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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not for me to intrude into private grief. I do not know what exercised the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats, but this is the procedure that we have. We have honoured the procedure; so has the Opposition, and so have the Liberal Democrats.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I am not sure whether the procedures of the House allow me to intervene. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, was allowed to get away with a statement, perhaps I may make this point. Anyone who has listened to the Chancellor's recent announcements will know that it is a very wise thing to look at them carefully, then read the small print, then study the actual results. The suggestion that this represents a massive increase in defence expenditure is very much open to doubt.
The matter will not be resolved by a Statement and exchange of this kind. I hope that it will be possibleI ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, those in my party who are responsible for these matters, and the usual channelswhen this House returns for the overspill, to have a serious and considered debate on the real issues of defence, and that we shall be much better informed than the Chancellor has made us so far as to the actual figures for defence spending.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I strongly echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord King. That is precisely why we thought that on this occasion it was not sensible to take the Statement. We also recognised that the House had an obligation of scrutiny in regard to a Bill going through this House which is of a serious nature and contains a number of controversial matters. I refer to the Enterprise Bill. We therefore felt that it was more appropriate to give what limited time the House still had to that, while fully recognising the importance of defence and the opportunity to discuss it further at a later stage.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, as my party has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, I thought to intervene briefly. However, my noble friend Lord King set out some of the reasons that lay behind our decision this morning. It is sometimes difficult to decide the priorities that this House should follow in its discussions. We were offered two Statements. We are taking one of them and not the other. That is not necessarily a judgment on which is the more important in the long term. Nevertheless, that is the decision that we took.
At present, this House is under great pressure of legislative business. It will be extremely difficult to finish the Enterprise Bill and the other Bills before the House in the time that the Government have currently allocated. That makes these decisions quite difficult to take. Like the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, I hope that we
The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the previous exchanges might indicate that I have bad news. I do not. With the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by the Deputy Prime Minister on sustainable communities, housing and planning. The Statement is as follows:
"The Chancellor has been generous. He has given a good settlement for local authorities, regional development agencies, regeneration, housing and planning. Today, I want to talk about two elements of our settlementhousing and planningto provide decent, affordable homes for people wherever they live. And I want the House to join together to make a step change in our approach.
"Anyone looking at the record over past decades will recognise that all governments have failed to meet the housing needs of our people. There has been a continuing decline in the provision of all housessocial and private. We in this House should recognise that we have failed to meet the needs of this generation, let alone the needs of our children. The situation will get worse unless we take radical action now.
"In the last 30 years, we have seen unprecedented economic growth, rising incomes, smaller households, people living longer. We have seen an increasing demand for housing, but overall we are building 150,000 fewer homes today than we were 30 years ago. No wonder house prices are rocketing. No wonder many people cannot afford to live where they were born, in both urban and rural areas.
"There are different problems in different places in our country. We are failing to adjust to geographic changes in economic activity. We are failing to tackle abandonment and dereliction. We are failing to provide homes for teachers, nurses and other key workers. We are placing our public services under pressure because they cannot get enough skilled staff.
"So, today, I am announcing a step change in housing policy. And I propose to do that by promoting sustainable communities, making the best use of our land, increasing development on brownfield sites and protecting and enhancing our green belt and valuable countryside.
"The shortage of housing in London and the South East is causing record housing costs which are impacting directly on living standards. They make it more expensive for companies and public services to recruit and retain staff. They make it more difficult
"Two years ago, in Regional Planning Guidance 9, I put in place a 'plan, monitor and manage' approach to planning for additional housing in the South East. I said then that local authorities should provide for new homes at the rate of 23,000 a year in London and 39,000 a year in the wider South East, outside of London.
"Today, we have to be open and honest, and recognise that these targets are not being met. We estimate that over the past two years the shortfall was approximately 10,000 homes. We cannot allow this to continue. I am therefore announcing today a number of measures that will meet the real pressures and challenges that we face.
"First, I will insist that all local authorities deliver the housing numbers set out in regional planning guidance. Tackling housing shortage is a national responsibility and we must all play our partcentral and local government alike. I am therefore putting local authorities on notice that, where they fail to meet their targets, I will take action to intervene.
"Secondly, I will accelerate the existing proposals for significant growth in the four growth areas identified in regional planning guidance for the South East. Two years ago I asked for reports to be prepared on potential growth in the Thames Gateway, Ashford, the Milton Keynes area and the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor. Those studies are complete or nearing completion and show how economic development will increase the number of homes we need. Over the coming months, taking account of these studies, I will work with regional and local partners in each of the four areas to establish where, at what scale and how quickly growth can be achieved.
"Overall we estimate that at least 200,000 new homes could be created in the growth areas. In the Thames Gateway in particular, I will be putting a renewed emphasis on delivery and, in discussion with the Thames Gateway Partnership, will establish new means of delivering rapid regeneration.
"Thirdly, we need to make better use of land, by improving design, increasing densities and using brownfield sites to the full. In 1998 I committed the Government to a target that 60 per cent of new homes should be on brownfield land. We have met that target eight years early but we need to keep up the pressure. To help with this, I will establish a register of surplus brownfield land held by government and public bodies. I am instructing English Partnerships to use their new role on brownfields to search out and deliver even more land for housing.
"But to produce more sustainable development we must use land more efficiently in order to reduce overall land-take. To do this I am announcing that I intend to intervene in planning applications for housing that involve a density of less than 30 dwellings per hectare. I am also setting a new target to protect valuable countryside. Since 1997, I have increased the green belt by 30,000 hectares. Today I can announce for the first time a public service agreement target which commits us to protecting the valuable countryside around our towns, our cities and in the green belt.
"We will not tolerate urban sprawl, and we will not concrete over the South Eastas some have speculated in the pressor any other region. But housing pressures in London and the South East are acute and require ambitious solutions. My strategy of providing for sustainable, high quality, well-planned communities in the growth areas will benefit everyone. It will mean that we reduce the pressure elsewhere in the South East and will protect valuable countryside for the benefit and enjoyment of all.
"There needs to be not just more homes, but more homes that people can afford. We have said schools and hospitals first. That means special attention to helping nurses, teachers and other public service workers get affordable homes. Since 1997 the Government have almost doubled funding for affordable housing to £1.2 billion per year and this is now supporting the creation of 20,000 new affordable homes every year.
"Subject to further detailed consideration about how best to use the new money available, we will now be able to increase that funding to provide additional homes for key workers and new social housing for the homeless and families in bed and breakfast accommodation. In addition to this new funding, we will be looking for ways to extend our existing programmes for affordable housing through greater partnership with employers and public and private landlords.
"The problems in the North and the Midlands are different but just as pressing. Some of our towns and cities are experiencing a renaissance in their economic and cultural fortunes. But many also have communities where properties are almost worthless, leaving people trapped in negative equity and facing the problems associated with social exclusion. We are building the wrong kind of houses in the wrong places and failing to tackle fully urban decay.
"Earlier this year we announced the creation of nine Pathfinder projects to tackle the most acute problems of low demand and abandonment in the North and the Midlands. I can announce that we will be taking those projects forward to help tackle the blight afflicting properties in the Pathfinder
"We will also reinforce our efforts to improve the overall condition of our housing and ensure that everyone has the opportunity of a decent home. In 1997 we released £5 billion of capital receipts to target the backlog of repairs to council homes. Over the past five years we have trebled council funding for housing to £2.4 billion a year, and in 2000 we set ourselves the challenging target of making all social housing decent by 2010. These actions have allowed us to make good progress on housing conditions.
"Overall, 1.7 million improvements have been made to council homes, and we are well on track to meet our interim target of bringing a third of the worst social housing550,000 homesup to a decent standard by 2004. We will work towards that target by devoting even more resources to refurbishment; by allowing all local authority arm's length housing companies receiving either a "good" or "excellent" rating to apply for this additional funding; and by reviewing all policies that contribute to our 2010 decent homes target to ensure that they are as effective as possible and provide value for money.
"It is not just social housing that needs attention. People in the private sector suffer some of our worst housing conditions. All too often housing benefit is funding the provision of unfit housing to the detriment of the tenant and the benefit of the landlord. This is unacceptable. As soon as parliamentary time allows, we will legislate to tackle the minority of unscrupulous landlords and boost our drive against poor conditions.
"Over the last five years we have provided funding to local authorities to help improve 30,000 private homes per year. I can announce today that we are setting a new objective to help improve more non-decent private sector homes occupied by vulnerable households. We are investing large sums of money in improving all housing, so we must have an inspection regime that drives up standards across the board and ensures reform.
"I am announcing today that I will establish a single housing inspectorate, building on the excellent work of the Audit Commission and the Housing Corporation. I am also announcing that we will establish strong regional bodies, going with the grain of our proposals for regional governance. These will bring housing investment together in a single regional pot. And they will link that investment with planning, infrastructure and economic growth strategies. I will announce further details later in the year when I have discussed them with key stakeholders. And I will put the new arrangements in place as soon as possible.
"These put in place extensive reform, and I would like to summarise some of the key points. First, we will give counties a new statutory role in underpinning the new regional planning system, but we will abolish county structure plans themselves. Secondly, we will introduce business planning zones to deliver growth, jobs and productivity without sacrificing quality of development. Thirdly, I will speed up the planning of major infrastructure projects by setting out the Government's objectives in clear policy statements and changing inquiry processes to make them more efficient.
"I have accepted the Select Committee's arguments that parliamentary procedures for major infrastructure projects are not the best way forward. Finally, I will not change the right for objectors to make their case to the inspector at inquiries into plans. But I will take action to speed up the inquiry process.
"The proposals I have announced today focus on creating sustainable communities which meet the needs of all, regardless of where they live or the size of their pocket. But they are just the start. I will return to the House by the end of the year with a comprehensive long-term programme of action. This will meet the different needs of both the North and the South. Whether it is the key workers in need of affordable accommodation or families trapped by negative equity, we must work together to find solutions to their problems.
"Our long-term programme will link policies on housing, planning, transport, education, health and regeneration. It will demand a new standard in how we build houses and communities, seeking improvements in density, design, environmental standards and construction techniques and it will protect and help to revitalise the countryside for those who live in it and those who seek their leisure there.
"This is a strategy for the long term. We know the problems, we have the commitment, we have the resources. We must recognise in the country and on all sides of the House that we have simply not done enough over the years. We need more homes where people want to live, near where they work, in the North and in the South, at a price people can afford and in a way that protects the countryside. This is a challenge to all of us. I believe that the strategy I have put to the House today will begin to rise to that challenge".
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing the Statement to the House. It lays out the Deputy Prime Minister's thoughts and provides an analysis of the current housing position. Perhaps understandably, it is breathtakingly short on detail. But it contains some pointers to the future.
The proposals will push ever more responsibility into the hands of unelected regional bodies. Going with the grain of the Deputy Prime Minister's proposals for regional government, as he said, housing investment will be brought together into a single regional pot, with planning, infrastructure and economic growth strategies included. Is it proposed that there should be yet another regional body to deal with that, or is it anticipated that the undemocratic regional assemblies will be tasked with this extra responsibility, of which they have no experience?
The Government have made it abundantly clear that regional government will be introduced only where regions vote for it. Is this another example of the Government jumping the gun and introducing regional government by stealth? We should be told. If the electorate do not want regional government, they may simply be whistling in the wind with their votes in a referendum because local government's responsibilities for housing, planning and many other areas will have gone there anyway. That is a fine example of things being pulled up rather than being pulled down.
Where is it anticipated that local government will fit into the picture? How is it intended that local authorities should be able to influence how much housing will be placed in their areas and where? If it is intended to give planning responsibilities to these new regional bodies, how much say will local planning authorities continue to have? In passing, what is meant by saying that county councils will be given a statutory underpinning role in the new regional planning system? County councils currently make and organise the structural plans. Presumably, under this new wording they will have no responsibility for the structural plans. Somewhere along the line, despite what has been said and all the consultation that has taken place rejecting the removal of county councils from structural plans, that is precisely what will happen.
Of course this is an interim statement. We are promised flesh on the bones later in the year. The flesh of local government should be beginning to creep at the outline thoughts presented here. Even where responsibilities are to be left, the Deputy Prime Minister is threatening intervention if local authorities do not perform to key government objectives and meet the targets on housing numbers set out in the regional planning guidance and some as yet unstated arbitrary standardsincluding, apparently, where permission is given for too few dwellings per hectare. Perhaps this is a policy of build them thick and build them high. Plans are clearly well advanced for four growth areas in the South East regional plan. How much of the land anticipated in those areas will be from the green belt?
An extra £1.2 billion is promised for affordable housingsome for key workers and some for property improvement. Money is always welcome, but whether it achieves its objectives depends on how it is spent.
The Deputy Prime Minister is anxious to help key workers into housing. London is desperately short of people to support its services. As chairman of a hospital in London I know that. However, whether all those key workers would want to live together in a suburb of Essex, for example, is debatable. New developments will have to be of mixed occupancy. If not, the Government cannot meet their targets for increasing the priority categories for the homeless and getting others out of bed-and-breakfast accommodation, never mind those others in need of decent housing, such as asylum seekers.
There will have to be additional infrastructure, too, to support the densities envisaged in the Statement. I am told that Kent already has a land bank of 11 years worth of housing, but it cannot develop it because some of the land is contaminated and there is no money to clean it. More importantly, there is also no money for the development of new schools, hospitals, roads and transport, not to mention the non-existent access to the additional water supplies that major schemes would require. Is any of that £1.2 billion to be devoted to that supporting infrastructure?
It is welcome news that the Government have decided to give more money to planning. I hope that the money will be used to increase staff numbers in local authorities to help with the movement of planning applications. I also welcome the decision not to give Parliament a role on major infrastructure applications. That proposal was excoriated by just about everyone. We recently had statutory instrument proposals for major infrastructure and changes to the inquiry system. What other proposals are coming forward to deal with major inquiries?
Too few houses have been built in recent years, but that is no reason why, in redressing that problem, changes should be made to the whole system of local government, with increasing centralisation. I hope I am wrong in my surmise that this will be the intended or unintended result of the proposals.
Like the proverbial curate's egg, there will be some good in the proposals and some bad. Without the details of what lies behind the Statement, only time will tell. We look forward to the debates that will ensue.
Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place and declare an interest as a member of Suffolk County Councilof which I have been an elected member for 12 years. We welcome also that the Statement puts housing higher on the agenda. Implicit in the Statement is a recognition that the policies of successive governments have failed thousands of citizens in respect of their most basic need.
We caution against one-size-fits-all policies, which fail to recognise enormous regional disparities. Neither must the pressures of economic growth in the South East be allowed completely to overshadow the different needs of the North.
We welcome the emphasis on the development of brownfield land. The fact that local authorities have delivered the Government's demanding targets eight years ahead of schedule demonstrates that when local authorities are given the tools, they can deliver a great deal. However, it costs a lot more to develop a brownfield site than to build on new land. Do the Government have any plans to introduce a levy on greenfield development, with that money used to redeem brownfield sites for housing? Is the noble Lord the Minister aware that some building societies are reluctant to lend money to purchase properties on land that was once contaminated? Does he know that a great volume of land is kept empty for long periods? Sometimes that is because landowners are waiting for values to rise and sometimeswhich is more sinisterbecause such land is being held back for its ransom value, where it could form part of a much larger development.
Has any progress been made with the plans in the rural White Paper to end the 50 per cent rebate on second homes, with the money raised to be ring-fenced and used for housing? That measure would have a significant impact on the plans announced today. Are there any proposals to change the VAT system, to make it more cost-effective to undertake conversions and repairs? Something like one fifth of the housing stock is either unfit or in poor condition. Such a change would do more for the housing stock than yet another level of inspection and audit of the kind that the Statement holds out.
The recent Green Paper failed to ask the real purpose of planning. We believe that planning is about the development of sustainable communities, sustainable economies and a sustainable environment. When the House debated that Green Paper, it was not until my noble friend Lady Hamwee summed up that the word "sustainability" was used. The emphasis so far has been on the planning process and we have rather lost sight of the outputs. The Green Paper diagnosed the problems, then drew entirely the wrong conclusions. Planning processes are too lengthylargely because planning operates in a vacuum, with little in the way of a national framework in terms of spatial strategy, energy policy and transport. A raft of over-prescriptive government rules for the planning
Will it be possible to rationalise the new system in a hierarchical way? In terms of timing, there is no sensible relationship between county structure plans, regional plans and local plans. We welcome that the Government have listened to those who said that the parliamentary process is no way to deal with major infrastructure projects, but regret that the Government have not seen fit to retain county structure plans, despite the fact that 90 per cent of those consulted felt that they should be kept. We are many years from a democratically elected regional tier. For major planning decisions to be taken in the way proposed is a retrograde step.
The separation of land use from waste, minerals and transport planning will cause severe problems in future. The Statement recognises that a sub-regional planning tier is needed. We already have onethe county council. We regret that the opportunity has been lost to introduce a limited third-party right of appeal. If one adopts the view taken by the Green Paper, as we do, that community support for planning processes is paramount, the right to appeal against a decision hated locally should be introduced.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for their broad welcome for the Statement, even though they had legitimate questions. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that it is not insignificant that the only parts of the country that she mentioned were Essex and Kentexactly the same as in another place. There is more to the country than Essex and Kent. Millions of people live outside Essex and Kent. Why the Front-Benchers in both Houses seem to concentrate just on Essex and Kent is beyond me.
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