|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Another major theme of the debate has been councils ability to build new homes. Let me make it clear: there has been nothing to stop councils building homes, but
there have been disincentives. For example, no provision is made in the housing revenue account subsidy allowance for financing the capital costs of new council housing. Operating surpluses from any new homes after allowances are made for management, maintenance and major repairs are redistributed nationally in the HRA subsidy system. That means that, on average, 25 per cent. of the rental income from any new home built by a council is redistributed nationally in that way. We will use the new powers in the Bill to exempt new supply from the HRA subsidy system. That will allow councils to keep the rental operating surpluses from those homes, which are currently redistributed nationally. We want councils to build more homes. We have set challenging targets for building more new social homes. Councils have an important role to play in meeting those challenges. We want to enable them to build more new social housing where this offers value for money.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North made a fantastic point about the governance and accountability of ALMOs. Let me point out to him that the local authority still retains ultimate responsibility for the functions that it asks the ALMO to carry out as its agent. Ultimately, local authorities must manage their ALMO contracts, and although ALMOs are at arms length, they are still part of the body, so it is important that there is local accountability and democratic engagement.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) both brought skills and expertise as former Housing Ministers and made detailed, important speeches. Both mentioned the importance of tenants. I hope that they will therefore both welcome the provisions in the Bill that will place a stronger requirement on local authorities to co-operate with tenants who want to explore a change of ownership of their homes. They will mean that a local authority will not be able unnecessarily to block a transfer where tenants wish to explore that and have developed a robust case for it, and where it does not hinder the local authoritys ability to deliver a satisfactory landlord service.
Let me come to a major part of the Bill, the establishment of the Homes and Communities Agency. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield failed to welcome the new agency. He saw its creation in a simplistic way, as abolishing one organisation and creating another. He should recognise, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich among others, that although the current system provides some progress, it shows a degree of fragmentation and complexity, with funding streams delivered in silos, overlapping remits and objectives, andthis relates to the point about the system being top-downthe over-involvement of central Departments in delivery, which limits capacity. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield should know that the agencys true strength will come from adopting a holistic approach, bringing together the land, investment and skills required to facilitate the building of more homes.
A number of hon. Members correctly mentioned the relationship between the Homes and Communities Agency and local authorities, which is key. This
relationship will be crucial in delivering new homes. Far from being a top-down organisation, the agency will help local authorities, by suggesting, by challenging and yes, by funding, in order to increase councils capacities. It can second staff or provide the infrastructure necessary to build homes.
Alistair Burt: I am grateful to the Minister for extending me a similar courtesy. If that is the case, will he look favourably on an amendment in Committee to impose a duty to consult with local authorities, if the agency is to operate in the beneficial way that he suggests it will?
Mr. Wright: The Bill already requires the agency to act as a partner to local authorities for development of the local area agreement and local improvement targets. That means that the agency must have regard to the local improvement targets set out in the LAA when carrying out its housing and regeneration activities.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) made a thoughtful speech, in which she mentioned the agencys respect of planning powers. She asked for clarity and for me to reassure her, which is what I hope I shall be able to do. The Secretary of State already has powers in that respect, which are not new powers. There are powers to designate areas under the Leasehold Reform, Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. The Bill will transfer those powers to the new agency and make their operation clearer. To meet todays housing challenge we need a range of powers at our disposal. Designating an area and conferring local planning authority functions on the HCA will allow it to act where, for example, a major regeneration project or eco-town is at risk. The HCA would be subject to the normal planning system, as any other planning authority is. We do not anticipate using the powers frequently and we are strongly committed to working with and supporting local authorities.
On a similar theme, the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) mentioned her concern about the HCAs compulsory purchase powers. Those powers are not new and, as now, will be subject to the agreement of the Secretary of State. CPO powers will be important to the new agency in trying to unlock sites, especially for regeneration, in cases where the owner is unknown or where there are areas of high fragmentation of ownership. An example that was mentioned is the Olympics site. The agencys compulsory purchase powers will also provide certainty to its delivery partners that the comprehensive redevelopment projects will happen.
The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield did not mention the environment once in his speech. He did not welcome the inclusion in the Bill of powers to allow us to make it mandatory for buyers of new homes to be given information through the code on the sustainability of their homes. Twenty-seven per cent. of all carbon emissions in the UK come from domestic buildings. The code aims to encourage developers to build more sustainable, low-carbon homes. A typical flat built to code standard will reduce carbon emissions by 450 kg a year for level 3. That is the equivalent of 1,500 miles travelled by an average car in Britain. For level 6, there would be a reduction of 1,500 kg a year, the equivalent of 5,000 miles.
The hon. Gentleman did not mention the environment, but my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West certainly did. She described with great skill the difficulties that young families in her constituency face in getting on to the housing ladder. She also set out the need to increase the supply of all types of housingowner-occupied, shared ownership and social rented. She is right. I now chair the Milton Keynes and South Midlands inter-regional board, and the ambition of that area to have more houses has been made very clear to me, both here and at meetings of the board. My hon. Friend mentioned the Milton Keynes tariff. That has shown that these arrangements can work; it is a real example of how we can get better results from having the public and private sectors working together with English Partnerships to provide expertise to local councils and facilitating agreement over so-called super section 106 agreements.
There are many more things that I should like to mention, but time does not allow me to do so. I should, however, like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan). She welcomed the fact that the Bill will provide the same security of tenure under the rights and responsibilities of Gypsies and Travellers, and so do I.
Given the scale of the housing challenge, I would have liked to see a degree of political consensus on the Bill. Unfortunately, in the few contributions made by Conservative Members, that was not forthcoming. The Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), made an excellent contribution in opening the debate. In it, she challenged Conservative Members to come with us and to work together to address the housing supply problem, to help to improve opportunity and ambition and to reduce the ability of housing to be a source of inequality. She asked three direct questions of the Conservatives. She asked how many homes they thought were needed, if they did not agree with the target of 3 million homes. There was no response. She asked whether they would pledge to back the £8 billion that we have committed, or whether they would cut it. There was no response. She also asked whether they would support the Bill. It is clear that they will not.
The dividing lines are clear. The Conservatives have shown their narrow-mindedness and their parochialism. They want to pull up the drawbridges of their castles and country homesin some cases, quite literallyand to limit the opportunity for millions of people to get a decent house. Their lack of ideas, their negativity, their Im all right, Jack attitude and their absence from the Chamber today will do nothing to satisfy the housing needs of hard-working families and older people.
Let us contrast the Conservatives attitude with the measures in the Bill. The Bill is full of ambition and aspiration for the people of this country. It will widen opportunity, reduce inequality and ensure that no one gets left behind in poor, inadequate or unaffordable housing. It is a Labour Bill, built on Labour values of fairness and opportunity. I commend it to the House.
That the following provisions shall apply to the Housing and Regeneration Bill:
1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 31st January 2008.
3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and Third Reading
4. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|