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7 Oct 2008 : Column 72WH—continued

I absolutely agree with that, and the importance of sustainable, mixed communities is at the heart of what the Homes and Communities Agency will be all about.

Short-term options such as the rent to homebuy scheme, announced in the July package, are being examined and will help people into home ownership by allowing them to rent a new build property from an RSL at below market rent while they save for a deposit, with the option to buy a share after a specified period. That is an exciting new model, and as we continue to see relatively high house prices coupled with a lack of available credit and mortgage finance, it will come increasingly to the fore as a choice. My hon. Friend mentioned the importance of choice in helping people to get on the property ladder.

In July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government proposed changes to the regional spatial strategy for the south-west. You will be pleased to hear, Mr. Key, that I have just returned from hospital after being nursed for the bruises on my
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back following this morning’s debate. My right hon. Friend has proposed raising housing provision in the region as a whole from some 23,000 units a year, as set out in the submitted strategy, to some 29,600, and raising affordable housing targets to at least 35 per cent. of all housing development or 10,000 units a year. In relation to Plymouth, she has proposed raising provision from 1,500 units a year to 2,000 a year.

My hon. Friend mentioned the regional spatial strategy, and I take note of what she said, particularly about the hierarchical approach to the 21 strategically significant cities and towns in the south-west. As she suggested, the proper way to pursue the matter is to make a written representation to the Secretary of State. Given the quasi-judicial role that I mentioned several times in this morning’s debate, it would not be right for me to comment at this stage, for fear of prejudicing my right hon. Friend’s consideration of the matter. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State will reflect on what she and other parties have to say before a final decision is made.

Linda Gilroy: I appreciate the position that my hon. Friend is in, but given that we are not quite as mob-handed as in the earlier debate, may I impress upon him how incredibly important the matter is to a city that is ready and willing to build new houses, and needs them to make the city work?

Mr. Wright: I appreciate that fully. The passion about the whole topic of the south-west regional spatial strategy was made clear to me this morning. As I said at the start of my remarks, the ambition for growth seems evident in the city’s leaders and is exemplified by my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and for Plymouth, Devonport. It is quite remarkable, and I am keen to capitalise on it as much as possible to ensure that the growth actually happens.

Linda Gilroy: May I stress also that there is cross-party support for that, which is very important to the continuity of our ambitions?

Mr. Wright: I do not want to hark back to earlier debates, but in the debate in April on growth in Plymouth I was struck by how much my hon. Friends who represent the city are willing to engage and work closely with political opponents for the good of the city. Being able to put aside partisan difficulties to work together for the good of the people we represent is a first-class example of what elected representatives should do, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends’ ability to do that in Plymouth.

I turn now to the numbers, particularly on social and affordable housing. My hon. Friends will know that we are to invest the unprecedented sum of £8 billion in affordable housing in England in the next three years. That is an increase of £3 billion on the previous three years. I have focused on the long-term fundamentals, and our aspiration is to address the imbalance between the supply of housing and the demand for it. Our aspiration remains to deliver 45,000 homes a year by
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2010-11 and 50,000 a year during the next spending review period. That will be funded mainly by the Housing Corporation and, within the next few months, by the new Homes and Communities Agency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton made an interesting point about the importance of the private rented sector in addressing housing need, about which I agree with her. She mentioned previous legislation on the matter, and I can tell her that the Housing Act 1988 was intended to achieve a balance between the rights of tenants and those of landlords, and to make it easier for landlords to regain possession. One result was that the sector has expanded, with the number of households living in the private rented sector growing from something like 8 per cent. and falling in the mid-1980s to 12 per cent. now. That demonstrates the fact that the changes have had a positive effect.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the Rugg review. The Government commissioned an independent review of the private rented sector from Julie Rugg of the university of York. It will be about how we can better understand the private rented sector and increase the professionalism of landlords across the board. I believe that the Rugg review will be published on about 23 October, and the Government will examine it very closely.

The theme of my hon. Friend’s speech seemed to be how we can help people to get a foot on the first rung of the housing ladder. I have mentioned a variety of ways, but one important one is staircasing and the right to staircase up as and when circumstances allow, in which I am very interested. She will be aware of the Government-funded homebuy scheme, which is sufficiently flexible to enable low-cost home ownership properties to be retained when it is essential and, as an important aside, to meet the needs of purchasers with disabilities. Generally, we want shared owners to increase their equity stake when they can afford to do so, and to move to full ownership. Receipts from the sales of shares are reinvested by housing associations to help other households. However, to retain properties when it is essential to do so, newer shared ownership leases under the new build homebuy scheme contain a right of first refusal. It requires purchasers who have increased their equity stake to 100 per cent., and wish to move, to offer the property back to the provider in the first instance.

I conclude by paying tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and for Plymouth, Devonport and by mentioning community land trusts. My hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) have been invaluable in pushing forward that agenda. As has been acknowledged, we put a definition of community land trusts in the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008 to help to provide lenders with certainty and confidence. I have no doubt that, thanks to the hard work that my hon. Friends have pushed forward, we will go further and the idea of social enterprise and co-operation will be invaluable in meeting the short-term challenges to provide the housing that we need for the long term in Plymouth and elsewhere.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Two o’clock.

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