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Finally, Clause 316 at last provides that Gypsies and Travellers will have the same protection against eviction as any other mobile home-site dweller. I congratulate the Government on this far-sighted and fair provision, which will enable children to continue at school, sick people to have consistent medical care, and families to have that ordinary contractual security in their home afforded by law and enshrined as a human right, which is part of the fabric of our society but which has been denied hitherto to a whole community. It will be beneficial for such sites, together with sites owned by registered providers, to be within the remit of the regulator.
It may be that more consultation needs to take place about the nature of the tenancy agreements, perhaps with a model agreement promulgated. We still need to go further in equal treatment in granting planning permission, whether or not the Gypsy or Traveller has a nomadic lifestyle. The very welcome site-licensing scheme envisaged by my honourable friend lain Wright will also be necessary to deter unscrupulous site managers. Perhaps residents should also have the right to take site disputes to the courts rather than to the site owners choice of arbitrator. But these are for later debates.
Baroness Ford: My Lords, I too am pleased to welcome the Second Reading of the Housing and Regeneration Bill and to offer the strongest possible support to my noble friend the Minister as she guides us through this. Not content with turning in a virtuoso performance on the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill and the Greater London Authority Bill in the previous Session, she is now a glutton for punishment and will take us through the Housing and Regeneration Bill and no doubt the Planning Bill thereafter. I suspect that many of the same faces will appear in those debates, to which I look forward.
Like many other noble Lords speaking today, I fundamentally believe that having a safe, secure and decent home to live in is a basic human right. More than that, I also believe that the kind of environment in which we grow up profoundly affects our self-esteem and plays an important part in determining our levels of aspiration. I got the regeneration bug when I was 17 years-old, not through any professional route but through
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Over 18 months, my mother, together with the parents in that school, set about transforming it. She begged and borrowedI would not go so far as to say that she stoleresources, but she came by quantities of paint in ways that we never questioned. We found fabric in all kinds of places, and in 18 months the whole atmosphere of the school and the whole physical quality of the environment in which the children were educated was completely transformed. Unsurprisingly, in three or four years, not only had the educational attainment risen considerably but my mother also had the distinction of being the manager of two football teams that have carried off the Ayrshire county trophies at different levels. In my subsequent voluntary and professional careers in regeneration, I learnt very early that if you cannot get through a problem you had better figure out how to get around it.
The Governments determination to supply high-quality, well regulated social housing and to continue to encourage home ownership that is affordable, well designed and sustainable has been one of our proudest achievements in the past 10 years. However, we all know that more must be done, which is why I particularly welcome this new legislation, creating as it does the fundamental building blocks for accelerating the supply of new affordable and social housing.
There are four important sections in the Bill and we are fortunate indeed to have many noble Lords with significant expertise in many aspects of the legislation that is now being proposed. Indeed, I have over many years had the pleasure of working with the noble Lord, Lord Best, who is currently not in his place, during his tenure at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and of joining arms with the noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, in her leadership of the regeneration in Corby. I pay tribute to the magnificent job that she did there. I have also worked alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, during her tenure as chair of the Housing Corporation. I am happy to admit that the initial plotting that she and I engaged in brought the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships much closer together during that time and sowed the seeds
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Many other noble Lords can comment with far greater expertise than I can on the creation of the new regulator, although I will just say that it is absolutely vital that a close working relationship is developed and nurtured between the regulator and the new Homes and Communities Agency. Moreover, although we all understand that the rights of tenants are paramount, we must never forget that the regulator has a fundamental impact on the availability of private finance and its terms.
The RSL sector has been exceptionally successful. Indeed, it has arguably been the most successful model of bringing private finance into public services. We should recall that since 1988 and the introduction of widespread private finance into the sector, more than £43 billion of private finance has been invested in social housing. The leadership and consistency shown by the Housing Corporation as a regulator has been the key determinant of that.
The regulators ability to assure the governance and management of RSLs, and of course to step in when necessary to protect tenants and investment, has continued to result in exceptionally good financing terms for a long number of years. That has meant many new developments. It is essential that the relationship between the two new bodies is close and productive so that policy development, which continues to protect tenants, also continues to encourage a favourable financing regime.
On the Homes and Communities Agency, I had the privilege of chairing English Partnerships for six years and, with the strong support of my right honourable friend John Prescott MP, helped that organisation to build significant capacity over that period by developing large-scale difficult sites such as the Greenwich Peninsula; by encouraging the significant re-use of brownfield landmore than 70 per cent of new homes are now built on brownfield land, although we still have significant supply; by brokering much more intelligently surplus government land such as former MoD sitesthe Oakington Barracks in Cambridgeshire is an example; and by promoting and encouraging an urban renaissance in many of our towns and cities, such as Sheffield, Liverpool and Manchester, and in our new towns, such as Milton Keynes, Harlow, Bracknell and Telford, to name but a few. Most importantly over those six years, English Partnerships began to work very closely with the Housing Corporation, informally bringing land, expertise and funding together to accelerate the pace and to improve the quality of housing right across England.
However, in the past couple of years, it became increasingly clear that the job needed more than just informal co-operation. English Partnerships relied on legislation first created in 1948 and the Housing Corporation relied on legislation created in 1964. They had different statutory objectives. We found that we had different value-for-money regimes, different output measures and different reporting timescales, so trying to make sense of those different streams of
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Even between us, we did not always have the powers to do the job properly. Noble Lords have questioned whether the powers are perhaps drawn too widely. Certainly, English Partnerships dearly would have liked the power to make community investments, because, frequently, bricks and mortar do only a piece of the job. But, being seen to have funded some community enterprises and community groups, and to have done the people side of regenerationwhich is as important, if not more important in many instances, as bricks and mortarwould have really made a difference. I quite take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on the breadth of the powers, but it is important to give this new organisation the tools to do the job.
When the then Secretary of State, the right honourable David Miliband MP, announced a review of housing and regeneration delivery in 2006, it had become clear to all of us for the reasons that I have stated that we needed a new, expert vehicle that was fit-for-purpose for the 21st century. That review and, more importantly, the subsequent consultation that followedI saw more than 1,500 people during the regional consultations in the summer of 2007, which I recall because that face-to-face consultation across England took place during the period of the floodingconfirmed that, among key stakeholders, local authoritiesparticularly among the wide range of local authority leaders and senior officers I metregional development agencies, private house builders and developers, and the RSLs, there was a clear appetite and strong support for the creation of a new agency that had the ability to bring together skills, expertise, and land and planning know-how in a one-stop shop as an expert national partner for local authorities and regional bodies.
While I understand the reservations and the concerns being expressed on behalf of local government, from my experience in carrying out all those face-to-face meetings over the summer of 2007, although there were some concerns, they were tempered by a desire to have an expert partner who could sit alongside local, democratically-elected authorities to create the kind of places that we all wish to see. The legislation before us closely reflects that consultation process and is entirely faithful to the review process that preceded it, and I greatly welcome it.
As the Minister has said, we are very fortunate to have a chief executive designate of the calibre of Sir Bob Kerslake. His long experience in local government and his excellent regeneration track record in Sheffield make him exceptionally well equipped to lead the process that he has called a single conservation with local government and others.
Finally, we are in a period where the housing market and the banking market are severely dislocated. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, mentioned, the announcement last week by a major housebuilder, Persimmon, that all new construction is to be halted underlines how very vulnerable we are to the vagaries of the housing and the capital markets. So, if we need
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In conclusion, the sooner we can enable the new agency and the new regulator to get going, the better. I urge all noble Lords, however we find ourselves in the debates in the coming weeks, strongly to support this legislation.
Lord Smith of Leigh: My Lords, housing has long been regarded as too important to be left to the market mechanism to determine its distribution. This Bill fits into the long and noble tradition of supporting the access into decent housing of low-income families.
I declare my interest as the leader of Wigan Council. In doing so, I declare a partiality, because we were in the first swathe of ALMOs. Perhaps my noble friend will take the criticism that the Government have been reticent about giving news of the success of their policy of arms-length management of local authority housing. There are now 68 ALMOs, with almost 1 million properties, investing to deliver the Governments decent homes standards. In doing so, they have transformed some of the most difficult and challenging communities in our land. The Government have a model of tenant involvement in the operation of ALMOs, which can stand comparison with what happens anywhere else and could be a good model for other housing providers to follow.
In Wigan, we recently asked our tenants about the rent increase that they would wish to have. We gave them a number of scenarios and, perhaps surprisingly to some cynics, they did not choose the lowest increase; they chose one that would give improved services. With an 83.5 per cent level of satisfaction in the Wigan ALMO, the tenants think that it is a good organisation.
I shall comment on three aspects of the Bill and on one omission. The creation of the Homes and Communities Agency is important, for the reasons that so many noble Lords have already given. It starts with a high level of stakeholder approval. By bringing together housing and regeneration, it should help to build sustainable communities and to bring forward difficult sites. When my noble friend Lady Ford mentioned the sites that she would bring forward, she did not mention an important one in my ward: the old Bickershaw colliery site, where a former mining community is beginning to be transformed.
The HCA has the ambitious target of building affordable homes and homes for social need and it will clearly have to work closely with local authorities. As other noble Lords have mentioned, local authorities will feel confidence in the new chief executive, Bob Kerslake. I am sure that he will build up that record of making sure that there is a strong partnership with local authorities, which will work very well. I also think that the HCA will work closely at the regional
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The second important part of the Bill is the establishment of the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords, the new regulatory authority. I wish to make two comments in addition to saying that it is a welcome development. First, one of the duties is to provide information to tenants about performance. That needs to be tackled carefully and we should look at whether we need to extend the Bill. We need to make sure that the information for tenants is as simple and as informative as possible. There are many good examples where ALMOs give such information to tenants. In addition, if tenants are meant to compare different landlords, they need to have proper information that compares them in a straightforward manner. There should be comparisons with the local housing market. We do not want national statistics about housing; we want to know how it compares in a local area.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the omission of the local authorities and ALMOs within the remit of the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords. I was pleased to hear my noble friends commitment to include local authorities within the scope of the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords but disappointed that she implied that it might be up to two years before this is achieved. There are two problems with that. The first is the danger that the ethos of the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords, which is to be established as a regulator of housing associations, will develop only in relation to such organisations, so that adding the local authority sector later on will be more difficult. But what will be most worrying for local authorities and ALMOs that want to be regulated by the Office for Tenants and Social Landlords is that the future legislation that that might imply may be difficult to achieve. I hope that, as a number of noble Lords have suggested, my noble friend will consider whether an enabling clause could be introduced to enable the new regulator to extend its remit to local authorities at an appropriate time after the review.
I was pleased to hear my noble friend mention in her introduction the changes proposed for the housing revenue account on the restrictions placed on housing funding within local authorities. The Local Government and Housing Act 1989 needs fairly substantial review and this minor change is important. It means that local authorities will be encouraged to do what they have not been doing for some time, which is to build new properties for rent. That is important if we want to achieve the targets that we have set. The additional flexibility will mean that local authorities must begin to do the job. Authorities will have to think about their approach by recognising that new vehicles will be required and they will have to be creative in their thinking on making arrangements for such properties to be built. They will also be able to access money from the private sector, but that means that they have to accept that there is some risk involved, as well as the rewards in terms of what might be achieved.
Finally, I turn to the omission mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lady Dean. This Bill will assist many vulnerable tenants living in low-cost rented accommodation but not all of them. It will miss those renting in the private sector. That sector can make a profit in low-rent accommodation by keeping management costs down and ensuring a high usage of the buildings. In the ward that I represent on Wigan Council, we have a large amount of terraced property that is a mix of owner occupation and private rental. I receive two kinds of complaint from local residents about the private rented accommodation. The first concerns the state of the properties. The properties are kept in only a minimum state of repair and therefore detract from the visual amenity of a terrace, reducing the value of the owner-occupied properties alongside. That is a cause for concern. Moreover, the poor state of repair of these properties, particularly if the guttering is faulty, can cause physical damage to adjacent properties.
However, the overwhelming number of complaints concern anti-social behaviour among the tenants in the form of late-night partying, petty crime and drug dealing. All sorts of issues emerge. Frankly, we need to accept that, provided that the rent is paid, private landlords have little incentive to concern themselves about the behaviour of their tenants in the neighbourhood. We have tried a number of methods to improve the situation. We have set up partnership forums, but inevitably only the better landlords turn up at these events while the ones whom we really want to seethe ones who change their names by the month and their addresses by the season and who cause the most nuisancedo not turn up.
I doubt whether my noble friend wants to extend this Bill to regulate the private sector, although I think that we ought to address it, but I ask her to consider a minor amendment for the benefit of the tenants of private landlords. We find that when private sector tenants manage to summon up what is undoubtedly the courage to report landlords to the council over the physical state of properties, in many cases their reward is to be served with a notice to quit. That is because the council serves an order for improvements to be made and the landlord knows who has made the complaint. It is perfectly legal, but we should try to stop it. Where there is a local authority order on a property to improve, the landlord should not have the right to get rid of the tenant. I hope that my noble friend will consider this small change to the legislation.
This is an important and timely Bill and I am sure that with detailed examination we will improve it. Under the expertise and guidance of my noble friend, I am sure that we will be able to pass a Bill that we can be proud of.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I should like to speak to Part 2 of the Bill, but before doing so I should, as usual, make one or two confessions of a guilty past. For the first 20 years of my working life, I was involved in housing and housing aid, local authority
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I start with why housing regulation matters. It affects 4 million homes and 10 million people and this is the first regulatory change for this sector for 30 years, so it matters that we get it right. It also matters because housing is a vital service. It affects people in their own homesyou cannot have a more important service than thatand it affects tenants, some of whom are the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our society with little political power or influence. I am sure that this House will be even more concerned to ensure that we promote and protect their interests in the passage of the Bill.
Something that we have not made much mention of so far is that the Bill is about trying to protect and empower consumers in the face of monopoly providers. We do not normally think of registered social landlords, local housing authorities or ALMOs as monopolies, but they are monopolies because, for most tenants, given the state of the housing market, if they do not like the services that they are receiving, they cannot easily move. A prime function of regulators has always been to try to protect tenants where monopolies are in place.
What did Cave say? I congratulate the Government on choosing an eminent person to produce a major report on regulation. The review looked at broadening choice, improving the quality of information provided for tenants, enhancing accountability to tenants, strengthening their voice and addressing some of the structural challenges to empowerment and choice. It saw, as do the Government, all those as central measures to empowering tenants so that they have much more of a voice, a choice and influence.
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