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We are also content, from our own inspection of the area, that there is scope for sustainable development here without harm to the AONB, the outlook from Leckhampton Hill or to the local environment. Regional Flood Risk appraisal has cleared the way for any flooding issue to be addressed through later strategic flood risk appraisal.
Strongly held local views are being dismissed by such quangos after years of earlier consultation in which local elected and community representatives were more or less of one mindstrongly in favour of more social housing, more urban regeneration and more appropriate small developments around villages, whose shops, post offices and schools are dying through a lack of people, and in general opposed to urban extensions around already affluent towns such as Cheltenham. What do we get in draft after draft of the regional spatial strategy? We get urban extensions around already affluent towns,
where, historically, large quantities of land have already been released over decades, with no discernable impact on relative house prices.
Mr. Iain Wright: I apologise for taking up the hon. Gentlemans time. I am listening to his arguments closely and I am sure that you would rule him out of order if he strayed too much into a Second Reading-type speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but is he opposed to the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency?
Martin Horwood: My principal concern is about powers that are exactly analogous to those held by other quangospowers to consult but never to change the decisions being consulted on. For instance, 8,100 houses in Cheltenham have been accepted by everybody locally for development in the urban area, but that has been pushed up to 13,800 houses, which will therefore overflow into urban sprawl, over miles and miles of green land and green-belt areas. Inevitably, we now have a growing cross-party campaign called Save the Countryside. When we have bodies that trust the people, new housing will be accepted. That is the gist of many of the amendments that we discussed earlier.
Lembit Öpik: To respond to what the Minister said, I see that my hon. Friend has assiduously read the reports of the Public Bill Committee. He is citing the exact point that I made, which is that the HCA has incredible powersindeed, almost unfettered powers. He is expressing concern that the HCA has such a wide remit that it can walk into just about any other quangos activities without having to check with anybody else. I agree about that concern, and I said so in Committee.
Martin Horwood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support; that is exactly the point that I am making. If we fail to trust the people and empower such organisations simply to walk into other areas and bully and threaten people, the barriers will go up and peoples nimby instincts will come out. Voices ignored so far in local areas mean that local people will become determined to shout louder.
The numbers that the HCA and others will be involved in handing down from the Department are not locally determined and are based on models about which many questions that were asked two years ago by the then Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, of which I was a member, need to be answered. The truth is that some of those models might all be for nothingthat is, we need only change a few parameters in them and they might not even deliver the affordability at the macro level that they are designed to support. Indeed, one parameter has spectacularly changed, namely the growth assumptions behind such large numbers of new houses.
The growth assumptions behind the numbers in the south-west are based on an annual economic growth rate of between 2.8 and 3.2 per cent. sustained consistently over 20 years. However, those are the kind of growth rates that the Chancellor can now only dream of, so I would be interested to hear the Ministers response on
that. According to the Treasurys own projections, those numbers are now simply wrong. However, as a result of new growth point status initiatives, to which I hope Cheltenhams Conservative administration will not sign upalthough the signs are not goodgreenfield sites may well be developed first and not last, because the growth points focus on greenfield development. I hope that the Minister can spare the time to respond to that point. If we are not careful, when the economic crisis bites, greenfield sites may well end up being the only land that is developed. That is why the amendments that refer to sustainability and the prioritisation of greenfield sites over brownfield sites are so important.
The measures have implications for quality of life and for the environment, in terms of climate change and flooding. The Foresight report from a few years ago identified urbanisation as a key factor in the increased likelihood of floodinga factor high up the priority list for many of my constituents, as 600 properties in Cheltenham flooded last year. The South West of England Development Agency responded in its regional spatial strategy by increasing the number of houses in the Cheltenham and Tewkesbury area by 3,700, and now yet another unaccountable, unelected quango is being created under the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill that persuades me that the Homes and Communities Agency would ever side with local people who have local knowledge, or with local elected representatives.
Mr. Iain Wright: I am not entirely certain whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House when I mentioned the issue in debate on the first group of amendments, but Sir Bob Kerslake, the chief executive designate of the Homes and Communities Agency, recently said in a letter, with regard to the transitional arrangements, that he sees the agency as the best local delivery partner for local authorities. The measures will only improve housing supply and regenerate infrastructure and communities if there is a close link between the agency and local authorities. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree?
Martin Horwood: The Minister has put his finger on one of the key problems with the Bill. In trying to reassure the House that the Bill provides enough safeguards, democratic measures and provisions on the sustainability of the new agency, he refers us to a letter from its designated chair and not to any provision in the Bill. If we are simply to rely on the good will of an appointed official, that is not good enough.
As I say, I do not have any confidence that the Homes and Communities Agency will ever side with local people who have local knowledge, or with local elected representatives, against the faceless bureaucrats and Government inspectors who are simply doing the Governments bidding and ignoring important democratic and environmental factors. Amendments Nos. 175, 229 and 233 and new clauses 32 and 33 would go some small way towards addressing that imbalance and I strongly support them.
I should like to sing the praises of new clause 32, which I think will have some backing in all parts of the House. It is all about community land trusts. The Minister will remember that in Committee
we had a bit of discussion about CLTs and whether they could prosper if they were legally defined as an entity. As he knows, the purpose of CLTs is to ensure that affordable and other sub-market housing is available to people at below market rents or costssomething of which I think he would approve. That would make a great deal of sense in an environment where we are trying to do everything possible to provide low-value and affordable housing. In some areas of the country, local people are effectively priced out of the housing market because house prices are not at the national average, which is eight or 10 times salary, but are 20 times the local average salary. Community land trusts can do a great deal to assist in that regard, and new clause 32 seeks legally to define the CLTs once again.
The Minister told us in Committee that it was not necessary to define CLTs, as that would not be of any great advantage to them; he said that legislation already provides for them and that they are already being created, and that that proved that the Bill did not need to address the issue of definition in any greater detail. However, I have since discovered that he is wrong. I recently visited a good CLT in Cornwall, where a group of residents have got together and have managed to purchase some land. It is called a self-built community land trust. I commend it to him; it is in the village of Rock. The Minister will be interested to hear that when I say self-built, that is what I mean. At 5.30 pm when the residents have finished work, and at the weekend, they go and build the community themselves, literally.
The residents spent a full year trying to get funding for that very sound project. There was no real reason why they should not get funding; it was nothing to do with the more recent credit crunch. The reason they could not get the funding was that no commercial organisation understood what a CLT was, despite the fact that the residents had the backing of their local housing association, which was trying to explain the situation. When lending societies looked at the plan they could not get their heads around it, because community land trusts are not defined anywhere in law. Along with amendment No. 151, new clause 32 would solve that problem.
I approve of the intention of the new clause, and hope that the Government are listening carefully. What worries me, however, is what worried me in Committee. I am not sure that the wording is as inclusive as it needs to be. The implication is that the new clause is about low-cost home ownership rather than what I want to see, which is a mixture of ownership and renting. Will the hon. Gentleman specify exactly what he thinks the new clause will do?
The hon. Gentleman has made an excellent point. It should be possible for community land trusts to cover both low-cost renting and home ownership. I am very willing to work on the wording of the definition, and if the Minister will join me in doing so I shall be very pleased. However, although he has shown good will over other parts of the Bill, it seems to
me that, for no good reason, he is sticking to the view that CLTs should not be included in it. I have given him on-the-ground evidence about a CLT that went through the trauma of trying to obtain funds when the only obstacle was the absence of a legal definition.
Margaret Moran: I am a little confused. Could the hon. Gentleman be a little more explicit about the obstacle in that case? When I was chair of housing in Lewisham, we sponsored some of the first self-build projects in the country. They were based on the co-op model and experienced no difficulty in securing funds, through commercial sponsors, through the Housing Corporation or, indeed, through our own local authority.
May I also echo the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew)? For many of us, community land trustswhich were created by the Co-operative Development Society, to which all praise is duewere very much about affordable rented housing rather than home ownership.
Grant Shapps: I accept that entirely. They also enable people to shape their communities as they wish. The CLT that I mentioned wanted to ensure that local people could be housed locally. It was able to define tenants or buyers on the basis of their local roots, which I think makes a great deal of sense.
As for the obstacle in that case, the members of the CLT spent a considerable amount of time approaching a large number of lending institutions. They were asked to explain exactly what a community land trust was. When they had explained, in plain English, they were asked Can you tell us where, in law, we can find out about this mechanism? As we all know, it is not defined anywhere in law, and as a resultand I am not making this upthe CLT was unable to obtain funding. I am pleased to hear that elsewhere in the country and in earlier times, perhaps under a slightly different guisethe hon. Lady mentioned co-operativesothers have been funded, but CLTs are very much at the beginning of their journey. We know that the Minister has arranged trials to establish how they could be made to work elsewhere.
If the commitment is there and both sides of the House agree, it is reasonable to try to proceed slightly more quickly. If we can learn from practical experience of the problems experienced by those on the ground, there is every reason to include this provision in the Bill. I cannot think of any way in which it would damage the Governments other objectives.
Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman will know that, along with friends, I have supported his proposal. We are keen for there to be a definition, but it is important for us to get it right. It seems to me that a new clause and an amendment that would widen the aims of the Homes and Communities Agency, whatever its deficits, are worth considering. They should include both ownership and renting, and perhaps shared ownership as well. I think that we should allow the proposal to be taken away after the debate, but should ensure that there is consensus before it reaches the House of Lords.
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentlemans comments. I have to let the Minister know that I am keen to strip this out and divide on new clause 32, although I will listen with great interest to find out whether he believes that, in the interest of
trying to provide affordable housing to local communities in an all-round beneficial way, the provisions could form part of the Bill.
Jeremy Corbyn: A number of interventions have drawn attention to the very good principle behind housing co-operatives, co-operative ownership, co-operative development and management of co-operatives. I have many such organisations in my constituency and they work extremely well. What would be the effect of the new clause on the development of housing co-ops?
Grant Shapps: There would be no direct impact one way or the other, but I pay tribute to the work of co-operatives in creating affordable housing. There are one or two in my patch and I see many others around the country. I believe they contribute greatly to a form of housing that is both decent and affordable.
Let me repeat that if the Minister reflects at greater length on the new clause and perhaps undertakes to introduce a similar provision in the other place, I would be happy not to press it to the vote, but as things stand, I am afraid that I would want it pressed to a Division.
Mr. Iain Wright: I had not intended to speak to this group of amendments, as I wanted right hon. and hon. Members to be able to contribute to the debate. If I may, however, I would like to make a few points. I am genuinely excited by this part of the Bill and I really believe that the Homes and Communities Agency will be the vehicle to help us to build 3 million homes by 2020, playing a key role in the regeneration of our infrastructure and our communities. Indeed, the agencys ability to hitor should that be break?the ground and deliver is absolutely key to our housing policy. I stress, however, that it is not just about improving the supply and quality of housing in England, as clause 2 reinforces the importance of the regeneration or development of land, infrastructure and communities, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood).
I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), who argued in Committee that we needed to go further in respect of the agencys responsibilities for sustainable development. I undertook to consider the matter in more detail, including whether it would be appropriate to include sustainable development in the objects of the HCA, and I have now concluded that it would. Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are designed to add to the agencys objects the need
to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development,
Amendment No. 25 would delete clause 34, but I think it is no longer necessary. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and for St. Ives (Andrew George) will not press their amendment No. 229, which is also unnecessary. May I say that through sheer tenacity and expertise in and command of the argument, my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham has moved Government
policy on these matters quite considerably? She has placed sustainable development right at the heart of the agencys objects. I pay sincere tribute to her and am happy to give way to her.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I thank the Minister for accepting my amendment in Committee. It is indeed important to align housing policy with planning policy, particularly in respect of planning policy statements 1 and 3. It is also essential that the new agency looks at the infrastructure, so that the necessary schools, health centres, roads and so forth are in place to support these new communities.
Mr. Wright: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Although the rhetoric has been about 3 million new homes, I have said time and again that this is not just about more homes, important though that is to address the housing needs of this country; it is about better homes and greener homes. That is what the Bill will do for design, with the Academy for Sustainable Communities being placed in the agency and with the requirements in the code for sustainable homes. It is vital that homes, if they are to be truly sustainable, are not just plonked in a field; we need the related infrastructure, such as health facilities and schools. I hope that the HCA will build on the work done by English Partnerships in creating 11 new schools to provide the confidence to the market to ensure that development takes place. This is not just about more homes, important though they are; it is about better designed, greener homes in an appropriate setting, with excellent community infrastructure.
Martin Horwood: I certainly agree that homes should not be just plonked in fields, but I warn the Minister that that is exactly what the implications of his policy are in my constituency. He keeps on mentioning the figure of 3 million. Will he answer my specific point about the economic growth assumptions behind the model that produced that number now being inappropriate in the light of the Governments own growth forecasts?
Mr. Wright: I am happy to be ruled out of orderthat sounds like a speech on Second Readingbut we have not been building the homes that we require in this country for a generation. Since the 1970sfor 35 yearshousing supply, as opposed to housing demand, has been woefully inadequate. We need to do something about that. We need to take into account the rising aspirations of the people of this country and the social changes. We are all living longer and need appropriate homes. More of us live on our own, perhaps as a result of marital breakdown. We need to do something about that. We need the homes that this country wants and deserves. To do that, under the evidence-based policy that we have put in place, we need to build 240,000 homes a year, and I hope that the whole House will provide consensus on that.
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