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Hazel Blears: We certainly will not be going on our motorbikes together; that is for sure. I cannot promise that I will go to those specific areas, but I reassure the hon. Gentleman and the whole House that the eco-towns programme, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing has said, is subject to intense scrutiny and proper examination. We have to make some difficult decisions, and we saw last week during the final stages of the Planning Bill the inability of the Conservative party to take difficult decisions.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that she has hardly been able to walk past me or my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) over the past few months without our badgering her about the Kings Norton new deal for communities project. I thank her for confirming £21.6 million for that project over the next three years. Will she confirm that the important thing now is that Birmingham city council and the other partners should get on with putting the project into practice? I echo, too, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry). Local communities have to be partners in the process, not merely consultees.

Hazel Blears: I would not quite classify my hon. Friend as having stalked me around the corridors of the House of Commons, but he has done exactly what a good Labour MP should do, which is to call Ministers to account and to press his case. He has done that effectively. I confirm that the priority is to get on and to make the difference. The big capital investment in Kings Norton will significantly transform his area. We have discussed before in the House the importance of the development trust being able to lead the development and to shape it for the future in the way that local people want. That is how we get sustainability.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for the announcement that she has made of additional spending in urban areas, particularly for regeneration. All her work in the past few years has been welcomed hugely in my constituency. Will she meet a delegation of councillors from Birmingham city council to discuss regeneration funding and, in particular, working neighbourhoods funding, which the local authority is not currently applying properly? She will be able to hear their concerns and discuss how we can move forward.

Hazel Blears: I will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and discuss these very important issues with him. He, too, is a champion for his community. Let us not forget that the result of eight years of Labour investment in the new deal for communities has been significant changes in tackling crime, raising young people’s educational achievements and raising people’s satisfaction with their area. One thing on which we need to do more is tackling worklessness, which is why I am concerned that in the areas involved, local authorities in particular must work with Members and the community to give some of the people who have never had a chance the opportunities that we can offer them.

Social Housing

4. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What recent steps the Government has taken to increase provision of social housing. [214838]

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The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): The 2007 comprehensive spending review provided £6.5 billion for the delivery of 45,000 social rented homes a year by 2010-11. I recently announced that the Housing Corporation will have increased flexibility to help registered social landlords and others to purchase new homes from developers for social rent. It is expected that £200 million will be spent on that in 2008-09.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Given the credit squeeze, what are she and the Government doing to maintain a house building programme for social needs?

Caroline Flint: What we can do is ensure that we use the money that we have available for our affordable housing programme to keep the market moving. I shall shortly announce a new set of actions that we will take to show that we have ideas about what happened last year and how the programme will go forward. Clearly, that will be affected by events here today, to which we must be able to adapt. I hope that the announcements that I shall make shortly will show that we are responding to the situation. We will build more affordable homes, for rent and to buy, but at the same time we will use our revenue and influence to ensure that we help the housing market at this difficult time.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Will the Housing Minister undertake to examine objectively the cost of providing affordable houses in the eco-towns? If it turns out that they are much more expensive than affordable housing elsewhere, will that not drain the budget and make it much more difficult to meet the Government’s overall target for affordable housing?

Caroline Flint: I will take that as support for affordable housing in eco-towns. Of course we look at price issues. I have said that the eco-towns should aim for at least 30 per cent. affordable housing, which could be for rent but will also include low-cost home ownership. That demonstrates the fact that, along with our aims on other fronts such as public transport and the environmental sustainability of eco-town projects, affordable housing is very important to this Government in any development, including eco-towns.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): A number of new flats in my constituency remain unoccupied and planning permissions are not being progressed, presumably as a result of the current state of the housing market. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is no use imposing overall housing targets on an area without being much more robust and specific about the number of social and affordable units that are needed to meet desperate housing needs?

Caroline Flint: Of course, we do not just impose housing targets out of nowhere. We have in place an assessment that takes into consideration the housing needs of communities, and I suggest to my hon. Friend’s local authority and others that they ensure that they undertake that assessment. The planning guidance and other help that we have given them enables them to influence what sort of housing is built. If local authorities all got on with developing their local development framework, that would give a much better indication of their vision for their community. When developers made proposals, local authorities would then be in a stronger position to argue against the sort of housing that might not meet local needs.

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Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Three quarters of the homes in my constituency that were built as social rented properties have been sold off. As a consequence, the supply of social rented properties locally is inadequate, and one in three of the young people we lose never return because of the lack of affordable housing. Does the Minister accept that it is very important to ensure that homes built to be social rented properties remain affordable, and that community land trusts perform an excellent role in ensuring that such homes are protected from the vagaries of Government policy? Will she undertake to give legal and financial support to the development of community land trusts?

Caroline Flint: Not only do we recognise the importance of CLTs as a model for the support of local affordable housing, we are doing something about it. We are already working with a number of CLTs of various sizes around the country. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), has been engaged with this matter as part of his work on the Housing and Regeneration Bill. We will do more in this area, but I am proud to be part of a Government who are prepared to look at many different options that offer people the chance to have housing in their communities. Importantly, we are working to ensure that communities realise that affordable housing is an asset that should be kept not just for the next five years but in perpetuity.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): What consideration is the Department giving to the CDS Co-operatives housing project, which provides social housing and allows people to buy or part-rent according to their income? The housing remains permanently in a community trust, and thus is an asset for everyone in the community.

Caroline Flint: I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has met representatives of the project to which my hon. Friend refers. Her example demonstrates that housing for people in the 21st century should be varied. It might be provided by the local authority, a housing association, a CLT or a co-op, but different models of home provision are exactly what we need if we are to open up the market. I have worked with co-ops to tackle worklessness and social housing. Their excellent work has had an important influence on showing how social housing can be a springboard to further opportunities for people.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Sixty years ago, Aneurin Bevan came up with his other big idea—a national housing service that was publicly owned and run, and a massive house building programme managed by central Government. He modelled his approach on his ideas for health, so can the Minister explain why the Government—officially at least—are Bevanite on health but Thatcherite when it comes to the stock transfer of council housing?

Caroline Flint: Well, considering where we started from in 1997, I think that we have made huge inroads. We inherited a backlog of repairs to local authority housing stock worth £19 billion, 2 million homes were below basic standards of decency, and the Conservative Government started to cut their affordable housing programme in the 1990s. We have made progress, through
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our decent homes programme and the measures that we have taken to increase social housing. About 250,000 homes have been made available through registered social landlords, but the work does not stop there. That is why, among other measures, we are working with CLTs, housing co-ops and local housing companies, and the £6.5 billion that we have put into such schemes demonstrates that this Labour Government are on the side of people who need housing.

Interfaith Strategy

5. Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): What progress has been made in developing an interfaith strategy. [214839]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): The consultation on the interfaith strategy closed on 7 March. We plan to publish the strategy in July.

Ms Barlow: Is my hon. Friend aware of the work of Hope 2008, an organisation that supports the voluntary work of the Churches in Britain? Every year, churches, mosques, synagogues and temples perform a very valued service in the community, not least in my constituency of Hove and Portslade. What will he be doing to support that valuable organisation’s work?

Mr. Dhanda: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she does in Hove, and she is right to say that Hope 2008 does excellent work, which underpins and is very much in tune with our work on an interfaith framework. We have adopted a phrase coined by the Chief Rabbi and believe that organisations should work face to face as well as side by side, in the sort of collaborative action supported by Hope 2008. As I said, we will unveil our interfaith strategy later this month and, alongside it, details of the multi-million pound pot that will support that work.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon) (Con): But given what the Minister has just said about outcomes that faith groups can achieve, will he ensure that not only Government, but local government provide equal access for faith groups that care for some of the most vulnerable people in our community every day? Those groups often face prejudice when accessing resources and funds. Will he do something about that in the interfaith strategy?

Mr. Dhanda: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, and it is one that is made to me regularly by our Faith Communities Consultative Council. It has been very supportive of the work on the interfaith framework, and its ideas are being put into practice in the framework, as he will see in a few weeks. He is right to say that there is more that we can do with our faith communities. We are committed to that, and I have seen the very good work that they have done, not least during the floods last year—including in my constituency. The council has also been involved in planning for a possible flu pandemic and how we would approach such an emergency. The engine for that work was the faith communities in the first place. They have written reports and are working with us. When we publish the report, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that, like a stick of rock, it has their work, commitment and values running through it.

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Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that interfaith strategies in the north of England would have a greater chance of success were Muslim women welcomed into their mosques?

Mr. Dhanda: I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has done a great deal of work in that respect, including setting up the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group, which is working closely with the Department. I have been pleased to see some of the interfaith work that is being done in the north of England, especially around the mosques and madrassahs. However, my hon. Friend is right that we can do much more with Muslim women. I hope that the work of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board will also make a real difference in that context.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Has not everything that the Minister has said pointed to the danger of imposing some form of strategy from above? Instead we should encourage local communities, churches and others, bearing in mind that we have an established Church, to develop their own approach to those of other faiths.

Mr. Dhanda: That is why the title of the initiative has changed from a strategy to a framework. That is something that the faith communities wanted, and they have been at the heart of driving this work. I am pleased to say that we have had some 185 responses to the framework consultation, but the hon. Gentleman will find that local activity is at the heart of it. It is about collaborative social action being supported by local authorities and run at a local level, although it is supported financially at times by the Government.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): Last week I attended a function organised by my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Abubaker, as part of their charitable fundraising efforts in memory of their son, Yusef, who tragically died aged 12 playing his beloved sport of football. In attendance at the function were members of the Syrian, Malaysian, Chinese, Palestinian and, of course, Scottish communities of Dundee. Does the Minister agree that the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Abubaker are an example of how we can bring together wide and varied communities, regardless of ethnic origin, creed or colour?

Mr. Dhanda: I thank my hon. Friend for discussing this matter privately with me yesterday. I wish to pass on my condolences and, I am sure, those of the whole House to Mr. and Mrs. Abubaker on the loss of their son. I was fortunate enough to see the website that has been set up describing some of the activities that are happening in their son’s name in Dundee, which range from touch rugby tournaments to Arab food tasting. The website lists Yusef’s favourite charities and his hobbies, and the work that is being done in his name, bringing different cultures, races and faiths together, is a brilliant example from which we can all learn.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): First, I am sorry to hear about the death of the son of the constituents of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. McGovern).

The Minister will know that trust between the Government and faith communities is essential if the interfaith strategy is to work fully. He will also note that the Education Secretary recently claimed to have found “shocking evidence” of faith schools asking parents to
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pay for school places. In the case of some Jewish schools, this “evidence” turned out to be voluntary contributions towards school security measures against potential attacks by violent extremists. So will the Minister kindly pass on a message to the Education Secretary? For the sake of the interfaith strategy as a whole, he should stop knocking faith schools in order to build up his own Labour party leadership ambitions.

Mr. Dhanda: I fear that the hon. Gentleman’s remarks may not have been as bright as his suit on this occasion.

Mr. Goodman: Or your tie.

Mr. Dhanda: Indeed. I thank the hon. Gentleman.

I will be talking to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in due course, not least to congratulate him on and thank him for the work that he has been doing with our Department on the school twinning programme and on cohesion projects, not least sending two sixth formers from every sixth form in the land to Auschwitz—something that I believe the Leader of the Opposition called a gimmick.

West Northamptonshire Development Corporation

6. Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): What steps her Department has taken to monitor planning decisions made by the West Northamptonshire development corporation. [214840]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Iain Wright): West Northamptonshire development corporation is currently considering planning applications for more than 25,000 dwellings, which is one of the biggest growth pipelines in the country. I therefore recently met the chair and chief executive of WNDC to discuss the issue, and continue to take a close interest.

Mr. Binley: The WNDC, set up under the sustainable communities project, recently received an application for Grange Park village for a mixed development, including 450 houses. It was opposed by local residents, all the local authorities, Anglian Water, the Environment Agency and the Highways Agency, on the basis that the project was unsustainable. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that the project was passed almost unanimously. The total rejection of local opinion in decision making—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister will be able to answer from what the hon. Gentleman has already said.

Mr. Wright: I understand that on 21 May the hon. Gentleman wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on this matter. He will know that the basis of planning applications and the possible quasi-judicial role of the Secretary of State mean that I cannot possibly comment on the merits or otherwise of Grange Park.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): In Northamptonshire, local councils have a planning policy with strategic green areas between major developments. Why is it that the Government have just published their core spatial strategy and overruled that policy?

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