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Baroness Ford: The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has raised two fundamental issues. When we undertook the consultation to think about the creation of the new agency, in all the regions of England those two issues were the ones that occupied the most time and generated the most anxiety on the part of those who attended. I am sure that my noble friend will provide much more detail, but the way we were anticipating the agency taking shape six to nine months ago was that the national organisation would quite rightly have its direction set by Ministers and would have overarching targets to meet on all the issues we have been talking about today. Underneath that, each regional office of the Homes and Communities
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That point was made powerfully at the session in Leeds, when a number of local authority colleagues and RSL colleagues said, We dont want to be hidebound by national targets and policies that dont have relevance for our region. The desperate need in that region was for family homes and not one-bed or two-bed apartments. The plea from each of the regions was that, while Ministers would rightly want to set national targets, the agency should have sufficient flexibility to could come to a clearly agreed view with each region and then feed that through the organisation back up to Ministers. Ministers then have the unenviable taskand we are delighted that they do it and we do not have toof acting as judge and jury on the allocation of resources. The process by which that happens was meant to be within a national framework with clearly articulated regional priorities that were then brought back for Ministers to finally decide the allocation. I hope that helps.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: The simple point I want to make is that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. When everyone understands the Governments aspiration and ambition, clearly there will be some areas of decision-making at a local level that will not be happy with the direction the Government are trying to drive them in, but that is par for the course. The ambition of the Government and their negotiators is to use their best endeavours to persuade people at every level that what the Government are seeking to do is not only good for the nation but good for their region or locality. Members around this Table who have served with me on comparable Committees know that there is antipathy in some areas and hostility in others towards direction from anyone. They believe that they are sovereign in their area, and the Government or someone else ought to be quick in paying the feethat is, the subventionand let them get on with it. It is not going to be like that. The time that the Minister and her colleagues will spend in persuasion and advocacy will be well spent.
I have heard in this debate that, while we are coming to this process now, discussions about how it can operate have been going on for two or three years, if not longer. We are at the beginning of what I hope will be a successful venture. However, the Government have to be prepared to accept the fact that some areas, councils or individuals will object strongly to the strategy the Government are promoting. They are entitled to do so, but ultimately the Government must be responsible to the nation and Parliament, and I wish them well.
Baroness Byford: I have a question following on from the noble Baronesss amendment regarding the financial implications that she touched upon. The HCA is limited by Clause 26, which says its borrowings must not exceed £2.3 billion. Will that money be divided equally among the regions or will it go where the need is greatest?
Baroness Andrews: This debate followed seamlessly from the previous one on community needs. I said at Second Reading that we had never seen our housing challenge as susceptible to a national solution. It is not about one-size-fits-all but about what regions and localities need. Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, pointed out, we have had different housing policies to meet different needs. We have had the Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders in the north and the west, and we have had our growth regions in the Greater South East, which are tasked with the greatly different challenge not of correcting a failing housing market but of creating and supplying another one. Another programme was the National Coalfields Programme, which focused on regenerating sites in former coalfield areas. We have never conceived of a uniform, monochrome national housing policy.
The noble Lord asked how this is actually delivered. The answer was brilliantly provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Ford, who went through the history and continuity of negotiations that are driven by needs, appreciation and perceptions, which are then reflected in the pattern that emerges in the requirements for investment, which, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, is tailored. The decisions are eventually taken by government on the basis of information that is well evidenced by local and regional need and that comes up through the regional tripartite arrangement. The Homes and Communities Agency will therefore tailor its approach according to the specific needs of different parts of England. It will, for example, reflect the fact that we have new growth points in the north for the first time. Previously, our growth points were very much based in the south, which was the cause of some grief.
Clause 26 is about the maximum amount that the agency may borrow. It is not its total budget; it is a controlling mechanism. On the process, the Homes and Communities Agency will not decide alone where to invest but will work in partnership with the regional development agencies and the local authorities, which have already fed into the regional spatial strategies and the regional economic strategies. Coming down the track is the single regional economic strategy, which will bring all this together in due course and give us a coherent strategy that will replace the regional spatial strategies and the regional economic strategies and include information on appropriate levels of housing provision. Each regional investment plan is therefore drawn up in partnership with local authorities and is developed in a way that will require investment for different purposes. There may be a greater need for refurbishment than for new build. We expect further investment in affordable housing in some regions, and will see local patterns emerging in the process itself.
The noble Lord talked about balance in the HCA and how it apportions its resources, as well as about the emphasis that is reflected in how investment decisions are managed on the ground. If I have not answered his point, I am happy, if this helps the Committee, to put on paper how we think this process will actually work. It is not an easy process, and I am happy to follow through on where we are on the basis of how the HCA will operate and how we will go into the regional strategies.
Lord Greaves: I have one more question, which the Minister might want to incorporate in this treatise that we will get. If it is anything to do with housing finance, it will not be very short. What will be the relationship between the funding through the HCA and the regional housing pot?
Baroness Andrews: The regional housing pot breaks down into an element for affordable housing, an element for the private rented sector and an element for improvement. The HCA funding brings together different funding streams. It is complementary in some respects. I will have to write to the noble Lord to explain that relationship. I do not want to busk it, because it is very complicated. There are different emphases in the regional housing pot.
Then I found that Clause 322 states that the extent of the Bill is England and Wales. Unless the Minister is absolutely on top of this, I am happy to accept a written answer to the question of what happens to the Welsh under Clause 2. Clause 322 covers the whole of the Bill; it has a couple of exceptions, but not these, as far as I can see.
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