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13 Jan 2009 : Column 32WH—continued

Two big groups in my constituency frequently want to speak to me about housing. The first is those young people in work—hard-working, thrifty families who cannot afford to buy a house, even in Milton Keynes, without the additional help of shared ownership or other schemes. The Milton Keynes development corporation—it is a quango established to deliver housing—has been at the forefront of developing shared
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ownership. The tenure of shared ownership is therefore well understood by people in Milton Keynes, and it has made a greater contribution to the housing stock in Milton Keynes than it has in most other areas. However, young people who want to buy their own homes are not able to do so because the house-building rate has not been fast enough, and because there is a total lack of liquidity as a result of the bigger problems caused by the housing market during the boom and the opposite.

The second group is the parents. They have homes, but they do not have the additional capital to help their children acquire a home. They are distressed because their sons and daughters are not able to get a home before starting their families; and many are distressed because their sons and daughters are still living with them, plus or minus various partners and small grandchildren, whom they love dearly but, to be blunt, with whom they would rather not have to share their home.

Those two groups continually say that more houses are needed. Some may say, “We need more houses, but not next door to mine.” However, they all say that more houses are needed, that they need to be built more quickly and that they should be affordable.

I welcome the steps that the Minister has taken thus far to keep housing building going at the planned rate. Those measures have partly been successful. I cite the HomeBuy Direct scheme. There are a number of examples in my constituency of partnerships between Government and developers that allow homes to be offered for sale with equity loans of 30 per cent. Those schemes are working, but they are not big enough. We need more.

I also welcome the initiative taken by the Government’s HomeBuy agency, which has been a catalyst in Milton Keynes. It held a special event late last year at which information and advice was given to people on exactly how to make best use of the various schemes—My Choice Homebuy and others—to help people buy their own home. I know that 909 households living in Milton Keynes registered with those schemes, and that in mid-November, only a few weeks after the event, 30 had already successfully used the Homebuy scheme. I welcome those schemes, but they are not enough. I urge the Government to do even more to ensure that we continue house building in order to meet housing need.

I said that I would talk about infrastructure. The original Milton Keynes development plan was successful because housing and infrastructure were planned from the start, and were delivered in parallel.

Mr. Eric Martlew (in the Chair): Order. I remind the hon. Lady that others wish to speak.

Dr. Starkey: Indeed, Mr. Martlew.

The Milton Keynes Partnership pioneered the infrastructure tariff—the forerunner of the Government’s community infrastructure levy—which funds development in parallel with housing. For example, we have the biggest school building programme in the country. The Members for both Milton Keynes constituencies have opened new schools to meet the pupil need. Those schools were built before all the houses in the catchment areas had been built; they then grew as the areas grew. We have also had massive investment in our health system. We have had new GP surgeries and dental
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surgeries—the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes recently opened a dental surgery—and the hospital has been expanded.

That is very different from the situation in 1997, when I was first elected. Health provision then did not meet the needs of the population. However, it has now expanded, as has the annual funding, and it is now more or less in balance with population growth. None the less, it needs to continue growing as the population increases.

There is also the transport infrastructure. I think particularly of the improvements to junction 13 on the M1 and the extra platform at Milton Keynes Central station. Regrettably, some of the gilt was taken off the latter because of Network Rail’s mess-ups in January, when the west coast main line completely seized up. Infrastructure should improve in parallel with the increase in housing. The Milton Keynes Partnership tariff allows for forward funding, so that the infrastructure can be put in place despite the fact that the housing development takes place later; we know that the developers are committed to topping up the fund.

I suggest that the rest of the region gets its act together, as has Milton Keynes. All local councils should draw up proper infrastructure plans and work with developers and the Government to ensure that those plans are achieved.

As for the kind words of the hon. Member for Aylesbury about the east-west rail link for Aylesbury, I am more than happy that Aylesbury is getting its station paid for. However, I hope that Aylesbury Vale district council will commit itself to approving the housing that it is supposed to, to help fund those railway improvements; it should not say that it wants the infrastructure but not the housing. We need to have both in parallel; just as we need infrastructure with the housing, so we need the housing with the infrastructure.

11.46 am

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on his wonderful opening address. I shall keep my remarks short, out of respect for my colleagues who also wish to contribute to the debate.

North Northamptonshire, of which Kettering is but a part, is the biggest single growth area outside London. Under the Government’s plans, the population is expected to grow to more than 370,000 by 2021—the equivalent of a city the size of Bristol. There are meant to be 52,100 new houses and 47,400 new jobs. More than 2,100 new houses were built in 2006; under the Government’s projections, that is set to rise to 3,700 a year in the coming years, although I doubt whether it will be achieved. That growth is faster than in the Thames Gateway or Milton Keynes. The lesson from north Northamptonshire is that the infrastructure is not being provided as promised.

For instance, the A14, a Highways Agency road that runs through my constituency, is a key part of the growth of north Northamptonshire, yet we are still awaiting a Government announcement on what is to happen to that road. When first elected to Parliament in 2005, I started asking questions of the Department for Transport about when the Highways Agency would publish its plans for improving the A14 near Kettering. I was told by the Transport Minister in October 2006
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that he had asked the agency to finalise the A14 Kettering bypass widening options study by early 2007. Here we are in early 2009, and still no announcement has been made.

The A43 between Kettering and Northampton is the most dangerous, busiest and most congested road in Northamptonshire. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) axed it from the road improvement programme in 1999, and it is still not to be found in a funding scheme. Indeed, references to dualling in the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy have since been removed.

Kettering urgently needs an eastern bypass if it is to accommodate an increase of one third in its housing stock by 2021. However, the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy states that

I say to the Minister that that is absolute nonsense, and that Kettering will simply grind to a halt unless it is provided.

The rail service from Kettering to London has been scaled back, and the rail service from Kettering to Leicester has been halved since the new timetable was introduced in December. Unemployment in north Northamptonshire stands at 5,300, compared with 4,000 in 1997, and has risen by 50 per cent. in the past year alone. The Minister’s sustainable communities plan for my constituency and north Northamptonshire will not be sustainable unless it enjoys popular support. This is a wonderful opportunity for the Government to use the background of the recession to pump-prime investment into north Northamptonshire by introducing infrastructure projects. That will help to address local concerns about the scale of the development.

[Mr. John Cummings in the Chair]

I leave the Minister with one request. This week will he please get in touch with the Department for Transport and insist that early in this new year an announcement be made about how the Government will improve the A14, because unless that is done, the Government simply will not get the extra houses that they require in north Northamptonshire and my constituents will remain extremely concerned about the lack of infrastructure.

11.51 am

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I, too, shall be brief, like my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone).

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) does not have a monopoly of concern about housing need—it is shared by all my colleagues in the Conservative party. We want to do something about it, which is why I backed plans by South Bedfordshire district council to build well over 10,000 houses in my constituency. That would have more than met local housing need in my area and provided additional houses for her constituents and others in the region. However, to ram into those four areas around London a super amount of growth, without the necessary jobs, transport links and other infrastructure, is unacceptable. That is the broad concern shared by my colleagues in the Conservative party.

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I shall localise the issues to my constituency as quickly as I can. In Leighton Buzzard and Linslade, there is intense irritation that before the Minister’s boss, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is a proposal for 900 houses to the west of Linslade, in the constituency, I think, of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). I had to write to the Government office for the south-east in Guildford about this matter. I wish that the Minister could have come with me to a public meeting that I attended where several hundred of my constituents turned up on a cold December evening to express absolute amazement at the proposal, which is not even favoured by the committee that the Government set up. It was against it, but the Government changed the rules that they themselves put in place. Will the Minister speak to his boss and kick that proposal into touch forthwith?

Leighton Buzzard is a mediaeval market town, which the Minister was kind enough to visit on 27 March last year. He might remember that we could not drive around the whole town—our minibus had to turn back, such was the traffic. My hon. Friend spoke about the traffic in Aylesbury, too. We cannot expand mediaeval market towns indefinitely, with later additions and central road systems that cannot cope with ever more outlying estates. Many people in Leighton Buzzard travel to shop in Bletchley, because it is quicker to get there than to drive from one side of Leighton Buzzard to the other. We are not creating a sustainable community, but simply adding to carbon emissions. We might be adding to retail profits in Milton Keynes, but we are not doing much for the economy of Leighton Buzzard or for my constituents. We do not have enough local jobs. My area has lost about 500 jobs over the past seven years. A genuinely sustainable community should have a balance of houses and jobs, so that people can work locally. They might have caring commitments for sick or elderly relatives or young children. Not everyone wants to get up very early and catch a train in the morning, if they can get a job out of the area. We need to think about that.

A proposal has also been made for an extra 200 homes off Stoke road in Leighton Buzzard. I have similar concerns about that as about the west Linslade urban extension. We also desperately need a bypass to the north of Dunstable—the other major town in my constituency—to which two objections were raised recently: one was that the Government had not yet decided whether they would widen the M1 or use hard-shoulder running. I think that a decision is imminent and that something can happen quickly. After that, we can deal with the second objection: air quality. I understand that the new chief at the Highways Agency has a practical proposal to deal with that. If we can nail those two issues, we can get on and announce that road. In 2006, the then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, South (Mr. Alexander) said that the road would be the first priority for any slippage on any scheme in the east of England. I intend to see that commitment to the House honoured.

Furthermore, Houghton Regis—the third smallest town in my constituency—is desperately short of even the most basic facilities. Football players and bowls players have to use sports clubs that lack even the most basic facilities. We were told that there would be no new
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houses without the infrastructure—that is the reality at the moment—but we want to deal with local housing need. We are generous people, so we will make a contribution to the needs of the wider area, but it must be sustainable. When the Minister came to my constituency last year, he said that he would take issue with allegations that the Government were forcing local authorities to provide housing—I made a note of that when he spoke to Leighton-Linslade town council—but that is not how that is seen locally. It is seen as a denial of local democracy. I echo everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury said about that. That denial is dangerous. The power of the ballot box has to matter and be able to change things locally. People do not see that happening, and the Government should really be worrying about that.

John Cummings (in the Chair): Three hon. Members wish to catch my eye, and I intend to begin the Front-Bench winding-up speeches at 10 minutes past 12. If Members bear that in mind, all three will have time to make their contributions.

11.56 am

Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Cummings. I wanted to focus on the growth forecast for Milton Keynes and the premise on which that growth is predicted, but given the time restrictions, I shall instead focus my comments on one area in particular. First, however, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) for securing this debate. I have attempted to do so many times, but I am delighted that he succeeded, because his speech was incredibly erudite and compelling. He did a far better job than I could ever have done.

I shall talk about the 2,000 residents of Aspley Guise in Bedfordshire. So that the Minister understands where I am coming from, I shall describe Aspley Guise: it is one of the most beautiful areas in Bedfordshire. It is a village made up of Tudor cottages; it was mentioned in the Domesday Book; it is surrounded by green-belt land; it is a chocolate-box village, which are traditional in England—the kind of village that one imagines when talking about the typical British village. It also has a unique, supportive and strong community. People in Aspley Guise very much identify themselves with the area and the village, and it is an honour to be a Member for a constituency with such a strong community.

Aspley Guise is threatened with being subsumed by the expansion of Milton Keynes and becoming part of what is, or will be, a modern city. Obviously, the 2,000 residents of Aspley Guise object strongly to that, for a number of reasons, one of which is that they fear losing their identity and culture. They worry that the village will cease to exist and become part of a modern city. Those 2,000 residents are hugely concerned about that.

I can do no better than put it in the terms expressed by councillor Fiona Chapman. Imagine that someone has a big house and wants to build an extension and that, rather than applying to have it built in their own garden, they apply to build it further away in the garden of someone else’s smaller house. That is how the residents of Aspley Guise feel. They believe strongly that the expansion of Milton Keynes should take place within the boundaries of Milton Keynes and that a good area of green-belt land should surround Aspley Guise as a
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buffer between Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes expansion. They feel very strongly for a number of reasons. They understand that the 224,000 proposed new homes were based on a predicted jobs growth of 192,000. That was not realistic even then. As we know, Milton Keynes had just 0.1 per cent. economic growth at the time, when the rest of the region was benefiting from a growth of 0.6 per cent. Today, David Frost from the British Chamber of Commerce spoke about the dire situation for economic growth and businesses in the UK.

Aspley Guise residents and I should like to ask the Minister why he thinks that we need completely to subsume a village on the basis of economic growth forecasts that we know will not be realised. I shall finish quickly, because I know that my colleagues want to speak. As the Minister has been an assiduous and efficient chairman of Milton Keynes and South Midlands, will he come to Aspley Guise to look at the area and meet the people and listen to their concerns? Unlike the previous ministerial visit, I guarantee that it will be a calm, beneficial and warm meeting. So, when the Minister is in the Milton Keynes or the Bedfordshire area, will he do us the honour of paying us a visit, so that he can see for himself the area that will be destroyed by the growth of Milton Keynes?

12 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries). I also want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on securing this debate and on making such a powerful speech. I totally agree with all the comments made by my hon. Friends. I should like to mention a different area, however. In some respects, it is the elephant in the room that has not been discussed.

In Wellingborough, unemployment is 40 per cent. higher than it was in 1997. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) said, we have 52,000 new homes proposed and a road structure that is incapable of dealing with what we have at the moment. The issue that concerns me is the migration from Europe. In one year, in the most up-to-date figures that I have from the Office for National Statistics, 7,000 migrants moved into Northamptonshire to stay for more than one year. We do not have the jobs at the moment. As I said, unemployment is 40 per cent. higher than in 1997. We did not have the boom, but we have certainly had the bust.

If politicians of the main political parties do not discuss the problem of migration, it could lead to extreme parties coming in. Unfortunately, I now have the British National party in my area. It makes the simple case that people cannot get jobs because foreign workers have taken them. That is untrue and unfair, but there is a danger that that view will be developed and that reasonable people will vote for such parties because we, as mainstream politicians, are not discussing the issue in great detail. As there is already a huge amount of unemployment in my constituency and in other parts of Northamptonshire, we face a real danger if this migration continues.

It may well be that the migration does not continue. The Government have already said that up to 30 per cent. of the new homes will be for migrant workers. If
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those migrant workers are not going to come because the jobs are not here, do we need that growth in housing? Presumably, we could cut the figures by 30 per cent. We must discuss that issue in a calm way; otherwise, we will allow extremists to come in and do great damage in Northamptonshire.

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