Previous Section Index Home Page

13 Jan 2009 : Column 26WH—continued

The message from Government officials to local authorities about, for example, the future of the Aston Clinton Road business park in Aylesbury is that Ministers are not terribly interested in jobs—that all that really matters in keeping Ministers happy is meeting targets for house building. If that means giving up land earmarked for employment to housing, so be it. If the Minister in
13 Jan 2009 : Column 27WH
his reply is prepared to get up and put it on the record that that is not what the Government want, I would welcome such a statement.

Let me turn finally to infrastructure, because the provision of infrastructure and good public services is, of course, intimately connected with hopes to persuade employers to locate to the areas designated for large-scale new residential growth. Firms will move to Aylesbury only if there are good transport links for their suppliers and customers, and decent public services and a good quality of life for their employees.

There has been no shortage of warnings to the Government about the need to plan for infrastructure. The Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions stated clearly in its eighth report, which was published in 2003, that it was concerned by the absence at that stage of a clear strategy to deliver infrastructure and public services to match the Government’s housing targets, and that it looked forward to such a plan being published at an early opportunity.

The independent study by Roger Tym and Partners in 2003 stated that £8.3 billion would be needed for the whole of the Milton Keynes/South Midlands sub-region. Aylesbury Vale Advantage, the local delivery vehicle, currently estimates that the capital costs—I stress that these are the capital costs only—for Aylesbury Vale district alone are about £827 million. That bill is not for the general capital plans of the district council but for development that would be needed that is directly attributable to the growth required under the Government’s housing targets. I should add that the £827 million excludes anything needed as a result of the proposed expansion of Milton Keynes into Aylesbury Vale district.

So far, some £50 million has been received or pledged in Government grant or developer contributions. That money is welcome, but it is a small proportion of what is needed. For example, the latest £9.4 million that the Government have awarded to Aylesbury Vale will have to be spent on securing an improvement in electricity capacity, which is essential if any development is to take place, but which is not even part of the £827 million bill identified by Aylesbury Vale Advantage.

As the recession has begun to deepen we have seen a fall in section 106 contributions, and negotiations between authorities and developers have been getting steadily more difficult. If we are honest, we have to face up to the fact that the Government money has now been spent. I find it difficult to see where the Government will find the funds to deliver even a fraction of what will be needed, not just in my constituency but in those of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. It is no good saying, “Oh, Buckinghamshire county council can borrow more; it is a floor authority”—meaning that it is unable to take advantage of supportive borrowing because it cannot afford to make repayments on capital borrowed—

John Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been generous in giving way and is, as always, making a compelling case. Does he agree that an additional concern is that population expansion necessarily has major implications for the local health service, assessments of which are robust and on the public record? In particular, does he share my concern—I think he does—about the
13 Jan 2009 : Column 28WH
known time lag of up to 18 months between the arrival of new residents in the area and the processing through the system of the necessary capitation payments?

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is spot on. It is no good saying to developers who might want to build a house or to residents who might want to move into a newly built house, or to an employer weighing up whether to move into our area rather than another one, “Don’t worry. In a few years’ time, if you are lucky, and depending on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the council tax rates, you might get your new GP clinic, your new road or your new school.” If we are going to have sustainable communities—the Government have declared that that is their ambition—such facilities must be available at the start. Those new facilities must also be introduced in a way that gives some advantage to the existing residents of the town where new development has taken place. I am hearing about incipient resentment from Aylesbury residents, who think, when they hear talk about a new school or community centre being planned for the area to be built, that they will be stuck with buildings that are in need of repair, with the new residents getting priority over those who have lived in the town for many years.

Transport undoubtedly comprises the biggest share of the £827 million bill, which includes £182 million for roads and £100 million for rail—sums that are needed directly for growth. Aylesbury is already heavily congested at peak hours. The Minister has visited more than once, and if he has arrived at peak hours he will have had to queue on one of the approach roads to the town centre. The A41 Tring road is already designated as an air quality management area because exhaust pollution levels there breach the limits set by European law.

It is not just the impact of extra houses in Aylesbury about which I am concerned, but the impact on traffic in my constituency of development in Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and other neighbouring districts and counties. The latest estimate is that the planned housing growth will result in an increase of 38 per cent. in the number of trips made by car in Aylesbury between the base year of 2005 and the end of the housing programme in 2026. That is not just a predict-and-provide figure obtained through extrapolating current trends. That 38 per cent. increase assumes that there would be an increase of more than 90 per cent. in walking and cycling trips during that period and an increase of 70 per cent. in bus and rail trips. Even if those shifts to other modes of transport take place, the consequence of the Government’s housing plans—unless something serious is done about road and rail infrastructure—will be that, by the mid-20-teens or 2020s, congestion at off-peak hours in Aylesbury will match the congestion that my constituents see in peak hours today. I can think of no greater disincentive for new businesses to think of locating in Aylesbury and, frankly, no greater incentive for businesses currently located there to consider whether they ought to leave and locate elsewhere.

I could mention a long list of items. For example, some £12.7 million is needed by the NHS for four health centres and a community hospital; £28.5 million is required for further education facilities; £123 million is needed for two secondary, eight primary and one special school; £6.5 million is needed for sports pitches; £5.5 million is needed for new residential places in
13 Jan 2009 : Column 29WH
day-care centres and other provision for social care; and £2 million is required for children’s play areas. There is not time to go into detail about those sums, but it is important that the Minister is aware of the scale of the need.

How will these facilities be provided? The housing targets have been created by the Government, so it is fair to ask the Minister what the Government’s plan is for sustainable communities and for the infrastructure and public services that they set out in 2002. A year after the White Paper was published, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister published a document entitled, “Creating Sustainable Communities. Making it happen: Thames Gateway and the Growth Areas,” which was the Department’s first progress report on the sustainable communities plan. On page 5, that report stated

but that the plan


They thought that they had made a start in 2003. However, from what I have seen over the past seven years, and from what I see when comparing what the Government are planning for and delivering with those aspirations, there has been a sorry failure to deliver on those promises. I look to the Minister to explain what the Government’s strategy is now and whether they have abandoned those pledges on truly sustainable communities.

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Seven Back Benchers have indicated that they wish to speak, so would hon. Members bear that in mind when making their speeches?

11.27 am

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): I agree with the three points that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) outlined at the beginning of his contribution. First, there is a need for new housing in all the areas represented by all the hon. Members in this Chamber. Secondly, that housing should be of good quality and, particularly, of high environmental quality. I am proud that the Oxley Park development in my constituency has eco-houses of the highest quality, which have been occupied extremely quickly both by people buying them and through social ownership or social renting. Thirdly, housing needs to be provided in parallel with the necessary infrastructure underpinning it.

Although we are talking largely about physical infrastructure, I also want to stress what I describe as the soft infrastructure, which needs to accompany new communities and has always been developed in Milton Keynes, which is not yet at the end of its first development plan, a small proportion of which is still being completed. When I talk about soft infrastructure, I mean the social organisations, including voluntary organisations and other social infrastructure, that have to be developed as
13 Jan 2009 : Column 30WH
a community is enlarging and, in the case of the areas that the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) and I represent, becoming considerably more diverse.

From there, we diverge, because I want to talk largely about housing need. What I say will be very different from what others say because Milton Keynes is very different from the rest of the Milton Keynes and South Midlands area. Milton Keynes is a hugely successful and highly dynamic new town or new city. During the previous recession, growth continued in Milton Keynes, albeit at a slower pace, obviously, but at a faster pace than in the rest of the country, and I am confident that Milton Keynes will also weather the current recession, and that growth will continue.

The concept of growth has been embraced by, for example, the Milton Keynes economy and learning partnership and has been set out in its economic vision, “From New Town to International City”. Milton Keynes looks forward to being the 10th largest city in the UK in 2030. The superior facilities that we have—for example, our shopping centre, theatre and art gallery—surpass innumerable other facilities and are enjoyed by many of the constituents of the hon. Members ranged on the Opposition Benches. I except my colleague in the other half of Milton Keynes, the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), because they are our joint facilities, but the constituents of all the other hon. Members are happy to come and enjoy those facilities. We all benefit from the fact that we have a superb regional theatre. We are happy to welcome the constituents of the other hon. Members to enjoy those facilities and help to make them economically viable and hugely successful.

As I said, we are different from the rest of the Milton Keynes and South Midlands area. In particular, we are different because we have more jobs than houses. Therefore, many members—one third—of the work force in Milton Keynes live outside the constituency and commute in. I accept that many of those live outside the constituency by choice. They may prefer living in a village to living in an urban area. However, a great many of them live outside the constituency because sufficient housing is not available in Milton Keynes, and they are priced out. I have innumerable examples of individuals who have moved from the north of England and got a job in Milton Keynes, but who have not been able to get a house in Milton Keynes because they cannot afford it, so they come as far south as they can, which is not as far as Milton Keynes. If more people who already work in Milton Keynes could live in Milton Keynes, the effect on the environment would be much reduced and the quality of life of those individuals would be improved.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I am listening with great interest to the hon. Lady’s argument about how Milton Keynes has been such a success under the Labour Government. Why, then, is unemployment in her constituency 47 per cent. higher now than it was in 1997?

Dr. Starkey: Unemployment figures have increased by more than the south-east average just over the past few months, and the local economic partnership has been looking into the detail of why exactly that has been occurring. It appears that it has largely to do with the laying off of temporary and casual workers, and the
13 Jan 2009 : Column 31WH
suspicion is that it has to do with the downturn in the retail sector, which is very large in Milton Keynes. Clearly, the issue needs examining, but notwithstanding that, it remains the fact that we have more employment than houses available for the people who work in our area. The hon. Member for Aylesbury, in opening the debate, talked about his recognition of housing need. I want to put some flesh on the bones of the feedback from my constituents about what that housing need means.

First, there is a wholly inadequate supply of social rented housing in Milton Keynes. Therefore, many of my constituents live in overcrowded, unsatisfactory conditions. They are forced into the private rented sector, where they may pay very high rents to live in relatively poor conditions. My local council, because of the shortage of social rented housing, has a housing allocations policy. I understand how it arrived at that, but it is wholly unsatisfactory. If someone needs housing in Milton Keynes and is accepted as statutorily homeless—no one else gets access to social rented housing—they go to the council and the council will say, “Fine. You are statutorily homeless. We have an obligation to house you. What have we got available today?” That is essentially what the council says. If it does not have a social rented property available for the person, it offers them a private rented property and if they do not take it, the council has discharged its statutory obligation.

The consequence of that is, first, that the allocation of housing is seen as arbitrary—it is just a matter of luck as to what is available on the day a person turns up. That leads to a corrosive view in the community that some people are given an unfair advantage, as it is essentially a lottery. Secondly, most people are placed in the private rented sector. Those properties may be okay, but the accommodation is not stable and individuals are moved frequently. That has a hugely detrimental effect, particularly on families with children. Children are moved from one school to another at frequent intervals, on top of the instability that has already been caused by the fact that they were homeless. Hon. Members will know from their own constituencies that major causes of individuals becoming homeless are relationship breakdown, redundancy and sudden illness and disability that lead to household income loss. Those households are already experiencing huge stress. On top of that, they are put in unsatisfactory private rented accommodation.

Alternatively, people may be fortunate enough to get into social rented property. Housing association properties of good quality are still being built, but the council’s own property stock has been eroded by the right to buy to such an extent that very many of my most disadvantaged constituents with families are placed in the two or three blocks of council housing that are least favoured. They have to share wholly inadequate, overcrowded accommodation that suffers high levels of condensation and damp with various other people who have severe social problems, often associated with alcohol addiction, drug addiction or other unfortunate behavioural characteristics. That compounds the problems that those families have.

13 Jan 2009 : Column 32WH

I am laying it on thick because it is incredibly important that when we talk about housing need, we spell out what the housing need is and what the consequences are of not meeting those housing needs. I have talked about social rented housing, but of course the—

Mr. Lancaster rose—

Dr. Starkey: On that particular issue, I will give way.

Mr. Lancaster: This is actually on the broader point, to be honest. The hon. Lady talked about being very keen to listen to her constituents’ views. Will she take this opportunity to explain to her constituents and mine why she feels so strongly that they should not be trusted to help to deliver the future of Milton Keynes; why they should not be trusted to vote in local elections to allow Milton Keynes council to be the sole planning authority to decide the future of our city?

Dr. Starkey: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s premise and I will not be turned away from what I believe is the priority for my constituents—homes for them and for their young people—and led into a spurious argument that simply plays into his political agenda, which I am sure will be well expressed by the massed ranks of Tory MPs present.

John Bercow rose—

Dr. Starkey: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to be able to put the point of view of my constituents.

John Bercow: I accept what the hon. Lady says about making her own case—who could deny it?—and she is making an important point about housing need. I do not cavil at that. One can argue the toss about overall numbers, but she is making a persuasive point. The question is this: does she accept that, even if that need is precisely as she describes, the development required to meet it still has to be sustainable? That raises the critical question of the level of infrastructure and who pays for it.

Dr. Starkey: I absolutely accept that point and I will come on to the issue of infrastructure, but I suspect that everyone else will talk about that and I want to redress the balance and focus the debate on people, including families, children and elderly people, who need decent housing. All of us have access to decent housing—more-than-decent housing. It is important that I speak for the people in my constituency whose voices are far too often not heard in this argument. In my view, the emphasis is disproportionately on people who already have houses and is not on those who do not. The others who need new housing are those who could afford to buy if they were given some help, particularly young people.

Next Section Index Home Page