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Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Communities and Local Government

“Housing Challenge” Document

The Minister for Housing (Caroline Flint): I am today launching a document entitled “Facing the Housing Challenge: Action today, innovation for tomorrow”. A copy will be placed in the Library of the House.

We know that the vast majority of people aspire to home ownership. This is more than an economic calculation—it represents their hopes and dreams for their families. Across Government, we value and support these aspirations. We are absolutely committed to making sure that everyone can find the housing that meets their needs.

So this time last year, we published a housing Green Paper, setting out our plans for the biggest housebuilding programme in decades. It set out our long-term plans to meet the housing needs of our aging, growing population, with a major increase in supply to address increasing demand, helping those families and first time buyers priced out of the property market.

More recently, however, the international housing market has experienced significant challenges as a result of turbulence in the global financial markets. People are finding it harder to get a mortgage; we have seen falls in house prices and house builders are now experiencing difficult business conditions after years of extremely favourable circumstances.

But the long-term demographic trends remain the same. And without action now, we risk frustrating many more potential first time buyers and growing families in the future. Our target to achieve a rate of 240,000 new homes per year by 2016 was set to address these long-term trends and we remain absolutely committed to increasing supply to this level to respond to this long-term demand.

The signs are that current market conditions will lead to a fall in housing completions this year, which makes our targets of two million homes by 2016 and three million by 2020 challenging, particularly if the current conditions are protracted.

However, the development industry has shown before it is capable of responding and delivering substantial increases in new homes over a short period—from around 130,000 net additions in 2001-02 to approaching 200,000 in 2006-07. We therefore remain committed to our overall target of three million homes by 2020 as the right long-term goal, whilst recognising the scale of the challenge this entails.

We need now to retain our focus on stimulating market conditions, seeking new ways to deliver the housing this country urgently needs and ensuring there is a planning framework that will support a rapid market recovery.

So we are publishing this document to set out our next steps in this housing delivery programme, helping
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to strike the right balance in responding to both current conditions and long-term challenges.

We invest around £6 billion per year in housing and regeneration programmes. Our priorities for these resources are to:

We are therefore setting out a package of measures in this document to achieve these objectives. These include:

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Alongside this document, I am publishing an open letter which sets out our response to the Calcutt review of housing supply. We have accepted a number of the recommendations from John Calcutt. These include the creation of a zero-carbon unit to co-ordinate and guide the programme of work to deliver zero-carbon housing from 2016, and further work to develop skills within the house building industry.

I am also publishing a summary of the Pomeroy review of private sector shared equity. Brian Pomeroy was tasked with examining how the private sector shared equity market is developing and what the private and public sector might do to facilitate its development. The review found that there were no major institutional barriers which were preventing a shared equity market from developing and there remains an interest in developing suitable shared equity products when conditions improve. The full text has not been published as it contains confidential information, but the summary sets out the main findings. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.

Finally, effective regional and local planning for the medium and long term is essential if we are to reach the target of 240,000 homes per year from 2016. We will now work with regional partners on a flexible basis to agree the work programmes and timetables with each regional planning body. The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit recently provided the Government with advice on the numbers it felt should be considered in regional strategy reviews. I am today writing to all regional assembly chairs, the North West regional leaders’ forum, and the Mayor of London with guidance on how we expect the advice from the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit to be used.

The document “Facing the Housing Challenge: Action today, innovation for tomorrow” outlines a broad response to the impact of the disruption in international financial markets on the housing market. This package will both help people facing difficulties today, and lay the foundations to help meet the long-term housing needs of the country.

However, it is not the end of the process. We will review progress and reflect on new approaches, incentives or support mechanisms which will both help address the current difficulties and deliver our longer-term programme. We will take a proactive approach wherever it is clear that we can do more to support consumers and industry.

Culture, Media and Sport

Society Lottery Limits

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): In recent months my Department has received representations from the Lotteries Council and the Hospice Lotteries Association, seeking changes to the regulatory regime for non-commercial society lotteries established by section 99 of the Gambling Act 2005 (“the Act”). Societies under the Act are typically national and local charities, sporting and social clubs that run lottery draws in order to raise funds for local good causes such as hospices or air ambulances. Societies which operate lotteries that raise more than £20,000 in a single draw or over £250,000 in a year must be licensed by the Gambling Commission.

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The aim of the representations I have received has been to persuade the Government to increase the present limit on the maximum proceeds that are permitted to be raised by society lotteries in a single draw, from the present limit of £2 million. This would also allow a larger top prize to be offered, since the Act provides that a person buying a society lottery ticket cannot win more than 10 per cent. of the overall proceeds of the draw.

These representations have been echoed in Parliament. Through signing early-day motion 1570 tabled by the hon. Member for Bolton North-East (Mr. Crausby) in May this year, some 70 hon. Members on all sides have expressed support for an increase in proceeds limits under the Act, specifically in relation to hospice lotteries.

While very few societies currently reach the present limits, some have argued that the limits hold them back, for example by preventing a number of societies coming together to promote a larger one-off annual draw.

The Government have always been willing to consider representations made on behalf of the good causes which benefit from society lotteries, as we showed when we doubled the then society lottery limits in 2002. The 2005 Act also introduced a range of deregulatory measures designed to assist society lotteries. I have considered the arguments now put by the Lotteries Council and Hospice Lotteries Council, as well as the views of hon. Members. I have also taken into account the view of the Gambling Commission, which as the Government’s principal adviser on gambling matters has also recommended an increase.

I have had to balance these arguments for increasing the amount that society lotteries can raise for projects, with my responsibility for ensuring that the licensing objectives of the Gambling Act are observed. There is a significant risk that increasing the limit on proceeds of lottery draws, and hence the top prize available, by too great an amount could significantly change the character of a society lottery by appealing to players for whom winning such a prize would be a greater attraction than supporting the charitable cause in question. Very high prizes also bring with them an increased risk of fraud and other criminal activity.

Having weighed these considerations, I have concluded that there is a reasonable justification for a limited increase in the maximum proceeds that society lotteries may raise in a single lottery draw. I am now able to inform the House how the Government intend to proceed.

I will tomorrow publish a three-month consultation paper on a proposal to increase to £4 million the maximum proceeds for each individual society lottery draw. This will entail a top prize of up to £400,000 for each draw. There will be no increase to the annual maximum proceeds per society lottery of £10 million since no society lotteries presently reach that limit. The maximum £25,000 prize for society lotteries whose proceeds are below £250,000 will also remain unaltered.

If in the light of public consultation we decide to proceed, either with this proposal or another that suggests itself in the light of responses to the consultation, we will bring forward the necessary order. This will be for Parliament to approve by means of an affirmative resolution, requiring a debate and potentially a vote in both Houses.

This measure would benefit around 630 societies that are presently licensed by the Gambling Commission to operate society lotteries. I believe that it would provide
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a valuable boost to hospices, charities and other good causes which raise funds through lottery draws, while retaining the character of society lotteries and remaining wholly consistent with the licensing objectives of the Act.


Defence Equipment and Support (Co-location)

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): On 10 October 2006, Official Report, column 13-14WS, my predecessor announced the formation of Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) and that elements of the new organisation were to be co-located in the Bath/Bristol area. DE&S was established on 1 April 2007 and in March this year a major business improvement programme, PACE (Performance, Agility, Confidence, Efficiency), was launched to drive forward the changes required to continue to improve support to the armed forces both now and in the future.

As part of this we have concluded that additional improvements to the provision of through-life military capability and logistics support to the front line can be realised through greater consolidation of DE&S business activities in Bristol. I am therefore announcing today, subject to consultation with the trade unions, the co-location of further elements of DE&S at Abbey Wood in Bristol. This will involve DE&S withdrawing in its entirety from Andover, Wyton, Caversfield and from both the Ensleigh and Foxhill sites in Bath, in a phased programme through to 2012. Those sites vacated by DE&S are being considered for further defence use. Under the DE&S programme, around 2,800 posts will move to Bristol, in addition to the 1,000 transfers already in hand. It will produce estimated savings of around £560 million over a 25 year period, is a key enabler for the PACE programme and is also part of a wider departmental estates rationalisation programme, reflecting the Department’s commitment to maximising the funds available to support the front line.

Midland Medical Accommodation

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg): Ministers have now approved the redevelopment of Whittington Barracks, Lichfield for use by the Defence Medical Services (DMS) and I am today announcing the next steps.

The assessment phase of the Midland Medical Accommodation project has been completed. We have concluded that the strategic, operational, economic and personnel benefits of the project will fully justify an investment of around £200 million over the next few years.

Co-location on the Whittington site of the DMS headquarters and the Defence Medical Services Training Centre (DMSTC, currently based near Aldershot) will give us a “critical mass” of military medical expertise and assets in the Midlands. The area will be reinforced as the central focus for British military medicine, and Lichfield will provide the future “military home” for the DMS.

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Our project assessment confirmed that the Whittington site offers excellent potential for meeting DMS needs. A combination of new build and upgrading of existing buildings will provide ample high quality, fit for purpose accommodation, training and sports facilities, within easy travelling distance of central Birmingham and the RCDM elements that will remain there. The Whittington site also offers an adjacent military training area. Full planning approval for the redevelopment of the site has already been granted.

The project will be delivered in three increments:

Increment 1 will involve the relocation to Lichfield of key management elements of the DMS, whose top structure is currently being re-organised as part of the DMS “Top Structures—Next Steps” programme.

Development of a new Strategic Medical HQ and the HQ for the recently established Joint Medical Command (JMC) is now in progress. We are planning to locate these HQs at Lichfield by 1 April 2010 (although a small number of Strategic Medical HQ staff will remain in London). The HQ of the JMC will comprise staffs currently based at Fort Blockhouse, Gosport who were formerly part of the Defence Medical Education and Training Agency; Defence Dental Services HQ staffs from RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire; the Defence Healthcare Directorate from central London; and elements of the RCDM HQ from Birmingham.

We shall place a contract later this year for the construction at Whittington of a purpose-built office block and associated site infrastructure works. We shall announce further details when this contract is placed. By early 2010 we expect that the site will be supporting over 300 military and civilian personnel in total. Almost 200 of these will be military and civilian posts transferred from central London, Gosport and Halton. Some posts will also be relocated from the RCDM HQ in central Birmingham.

Increments 2 and 3 will see the relocation of the DMSTC from Keogh Barracks, Aldershot, to Lichfield, and the provision of training facilities and living accommodation for over 800 staff and trainees. Existing facilities need to be replaced with accommodation that is fit for the 21st century.

The move of DMSTC will be completed between 2012 and 2014. The precise date will be decided in due course. By the end of the project there will be over 1,100 Defence Medical Services personnel at Lichfield, including up to 700 trainees, as well as over 100 personnel attached to lodger units that we expect to remain on the site.

There will be full consultation with the trades unions as the work on the new organisations and their co-location at Lichfield proceeds.

The new jobs that this project will bring to the Midlands over the next few years will also help to fulfil our policy objective of moving jobs out of the Greater South-East.

The decisions announced today about military medical accommodation in the Midlands are further evidence of the Government’s commitment to the healthcare of service personnel. I shall keep the House informed of progress with this important project.

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