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It is crucial that we raise standards in the private sector, so that people at either end of the market have as much choice as possible. We will never be able to provide as much affordable housing as London needs, but there would be less need if the standard in the private sector were greater, if people felt that they had better choice and if those on benefits did not have access only to housing at the bottom of the heap. We need to create incentives for landlords to improve their property, which is why we have argued for a cut on VAT for renovation and rebuild and for landlords to be able to claim the tax back on the work that they do on the property against their income, rather than only being
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able to claim it back later when they sell the property. We should give them that incentive to hold on to the property and to be more professional and to invest in their property, so that the standards are higher.

It is also about giving people on benefits access to different properties. Any constituency Member of Parliament knows that most landlords will not take people on local housing allowance or housing benefit. A scheme called "Fast track" has been operating with great success in pilot studies in the south-east. That scheme is a mixture of advice and insurance, giving people access to much higher-quality private sector accommodation and giving families real choice, providing an alternative to the race to the bottom that we see at the moment.

Jeremy Corbyn: I appreciate the time constraints on the hon. Lady, but will she acknowledge that phenomenal profits are being made from renting out former council properties, often at four times the rent that councils charged? It is not incentives that private landlords need; they need controls on them.

Sarah Teather: I am not in favour of rent controls because the distorting effect on the market would be immense. Perhaps the real issue is giving councils greater ability to control the freedoms on the right to buy, so that not so many properties-especially in areas such as London, where we are in dire need of affordable housing-are sold off and then used in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

I wish that housing were a greater political issue during the election. I am grateful for Shelter's campaign ahead of the election to raise awareness of the issue, but encouraging people who are in deep housing need and misery to vote is perhaps the most important thing that it can do. The Government have failed significantly to provide affordable housing for my constituents, and I have no faith in the Conservative party's ability to provide for them. I desperately wish that people in housing need would shout louder now. Prospective Governments might then listen to them in the run-up to the election when they are looking for votes.

10.41 am

Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) on securing the debate. As London MPs, we all recognise how important housing is in London-not just in our own communities, but throughout the city. Housing is one of the most important aspects of people's everyday lives, whether they are families stuck on a social housing waiting list, communities living in run-down areas that desperately need regeneration or young couples struggling to get on the property ladder. Housing concerns are relevant to everyone in the city, and increasingly so in recent years, unfortunately.

In some respects, there has been more consensus in the Chamber than I expected. I agree with many of the Labour MPs who have spoken that we have been let down during the years of the Labour Government. As has been said, there has been a lack of national political leadership from the Government for many years and, unfortunately, far too often and increasingly at local level.

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I shall comment briefly on Hammersmith and Fulham, because the hon. Gentleman mentioned it, and then talk about the broader London housing issues and some specific aspects of waiting lists and empty properties. The reality is that Hammersmith and Fulham council has given a commitment to provide quality housing for council tenants, and has pledged to build at least 6,500 new homes by 2021, which is nearly one third more than the level set by the former Labour Mayor of London in his London plan. Of those extra homes, 50 per cent. will be affordable housing. There is a desire to ensure that there is additional housing in Hammersmith and Fulham for the people who need it most.

Mr. Slaughter: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Justine Greening: I would like to make progress.

It is ironic that today's debate has in part focused on demolition when, as I said in an intervention, the housing market renewal pathfinder areas have lost 16,000 homes in the midlands and the north, including Victorian terraces. They are often demolished with little more thought than an inspector's 10-minute visual inspection.

So far, just 3,734 new homes have been built as replacements, making the housing shortage even worse in those areas. In fact, far from helping to regenerate them, that demolition programme has increased deprivation in many of the targeted areas, and some social landlords seem to have deliberately managed areas down into decline to make the benefits of redevelopment from the programme more attractive. When the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions considered that major demolition programme, it said that it risks destroying


The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Ian Austin): How many areas has the hon. Lady visited?

Justine Greening: I have not visited any. We are talking about communities that have been demolished.

Mr. Austin: Has the hon. Lady not been to a single one?

Mrs. Joan Humble (in the Chair): Order. Will the hon. Lady return to housing in London, which is the subject of the debate?

Justine Greening: I will, Mrs. Humble, but I realise that I have touched a nerve. It is a scandal that 16,000 homes have been demolished and only 4,000 have been rebuilt to replace them when there is such desperate need for housing-not just in London, but throughout the country. That is relevant, and it shows the contradiction of the Government's policies. House building nationally has fallen to its lowest since the second world war, with just 118,000 completions in England last year.

Under this Government, 250,000 fewer social homes have been built than would have been the case if we had maintained at the same level the run rate of social housing being built under the Conservative Administration.
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In fact, less social housing has been built every year under Labour than under the Conservative Government. Warm words in a debate are not enough. The reality is that there have been fewer social housing starts and completions, and that is unacceptable.

In London, action is being taken to address the problem, but figures released last week confirm that in England the statistics on net supply of housing produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government show that eight of the nine English regions saw a decrease in the number of net additional dwellings supplied in 2008-09. The only region to experience an annual increase in net housing supply was London, where the increase was 3 per cent. Indeed, the housing stock is also receiving a boost from the Mayor of London's actions to bring empty homes back into use. Investment in that project has been trebled to £60 million, with 1,000 empty homes brought back into use in 2008-09.

The development of GLA-owned sites for housing provision has the potential to deliver up to 36,000 more homes, which we all agree would be welcome. Nationally, we need proposals to build more homes to benefit families in London and throughout the country, which is why we have discussed new initiatives. We believe that for six years a Conservative Government should match extra council tax generated by councils building new homes to encourage them to build more homes, especially affordable homes. That would provide 125 per cent. of council tax matching.

As we have heard, not only are fewer affordable houses being built under this Government, but people are increasingly struggling to afford those that exist, and the Government's own advisory panel cited the increase in the deposit required from first-time buyers, which has shot from 16 per cent. of annual income in 2000 to 64 per cent. in 2009. Under the social homebuy scheme to enable tenants to own or part-own their rented property, sales have been far short of the predicted levels. The scheme was designed to help 5,000 households a year, but at the end of September 2009 only 328 sales had been completed. Its performance has been woeful, compared with the original hopes for it.

The feedback from many constituencies is that the various homebuy schemes on offer are complicated and people do not understand which one is right for them. There is a real need to streamline the system and to make clearer the path that people may take to get on the housing ladder through part-ownership.

In London, the lack of affordable housing has been particularly acute. Investment in affordable homes has been lowered with £350 million cut from the city's top-up to the affordable homes fund, despite having 48,000 households in temporary housing. The Mayor is taking action and has pledged to build 50,000 new affordable homes throughout London by 2012. That will be the highest number of affordable homes ever delivered in one mayoral term, and it is set against the backdrop of the worst recession for decades.

To date, 20,000 of those homes have been built since the Mayor was elected in 2008. That project, I hope, remains on track to meet the 2012 target. In his first year in office, the Conservative Mayor built more affordable homes than the previous Labour Mayor managed in his final term.

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Finally, I want to talk about waiting lists and overcrowding, which are a real concern across London and issues that I hear about in my surgery. The provision of sufficient and suitable social housing has been incredibly poor under this Government. The lack of social housing supply combined with the rising number of people in need of social housing has, as we have heard, led to a soaring number of households being on local authority waiting lists-up from 1.1 million people in 1996 to a staggering 1.8 million in 2009.

Mr. Slaughter: I sense crocodile tears. If that is so, will the hon. Lady condemn her colleague from Hammersmith and Fulham, who says that there are

and that the long-term future for housing estates is to turn them into "decent neighbourhoods"? That is the real rhetoric of the Tory party, not the crocodile tears being shed here today.

Justine Greening: I find it hard to disagree with the statement that the long-term objective is to ensure that council homes are in decent neighbourhoods. We would all agree with that, but the hon. Gentleman seems to be sensationalising it, which is counter-productive to a genuine political debate about what those decent neighbourhoods should look like and how to ensure that they function properly.

To finish my comments on overcrowding, the reality is that, in London, nearly 7 per cent. of households are in overcrowded accommodation. That is the legacy that we have after 13 years of the Labour Government. Nearly 7 per cent. of families in London live in overcrowded accommodation, and the problem is even more severe in social rented housing, where nearly 13 per cent. of families live in overcrowded conditions. That is up from just over 10 per cent. in 1995, and is a real indictment of the lack of building of social housing during Labour's term of office, which I hope is coming to an end.

The Mayor has promised to halve severe overcrowding in social housing over this decade, with a move towards building larger and better designed family-sized homes. We believe that that is a better way to ensure that families have the space that they need.

In summary, a number of Labour Members have been highly critical of their Conservative councils, but they have been equally critical-rightly so-of their Labour Government. We need regeneration and redevelopment to help those communities, and we must have more social housing than we have had over the past decade and a half under a Labour Government. Unfortunately, we will get that only with a change of Government, when the Prime Minister finally has the nerve to call an election.

10.53 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Ian Austin): I am still laughing at the final point made by the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening).

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I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) on securing the debate. He is a fantastic advocate for his community, based on a foundation of 25 years' service, hard work and delivery for the people he represents. We hope that that will continue for a long time.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) asked a series of questions about the Crown Estate and mentioned the work that he has been doing with my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson). As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Treasury is taking the lead on that issue; we have received a number of representations and are in discussions with the Treasury. I am happy to talk to him about that in more detail, if he would like.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) is an acknowledged expert on these matters, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham on the commitment he has made to housing policy during his work with the Department for Communities and Local Government, and I am happy to assure him that we will not impoverish 8 million tenants.

Like my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather), I want housing to be a bigger issue than ever before at the next election, so that we can win a mandate for more investment in social housing in the future.

It is always a pleasure to debate with the hon. Member for Putney, but she has disappointed me today. I was hoping to get an answer to the letter that was sent to the Leader of the Opposition about her party's housing policies and the points that were made on security of tenure. Perhaps I will have to write to the hon. Lady directly about those matters to get an answer.

I want to pick up on one thing that the hon. Lady said, because the points that she made about pathfinders are complete nonsense. If she had visited-as I have-Stoke, Sandwell, Birmingham, Hull and Liverpool, she would have seen the work that is being done to assemble land in those areas and know the time that it takes to deal with owners and developers and to get developments under way. She would also see the huge contribution that the pathfinder programme makes to employment in the construction trade, the provision of skills and work in the community.

What is worse about what the hon. Lady said is the fact that it is completely the opposite of what the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) told a pathfinders conference that he spoke at in Manchester. If there is one big lesson that the Conservative party must learn, it is that it cannot say one thing to a bunch of stakeholders and another somewhere else-it will be found out.

From the hon. Lady's comments today, we take it that the Tory party is not committed to continuing with this programme and that if, God forbid, it wins the election, the programme will be abolished. That would drive a nail into any hopes of rebuilding support for the Conservative party in those cities.

Let me pick up on some of the points that have been raised. All hon. Members who have spoken today mentioned the long-standing lack of social housing in London and other parts of the country, which has resulted in problems such as long waiting lists, lack of
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mobility and overcrowding. We have been working to address that in recent years, but the economic crisis has brought some of those problems into even sharper relief, with consequences for home owners, house builders and prospective buyers.

I will summarise some of the statistics that illustrate the scale of the problem. In September last year, there were 43,490 households in temporary accommodation in London, some 76 per cent. of the total in England. On 1 April last year, there were 354,000 households on the waiting list for social housing in the capital. There is concern in many parts of London about the options on offer once people are in social housing and need to move home, perhaps because their family has grown.

I am well aware of families who live in cramped and overcrowded conditions, and the impact that that has on their quality of life. I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North that, like her, I want to see a solution to the problems that leaseholders in her constituency are facing. We are in discussions about that, and I look forward to meeting her again to discuss such matters.

The need for additional housing in the city, including affordable housing, is well documented. The GLA's recent strategic housing market assessment estimated housing need at 32,580 homes per year. It also showed a need for 18,200 affordable homes per year in the capital, and within that, evidence points to an 80:20 split between social renting and intermediate housing. Put simply, the only way to resolve the underlying problem of housing in London is to increase supply, particularly the supply of affordable housing.

As hon. Members will be aware, the Homes and Communities Agency has been in operation for just
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over a year, with responsibility for housing and regeneration funding. By bringing those programmes together, the HCA is discussing regeneration and housing needs with each of the London boroughs, and it will be able to deliver better and more focused outcomes for places and communities.

We have responded to these problems. The Government are committed to investing £7.5 billion over two years-a commitment not matched by the Opposition-to deliver up to 112,000 affordable homes and about 15,000 private homes.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased with the money that was allocated, and I understand that the application on this round was grossly oversubscribed. Will the Minister give an indication of how much money will be available in the next round for new council house building?

Mr. Austin: I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance today, but I can tell him that London is the biggest recipient in relation to the £7.5 billion that we have allocated and is receiving £2.8 billion of that money, which is 37 per cent. of the total. That funding includes the £1.5 billion housing pledge announced last year, which, as my hon. Friend says, is expanding the role of local authorities to deliver new homes.

A series of points has been raised, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush, and I will write to him in detail to answer those points. In conclusion, there is clearly a commitment by the Government on the need for more housing, particularly affordable housing in London-

Mrs. Joan Humble (in the Chair): Order. We must now move to the next debate.

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