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For example, although it is not a new idea, could community land trusts play a greater role in securing more affordable homes? These would hold the land in perpetuity and lease it to the owners of the properties on it. This community ownership of the land could help to keep homes affordable and deliver the crucial mix of tenures such as owner-occupiers, mutuals, social rented and co-operatives, which I think we all find desirable. I hope that the Minister will recognise the advantages of such models and give a commitment to clarifying their legal status in the Bill, which would enable them to thrive.

I would like to say something about the very welcome emphasis in the Bill on tenants’ rights. First, I am confident that the Government mean well with regard to tenant involvement, but it must be more than tokenism and must be seen to be so. For example, my housing association, which has just completed a major review of tenant involvement, has identified key demands for more localised and responsive services and better communications, rather than more seats on the board. We need to be quite sophisticated about how we measure real tenant participation.

Secondly, it is important that tenants involved in potential stock transfers are guaranteed impartial advice on the options and are not just buffeted around by the competing propaganda of vested interests. I would go further than that and say that individual blocks of tenants should be able to initiate a ballot to change their landlord, potentially breaking up the big estates and enshrining real tenant choice.

Thirdly, we should not lose sight of the value to many families of a secure tenancy. If tenants are to be really empowered, we have to find ways of making those tenancies portable so that individuals can become more mobile and respond to job opportunities and other reasons to move. The importance of secure tenancy is also a crucial factor in the family intervention projects initiative. For example, Shelter has already demonstrated that moving families with complex needs to different accommodation for intensive support can be effective; but the loss of a secure tenancy may

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override the benefits. It is vital that the interests of the children involved take precedence. I hope that the Minister is able to acknowledge these concerns.

Finally, if we are serious about tenants’ rights, we need to change the outdated definition of overcrowding, which counts children aged between one and 10 as half a person and includes living rooms and larger kitchens in the equation. I know that the Government have already made a commitment to review that formula, but it is not clear why that cannot be delivered in this Bill.

There is a great deal more that I could say on this issue, but I recognise the Government’s clear intent to transform housing provision in this country and to tackle a long legacy of housing need. I also welcome the Government’s record on engaging with stakeholders on the detail of the Bill, and I look forward to further discussions as the Bill progresses.

8.20 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, there are many issues that I would like to address this evening, not least rural housing, the relationship between the HCA and planning authorities, eco-towns and design. I will resist the temptation to address those issues, because I want to speak about one particular subject. However, on design, I cannot let the moment pass without addressing some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, who is no longer in his place.

Noble Lords will recognise that he obviously has a very large bee in his bonnet about something that the leader of the council in South Somerset has done at some time; in my opinion, it is a personal bee. That council pioneered village design statements, and it has a very strong record with conservation planners. I do not think that I need to defend it, because many noble Lords will be familiar with it. Coincidentally, I was having a conversation at tea time with the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, who has just visited Montacute and Tintinhull. She was saying how absolutely gorgeous they are. Those villages and the market towns of South Somerset have benefited over the years from a very considered design.

This evening, I particularly want to address something on which the Minister has a very good track record. She said:

This is the centenary year for allotments. The Minister’s comments were made in the introduction to the Local Government Association guide to good allotment management, Growing in the Community, the second edition of which was published earlier this year. The Minister was right to acknowledge how important allotments are. I am choosing to concentrate my remarks on allotments, village greens and commons because it seems to me from reading the Bill that they are under threat.

I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in his place, because he will remember when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was passing through this House the long debates that we had about registering

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land as village greens. In fact, the amendment on village greens was debated in the rather more energetic days of your Lordships’ House, at 2.20 am of Tuesday, 17 October 2000. It was very exciting that the Government decided to incorporate that amendment in the Bill, and it became law. The Government at the time were quite right to recognise how under threat village greens were. There was news of one a week being threatened by building projects. The situation was dire and the Government reacted strongly.

How will organisations like the Open Spaces Society feel when they read Part 4 of Schedule 3 to this Bill, which, to my reading—the Minister may say that I am wrong—effectively undoes that work? That schedule lists specifically commons, open space—by which it means village greens—and allotments. It states:

In other words, the Bill drives a stake through the heart of any protection that allotments, village greens and commons have had over the years. The Minister is shaking her head and I hope that she will tell me that I am wrong. If my interpretation is correct, during the passage of the Bill, I shall seek to change the power of the HCA in relation to protected open spaces.

The Minister may say that in the giving of planning permission there has already been enough built-in protection since the Government re-issued guidance in 2001, whereby local authorities are required to demonstrate, before consent is granted, that the allotment in question is not necessary, that alternative provision will be made for displaced plot holders, that the waiting list has been taken into account and that local authorities have actively publicised the availability of the sites. That guidance to local authorities is already in place, but that needs to be at least mirrored by the HCA if it is to become a planning body.

My greater principle is that the Bill needs to reflect the importance of community green spaces, but it does not sufficiently do that. While I recognise the importance of appropriate housing units for people in housing need, they are the private spaces where individuals and families live. It is in the open spaces that they become a community, whereby they can come out of their houses and meet each other and do all the time-honoured things such as kicking footballs about, growing vegetables or whatever it is that they want to do. Not least at a time of rising food prices and concerns about food security, other good arguments for allotments can be made—and not just for allotments, but community gardens. Demand has increased recently and for that reason we should make more of mentioning this issue in the Bill.

I shall save the rest of my fire on this issue for Committee, but I would hope to introduce a few more safeguards in relation to the way that the HCA regards open community space. There is a small mention of it in the Bill as recreational infrastructure, but that is not enough. The provisions for open space need to be strengthened to give it the place of

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importance that it should have, to reflect what has happened in the past 40 years of the 100 years since the laws on allotments were brought in.

8.28 pm

Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I apologise for missing the first few minutes of my noble friend the Minister’s splendid exposition of the wide scope of the Bill. I am afraid that I was overoptimistic about my speed.

I strongly support the Bill’s underlying objectives to enable the delivery of the 3 million new homes that we need by 2020. Housing is rightly at the top of the political agenda. We now need concerted action to meet the appalling shortfall in affordable, accessible and sustainable housing. I applaud the vision set out in the housing Green Paper, the recent eco-towns consultation and the National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing Society. It is a vision for housing which is well designed, inclusive and sustainable and is linked to thriving accessible communities.

The gap between vision and reality, however, is nowhere more stark than in relation to the housing situation for disabled people and their families. According to the latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government, 1.5 million disabled people in England remain in need of accessible accommodation, and 371,000 live in completely unsuitable housing.

Our ageing population means that over the next 20 years we will see an increase in the number of disabled older people of between 57 and 67 per cent, making accessible, lifetime housing and increasing housing choice and opportunity for disabled people vital mainstream priorities for housing policy. Legislation should reflect this, but I see no reference to increasing the supply of accessible, lifetime housing in the Homes and Communities Agency remit as set out in the Bill.

That is all the more surprising given the very welcome recent commitment to ensure that all social housing is built to the lifetime homes standard by 2011. The outgoing Housing Corporation’s affordable housing investment programme for 2008 to 2011 takes us nowhere near that target, making it doubly important in the eyes of disabled people that the HCA’s remit includes specific reference to inclusive homes and communities.

I am of course delighted that the Bill makes provision for all new homes to be given a rating under the Code for Sustainable Homes and that the Government have included the lifetime homes standard in the code. This, along with planning policy, is one of the few levers that the Government have provided to address the dearth of private sector housing built to the lifetime homes standard. Private housing accounts for at least two-thirds of completions. If we are serious about equality of opportunity and independent living for disabled people, we cannot limit the choice of accessible homes to social housing.

Under current plans, it will be 2013 before the private sector is expected to build to lifetime homes

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standards, and that is only an aspiration rather than a guarantee. This pace of change hardly reflects the need for urgent action that we face today. I echo the call by RADAR, Care and Repair England and Habinteg Housing Association for a faster and more robust timetable for incorporating lifetime homes standards into building regulations, as the Government pledged to do more than four years ago. The National Housing Federation, too, has said that private developers should be required to meet the same timetable as housing associations through building regulations.

Perhaps I may anticipate the Minister’s response to this. She will quote from many strategies and tell us that the Government are moving things forward; she will say that these things take time and that there are potential changes to the standards to consider and so on. To that, I say this: every single home built to existing Part M rather than lifetime homes standards costs us dear. It costs us in avoidable adaptations, accidents and hospital stays paid for out of taxpayers’ pockets; it costs individuals their independence and security; and it involves a sustainability penalty as we waste material and energy by retro-fitting.

Alongside lifetime homes, we need to make enhanced provision for housing built to full wheelchair-access standards. Can the Minister tell me what role she expects the Homes and Communities Agency to play in tackling the shortfall of 300,000 wheelchair-accessible homes nationwide? Will the Government require regional planning authorities to follow London’s example in setting appropriate targets?

If we are to meet the accessible housing challenge, it is crucial that we also look at bringing existing housing stock up to scratch. Sadly, the Decent Homes programme has not contributed to that goal. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House what specific role the HCA will play in ensuring that such programmes mainstream and maximise access and equality in future.

Further, just as concerted action is required to bring hundreds of thousands of empty homes and vast tracts of surplus public land back into use, so we must also ensure that our current stock of accessible or adapted homes is used much more efficiently than it is at present. The current housing allocations process creates needless waste and inefficiency. On average, only one in six wheelchair-standard dwellings in the social housing sector is let to a household containing a wheelchair user, despite overwhelming demand for wheelchair-standard property from wheelchair users.

I strongly welcome both the planned National Register of Social Housing, which will help ensure that social landlords gather information on the accessibility of their stock, and the Government's support for the London Accessible Housing Register which will give disabled people greater housing choice across London. However, I return to an issue which I and many other noble Lords, across all parties have raised on numerous occasions in this Chamber: the need for statutory provision for accessible housing registers. The Government have no quibble with the efficiency, desirability, positive

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impact and cost-effectiveness of such systems, but all they are prepared to do is encourage. Encouragement has not worked and will not work. Surely, it is time to legislate.

Finally, welcome the major new investment planned for disabled facilities grants. Central government will increase grants to local authorities by 31 per cent in the next three years. This is a very welcome start. However, I would welcome assurances from the Minister that the decision to remove the requirement on local authorities to contribute 40 per cent of DFGs from their own resources will in no way undermine delivery on the ground. DFGs will remain mandatory for all those who meet the eligibility criteria, but such are the pressures on local authorities' budgets that there must be a real risk of resources being channelled elsewhere. As a result families will continue to suffer intolerable delays, trapping them in often atrocious, degrading housing conditions. Perhaps the Minister could also outline Oftenant's role in improving access to timely adaptations for disabled households and ensuring quality service for disabled tenants more generally.

Nothing is more fundamental to freedom, choice, control and dignity for disabled and older people and their families than a decent, accessible home. Government policy is undoubtedly heading in the right direction, but there is deep frustration at the slow pace of change and continued inertia over accessible housing registers. Let this Bill mark the beginning of a bold new approach to delivering homes and communities that are truly fit for the future.

8.37 pm

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I begin with an apology for having missed the Minister’s speech and that of the Opposition Front Bench.

Like many speakers in the debate, I have waited a long time for a Bill as comprehensive as this. I understand the desire of the Minister and her colleagues to ensure that the Bill contains as many answers to the needs in housing as possible. I believe that this is the most important housing Bill since 1997 and perhaps even before then. It is well worth waiting for. I have listened to most of the debate and I have been very impressed. We shall undoubtedly have good Committee and Report stages. We have heard from many people who have experience in this area.

In preparation for the debate, I looked up the Second Reading debate in the other place. Mr Grant Shapps began by moving what euphemistically is called a reasoned amendment. I have never read a more unreasonable reasoned amendment in 35 years at Westminster. It is bleak, destructive, petty and unconnected with the needs of the country. The Opposition should recognise the opportunity presented by this Bill and build on it. I say to the Opposition, “Oh ye of little faith, lift up your hearts”, because when we debate the Bill there will be opportunities to improve it. I do not look on housing as one of those political issues that ought to divide the political parties. I have experience as a constituency Member of Parliament and, more than once, after having listened to my constituents in

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surgery, I went to my car and sat and cried. The conditions, forlornness and misery which had come across the table made me realise, if I did not already know, that housing and its quality, accessibility and nature, are the bedrock of a happy family. I therefore congratulate the Government on what they are doing in the Bill.

Like every Queen’s Speech, however, the value of the Bill is not necessarily what is in it but what is not. I shall touch on two aspects on which I hope that the Minister will give me encouragement in believing that change is possible. First, earlier tonight, I attended a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Park Home Owners. The Minister knows of my interest in and long service to that group. The House will be aware that, as an alternative means of tenure and lifestyle, park homes are a vital segment of housing provision. There are 1,600 park homes in the country and over 200,000 people live on them. They are therefore entitled to have their needs given consideration by the Government. The contribution of this Minister, who had direct responsibility for park homes, is deeply appreciated; a great deal of progress was made under her stewardship. Her departmental colleague Mr Iain Wright now carries the primary responsibility for park homes and has certainly impressed me with both his grasp of the issues and his determination to put them right.

The Minister will be aware that, while the majority of park homes are well managed, and the relationship between the owner and those who live on them is good, there are villains who own park homes. They terrorise the elderly, the frail and the disabled. They get away with murder because, despite the many opportunities which the Minister and her colleagues take to improve the situation, those owners ignore the law. They know that it is there but ride roughshod over it. We need a cheaper method of resolving disputes, which I believe will be coming shortly. Currently, the general answer is, “Well, if you are not satisfied, take the site owner to court”. That is a petrifying experience for those who might be elderly, frail and on their own, so the Government need a reminder that access to a cheap method of settling disputes of this kind by arbitration is sorely needed.

There are loopholes in the law, and I am sorry that we have been unable to introduce remedies in this Bill. The Minister quite fairly told me and others last year that it was not possible because there were so many other priorities. However, she gave us an indication that there might well be legislative opportunities in the not-too-distant future, so I would be glad to hear an assurance from the Minister—nothing specific—that, as and when opportunities occur, advantage will be taken of them.

I will spend a minute or two on the issue raised by my noble friend Lady Jones, who is not in her place. I was delighted that she touched on the issue of community land trusts. As they often say in the papers, this is an idea whose time has come. When the Bill was in another place, there was an attempt to make some progress. My noble friend Lady Jones touched on the nub of the issue: the need to legally clarify precisely what is meant by “a community land

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trust”. As the House knows, I am strongly attached to the co-operative movement, and co-operatives are very keen on exploring and exploiting this issue. Although the House will be in favour of all the good things in the Bill, there is a niggle. We want more affordable housing provision not only for individuals, landowners, councils and investors but for whole communities by helping to create a comparatively new vehicle for doing so.

As I understand the situation, community land trusts are a means of engaging communities in their sustainable development, in particular by increasing the provision of permanently affordable rented and intermediate market housing. We are indebted to a group attached to the University of Salford that is currently carrying out a review, supported by the Housing Corporation, of the national CLT characteristics. The purpose of a CLT is to hold land and other assets for the benefit of its defined local community. The CLT balances the needs and interests of the individual with the interests of the community as a whole by separating the value of the land from the value of the property on it. The CLT holds the land in perpetuity and leases it to the owners of the buildings on it, who may be individual home owners, mutuals, co-operatives or occupants of affordable rented housing. It is this community ownership and stewardship of the land assets that regulates the occupancy, limits the resale value of the homes built upon it and ensures that the housing built on it remains affordable to the community in perpetuity. What is wrong with that?


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