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House of Lords

Wednesday, 29 March 2006.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich): the LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Housing: Market Renewal Pathfinder Programmes

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Greaves, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will review the housing market renewal pathfinder programmes to ensure that they fulfil their transformational agenda while maintaining the distinctive character of the towns and neighbourhoods that they cover.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, on 24 March, the Deputy Prime Minister announced funding for six pathfinders for 2006-08. In reaching decisions, we considered a scheme update from each pathfinder, which set out its strategy and proposed a programme for the next four years. Important factors in our assessment include the quality of community involvement and consideration of heritage. Pathfinders are very alive to the benefits of capitalising on the distinctive character of their area.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, in some existing pathfinder areas, house prices have risen so significantly that it now makes better economic sense to renovate properties rather than to demolish them as planned? Given that the local preference is often to retain the original character of streets, will partnerships be allowed to respond to local markets and circumstances as appropriate?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness a positive response. She will know that to date we have seen 17,000 refurbishments, 5,000 demolitions and 7,500 new properties built in depressed areas of the country where housing markets had collapsed for years. We are seeing an upturn in the market; it is reflected across the country. It still has not closed the gap by any means. We have asked the pathfinders to take account of new housing conditions and markets and are pressing them to think clearly, in those circumstances, about the balance between replacement, refurbishment and new build, so that they will get the right mix for those areas.

Lord Renton: My Lords, although I have been in Parliament for more than 60 years, I have never before
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seen the expression "transformational agenda". Does the noble Baroness know what it means? If so, could she tell us?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I take the point that the noble Lord is always anxious that clarity of language should be the business of the Government. I have visited areas and walked the streets to see nothing but boarded-up houses and then, in the next street, I have seen nice, Victorian houses that have been refurbished and are now warmer, more comfortable and better able to cope with families in those areas. I have spoken to the people who have been rehoused and witnessed their pleasure at having a garden for the first time or separate bedrooms for their children. That is what we mean by "transformation".

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is the consultation on the operation of pathfinders adequate and robust?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, that is an important question. We do our very best, as pathfinders do, to make sure that consultation is as deep and wide as it can be. People face the possibility of moving out of their communities, although in many instances they are very pleased to go. In some areas, 30 per cent of people have said that they want to move in the next few years. We want people to move back into those areas. The consultation processes go as far, for example, as having local buses touring the area so that people can look at local plans. In Derker, for example, a community support officer is in the neighbourhood constantly. We have made all sorts of changes to the programme in response to the local community. For example, in Liverpool, in the Anfield area, the number of demolitions proposed was increased in response to community demand. Over the next few months and years we will certainly keep a close eye on that process.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Baroness has—in my view, rightly—praised the conversion and repair of good Victorian buildings. Why is it that in Liverpool, in particular, there has been considerable objection to the proposed mass slaughter of some of the remaining good-quality, well designed Victorian buildings, which the Deputy Prime Minister wishes to raze to the ground to put up tower blocks?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, it is not mass slaughter. I should very much like to cite what the local community is saying. I paraphrase the comments of the secretary of the residents' association in one of those areas: "Damp and unsound houses are not my heritage. We want houses that are modern and comfortable so that we can stay in the area, because this is where we want to stay and bring up our children". We have absolutely no argument with the idea that heritage is a major asset in those areas. Character is important to where we all live, no less so in areas that have housed working-class people over the years.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, will my noble friend join me in congratulating the groups that have
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come together in Burnley to remove the blight of accommodation in which no one should ever have been asked to live, let alone be let by absent landlords? Will she join me in welcoming the new housing that is going up in the areas that have been cleared as a result of those programmes?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, indeed, my Lords. I pay tribute to my predecessor in this post, my noble friend Lord Rooker, who visited Burnley on several occasions and saw the conditions in which people were living. Some of those houses were changing hands for less than £5,000 at one point. The Elevate programme, which covers the Burnley area, will, as a result of the announcement, have £94 million more to invest in the refurbishment of that area. We will see many improvements.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, what help is being given to first-time buyers in the pathfinder areas?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, first-time buyers in those areas and in the rest of the country, will, I hope, be able to access the equity-sharing arrangements. Many of the refurbished houses will be welcomed by first-time buyers.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that, if VAT on refurbishment work were reduced, the money to deal with refurbished properties would go a lot further in those areas?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, that question has been put to successive Ministers for many years. The noble Baroness makes an important point; I am sure that the Treasury will keep it under review.

Comprehensive Spending Review 2007

3.07 pm

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

How comprehensive the 2007 public expenditure review will be; and when it will be published.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, in 1997, the incoming Government launched the first Comprehensive Spending Review, reflecting the public's priorities for health, education and better public services. A decade on, the second Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 will take a zero-based look at departmental expenditure, embedding efficiency into long-term planning and identifying what further investments and reforms are needed to meet the global challenges of the decade ahead. The date of publication has not yet been confirmed.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I think that I am grateful to my noble friend, although it is not clear whether he actually answered my Question. Is he aware that, according to the most recent figures, public
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expenditure per head in Scotland is £7,786, whereas in England it is £6,391? Does he not therefore accept that there is a strong case for renewal of the Barnett formula to be included in the Comprehensive Spending Review? Surely, in the light of those figures, my noble friend will accept that it is long overdue for review.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, any Barnett formula is bound to have merit and worth and should, like the noble Lord, be continually refreshed. If I did not answer his Question sufficiently, I should say that the 2007 CSR will come on the back of the longest sustained increase in public expenditure since the Second World War. In the decade since that CSR, the Government have delivered a strong economy, sound public finances and a sustained and substantial growth in investment in public services. Compared with 1996–97, spending in schools will be 65 per cent higher in real terms. In the NHS, it will be 90 per cent higher in real terms, and in transport it will be 60 per cent higher in real terms.

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