise additional resources for local infrastructure. I urge the
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hon. Gentleman and his party to support that proposal so that we have the parks and play areas as well as the new transport systems we need to support new homes for the future.

Dan Rogerson: What provision does the Bill make for housing options for groups of people with specific needs, such as those who experience mental illness or who have suffered spinal injuries?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the supporting people budget has substantially increased the amount of provision for people who need extra help with their housing, such as those with mental health problems, homelessness difficulties or care needs. We want and expect the Homes and Communities Agency to continue the work of the Housing Corporation in funding, where appropriate, particular dedicated types of housing and support.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is talking about the building of houses for rent, particularly for the low-paid. Will she ensure that those houses are eco-friendly, and can she tell us something about the eco-friendly villages that could be created to improve the environment?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. We must not simply build more homes, but build better homes. That includes cutting carbon emissions from new homes. We have set the most ambitious target of any country in the world—that all new homes should be zero-carbon by 2016. Before that, we want proposals for eco-towns and smaller developments that will reach much higher environmental standards right across the development, not only for the homes but also for the pubs, clubs and schools—even eco-offices.

Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab) rose—

Yvette Cooper: I will give way to my right hon. Friend but then, if Members will allow me, I shall make a bit of progress before taking further interventions.

Mr. Smith: I am grateful to the Minister; she has been generous.

I warmly welcome the Bill, but how does my right hon. Friend see its provisions and the work of the new agency tackling a pressing problem in my area and a number of others—to bring more quickly into use sites that could be suitable for social housing but are blocked at present, not least by some Opposition Members?

Yvette Cooper: My right hon. Friend is right: critical to delivering additional homes is the bringing into use of appropriate land for new affordable and market homes. The new planning rules and changes to the local framework will achieve that, but in addition we want more public sector land—rapidly—so that we can build more homes on it. The whole point about the Homes and Communities Agency is that it will bring together for the first time public sector land and public sector investment in housing; and bringing those two things together will give us a huge opportunity to
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accelerate the delivery of new homes on public sector land—to build the homes that families across the country badly need and to give them a secure place they can call their own home for the future.

Several hon. Members rose

Yvette Cooper: I have taken several interventions and I will happily take more later on, but I hope that Members will allow me to make a little progress for now.

Since 1997, we have made important progress in improving existing homes, with investment in the decent homes programme. Investment of more than £20 billion has helped more than 1 million children out of cold, damp and poor housing, transforming their lives as a result. We have seen a drop in the number of people sleeping rough on the streets, and we have also seen low mortgage rates and long-term economic stability help more than 1 million more people into home ownership.

We have an ageing and growing population and we have more people living alone, and for more than a generation this country has simply not built enough homes to keep up with demand. We need more market housing, more social housing and more shared-ownership housing. Young families can face the greatest pressures. Many of them struggle to take their first step on the housing ladder, with 40 per cent. of first-time buyers now having to rely on their family and friends to raise a deposit, which is simply unfair, and hundreds of thousands of families are on the waiting list for social housing. We owe it to them to do more.

House building has increased substantially over the past few years. More land is being identified for homes, but we need to do more. The Prime Minister has said that by 2016 this country must be building 240,000 new homes per year—2 million homes by 2016 and 3 million more by 2020. This is not just about building more homes, however; those homes must also be more sustainable and in strong communities. The housing Green Paper published in July set out a wide range of measures to support more and better homes, ranging from new eco-towns to better use of public sector land. The Bill is crucial to helping us deliver that vision.

Delivering the homes we need depends on the house builders and the private market, and on housing associations and their investment decisions. However, as we set out in the Green Paper, it also critically depends on local councils, through their planning decisions, through allocating land for housing, through use of their own land—for example, through local housing companies—through their assessment of housing need, through their promotion of affordable housing and through their ability to promote higher standards.

Councils cannot do that alone, however. Often they need help with funding, with land and with expertise. That is why the Bill creates the new Homes and Communities Agency to provide that essential support and help us deliver those badly needed new homes. The agency will bring together the functions of English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation. Therefore, responsibility for public sector land and public sector investment will be brought together properly for the first time. We are putting unprecedented levels of new
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investment into affordable housing—£8 billion over the next three years—but we have to make sure that we get the best possible results for that affordable housing.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I think that the whole House welcomes the proposals. On the subject of trying to build eco-towns and sustainable low-carbon footprint homes, and given the debate that is currently under way in the other place on climate change, as this Bill progresses will my right hon. Friend consider whether there should be a duty on the new agency to incorporate and have regard to sustainable development? In the past, we set up the regional development agencies without a specific duty, but it is not enough just to say that they “may” have regard to sustainable development. Will she consider them having to have regard to that?

Yvette Cooper: Clearly, the Homes and Communities Agency has to operate within the framework of the planning system, and, as my hon. Friend may be aware, we will shortly set out a new planning policy statement on planning for climate change and how we can better work for new development to cut carbon emissions. The Homes and Communities Agency must work within that framework, and the Housing Corporation, one of the component parts of the new agency, is already promoting higher standards in new social housing than is currently expected in the private sector market. Therefore, it is already leading the way in cutting carbon emissions, but we are certainly keen on looking at what more we can do.

Several hon. Members rose

Yvette Cooper: I shall give way very briefly.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): On affordability, the typical starter home in my constituency costs between £80,000 and £100,000. That is beyond the means of many young people in Bury, North. The Opposition want to cut stamp duty on homes worth £250,000. What is the best way of helping young families in my constituency: increasing the supply of homes they can afford or cutting taxes on homes they could never afford?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. If one simply cuts stamp duty and does not build more homes, at a time when supply is limited all that happens is that prices go up, and home buyers are no better off. It is important that we recognise the real pressures that people face. That is why building more shared-ownership homes offers a huge opportunity. We are funding 25,000 more shared-ownership homes through the Housing Corporation next year, but we want to go further—through local housing companies and other programmes.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Since his election, the Mayor of London has hugely increased the supply of affordable housing—by 10,000 additional units a year. However, the Bill does not specifically require the Homes and Communities Agency to work with the Mayor on the delivery of affordable homes. I am sure that that is an omission of
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no great significance, but will the Minister ensure that the Homes and Communities Agency works with successful deliverers of affordable housing, such as the Mayor of London?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. She will know that the Housing Corporation is tasked to deliver the Mayor’s affordable housing strategy in London and we certainly envisage the Homes and Communities Agency being able to do the same thing. We would expect it to support the Mayor in his strong promotion of affordable housing and his target that 50 per cent. of homes put through the planning system should be affordable. I notice that the Opposition’s mayoral candidate, the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), has rejected that target. That is a sad indictment of his lack of commitment to affordable housing in the capital.

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South) (LD): I am enthused by the idea that the Government are going to give more help to local authorities, perhaps to build more council houses. However, does the Minister have any plans to alter the legislation on the housing revenue account subsidy? Over the next 10 years, my city of Portsmouth will lose £100 million, which will go elsewhere, from rents paid by council tenants in the city, just because we have looked after our houses better than other local authorities. If she is genuine about wanting to help local authorities, changing or abolishing that system alone would go a long way to help.

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman may want to look more carefully at the Bill, because it includes proposals to make it possible for local councils to be taken outside the housing revenue account system—with support for pilots and the potential for greater reform to the housing revenue account system. The important principle that underlies the housing revenue account is the recognition that there are different needs in different parts of the country, and there were different historical funding arrangements. There is an important and fair principle of redistribution underpinning the housing revenue account. However, there are fundamental problems with it. It does not deliver the most effective long-term management of the housing stock by local councils. That is why we have said we want to set up the pilots—to look at what appropriate longer-term reforms could be made to the housing revenue account to deliver a fairer deal for every part of the country.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): What can my right hon. Friend do to encourage local authorities to ensure that, when planning applications are being made for new build by the private sector, there is a large percentage—30 to 40 per cent.—of social housing? In my borough, that has not occurred on anywhere near that scale. The average wage in my constituency is just over £20,000. There is a desperate need for new affordable social housing. I hope that her Department will look into that.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend has made an important point and I will certainly look at what can be done to help local councils do more through the planning system.


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Several hon. Members rose

Yvette Cooper: I have taken a huge number of interventions and I really need to make some progress.

There are a series of important measures in the Bill, including the setting up of the Homes and Communities Agency, which I have described for hon. Members, and the new Office for Tenants and Social Landlords, which will have a statutory objective to protect the interests of tenants. Where landlords fail to meet standards, the regulator will have new powers to step in with fines and enforcement measures. There are measures to strengthen the voice of tenants in council homes, especially where stock transfers are being considered. The Bill makes possible a wider series of pilots and reforms to the housing revenue account, which is not the best framework for councils to use to manage their stock in the longer term.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Yvette Cooper: I will not; I need to make some progress. I apologise to hon. Members.

The Bill sets out an important series of changes, and I urge Opposition Members to support its main purpose. They have said that they plan to oppose the Bill, and that is a matter of huge regret, given the important measures that it introduces. We would welcome political consensus on the amount of housing needed. After all, in the 1966 election, all three major parties ran on the same pledge to build 300,000 homes a year. I ask Opposition parties to join us now in a commitment to building 240,000 homes a year from 2016, and to join us in making a commitment that they should all be zero-carbon. Some 170 organisations across the country have done so already, ranging from house builders to green groups, from councils to housing charities, from the CBI to the TUC.

I ask Opposition parties to join us in backing 240,000 zero-carbon homes a year. If they think that that is the wrong figure, they should tell us how many homes they think the country needs. Let us have a debate about it. The national housing and planning advice unit has said that the number should be 270,000; there are different views on the subject. How many homes do Opposition Members think that the country needs—or are they just afraid to admit that they want to cut new housing and betray first-time buyers who need more homes?

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove)—the predecessor of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps)—said that 200,000 homes were not enough, and he was right—we need 240,000. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) told Inside Housing that the Conservative priority would be

Fine, but which ones? A person cannot be serious about housing needs for the nation if they have no view on how many homes the nation needs. Hon. Members need to set out what they think the needs of the nation are.

It is simply not enough to hide behind local councils and what they want, because many councils now back
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more housing. Large numbers of councils are coming forward to be growth points, and to support proposals for eco-towns and local housing companies. They are coming forward because they want to work with the Government and—once it is set up—with the Homes and Communities Agency that Opposition Members oppose.

What about the key Conservative local councils that should be supporting more homes? We know that councils across the south-east argue for a cut in the level of house building, but the problem is not simply in the south-east. Let them travel with me to Yorkshire and listen to the Yorkshire Conservative leaders. A Tory leader in Leeds has said that regional housing figures are “unsustainable and unattainable”. The Tory leader in Kirklees went further:

That is in Yorkshire, a region with large amounts of brownfield land, house prices that have shot through the roof, and house building rates that have simply not kept up with the number of new households forming each year.

Let me be clear that I do not criticise those councils for opposing or turning down bad developments—they should; that is their job. There are still too many dreadful developments that should not get the go-ahead. There are some stupid proposals in unsustainable locations that should be turned down. I do not criticise them or Opposition Members for opposing inappropriate developments, but I do criticise Opposition Members for opposing overall increases in housing, and for arguing for overall cuts to housing, as they have repeatedly done.

I have often teased the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield for his “No Way to 10k” campaign—the temptation is just too great—but I would not criticise him if he simply opposed the odd block of flats or the odd floodplain development. However, I do criticise him for trying to cut the overall number of homes being built across the country. His attitude is epitomised in a phrase that he used just a few months ago, when he said:

That is what the hon. Gentleman wants to do—fight plans for tens of thousands of new homes. That is a betrayal of tens of thousands of first-time buyers and the abandonment of tens of thousands of families waiting on council lists or in overcrowded accommodation. It is not fair on those families to try to block all those new homes.

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Yvette Cooper: I ask Opposition Members even now to reconsider and back our plans for 240,000 new homes and for a big increase in affordable housing. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he will back those additional homes and the additional investment that we want to put into building affordable homes.


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