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We are extending the options on offer to local authorities through the Housing and Regeneration Bill. Clause 308 will give local authority landlords a power to buy shares in properties in order to assist leaseholders to pay their major works bills. Clause 307 will give such landlords a power to offer leaseholders equity loans. These are interest-free loans which pay a percentage of the market value when the property in question is sold. I think that that is an extremely important new power. However, I should also like to ensure that local authorities use the powers that they already have to help leaseholders in difficulty and that they do so systematically and consistently. In addition, we are boosting the support available via LEASE, the body which supports, helps and advises leaseholders.

We are doing a range of things in relation to these situations and I think that they will really help. That is a powerful reason why it would be better that, rather than extend regulation in the way in which the noble Lord would like to see, we actually used, developed and promoted the powers that already exist.

Digital switchover is another relatively recent issue which is important to those living in mixed blocks of flats. We are working very closely with Digital UK and have for some time been embarked on a campaign to inform local authorities to ensure that they know where they are in the timetable for switching off the analogue signal. They are bound to give their tenants access to the new technologies. Working with us, Digital UK is encouraging landlords, regardless of whether they are covered by statutory requirements, to consult residents about upgrades. There is an issue about landlords sometimes going for the most expensive option. Digital UK recently published good practice on resident consultation for landlords entitled Calling All Landlords.

So we have in place different partnerships and different ways of dealing with some of the issues that the noble Lord raised. In all fairness, I think that that is a better, more sensitive and more targeted way of achieving the outcome that he wants to see, which is to ensure that leaseholders have a fair deal. I hope he will be able to withdraw his amendment on that basis.

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5.15 pm

Lord Whitty: I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for putting on record the situation with local authorities and major repair bills. I endorse her view that local authorities should use their powers to the full, because quite a lot of lessees who are faced with major works bills bought their homes in the first flush of the right to buy, and they are now pensioners. They may be just above the housing benefit limit, but they are very pressed to pay and are very frightened by those bills.

The main point of my amendment relates to collective services in a block where there may be three or four different forms of tenure on any floor. Exactly the same issue arises when the lift does not work, for example. In those circumstances, it is not sensible to have different forms of regulation and different levels of payment according to the different types of tenure. It is possible to collect any payment differently—through service charges for lessees and through rent, spread over time, for tenants—but, in essence, fairness and quality of service apply to all of them equally. Some services, such as district heating, literally apply to them equally, because they all have the same charge and the same bill.

I appreciate what the Minister said about this being complex. I also appreciate, as I said at the beginning, that these amendments are probably not the appropriate ones to accept, but if we are to have a coherent approach to housing, particularly on some of our largest estates, ultimately the regulator should be able to cover these areas. These services are clearly different. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, says, we are dealing with a much narrower range of services in relation to indirect tenants. However, unless we have a coherent approach and a coherent set of regulations, the piecemeal help, which the Minister has rightly spelt out, is not very evident to the residents and could lead to new inequity and unfairness between different forms of tenure.

I therefore hope that this issue is kept alive. I should have declared an interest as chair of the National Consumer Council, which represents the interests of all consumers—all occupiers—in this respect. They all have a right to expect good quality collective services for which they are appropriately and not unfairly charged. That seems to be a communal issue that is not covered by the legislation or by the scope of the regulator. I suggest that we should extend it to them further down the line. As I said, I hope that this remains a live issue, but in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 80 [English bodies]:

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 99:

“( ) a community land trust (as defined in section 274),”

The noble Lord said: On Second Reading, I said that the community land trust was an idea whose time had come. My time has come now, and I intend to

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expand just a little on it. I take this opportunity to draw to the attention of the Minister and his advisers something that has been bubbling along for a little while. As one can see from the Marshalled List, I am not alone. I am delighted by the support that the amendment has received.

When the Government introduced the housing Green Paper in 2007, they paid tribute to the possibilities of the community land trust. The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrat Party have also indicated their sympathy for it. We also have in the Committee the housing expert, the noble Lord, Lord Best, who has put his name to the amendment. One could therefore ask what on earth is stopping progress in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister has a number of very good reasons.

When the noble Lord, Lord Best, moved his amendment earlier this afternoon, he said that there was no disagreement, but that we had been told to wait. That may well be the fate of my amendment. I ask the Committee to understand the history of the community land trusts and the garden city movement, which is well known to me. Experience in America and Australia proves that this mechanism is capable of serving the needs of the public. The purpose of the CLT is to hold land and other assets for the benefit of its defined local community. It 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.

A CLT holds the land in perpetuity. The owners of the buildings on it may be individual home owners, mutuals and co-operatives, or occupants of affordable rented housing. It is the community ownership and stewardship of the land asset that regulates the occupancy, limits the resale value of the homes built on it and ensures that the housing remains affordable to the community. It is such a simple prospect and project. For many years one has considered the two costs involved in housing. The cost of land was once very low. I remember that we were building well constructed council housing in Enfield and that the land cost less than £2,000. Now I shudder to think what it would be, but it must be up to £100,000, so the cost of land is prohibitive.

When I ask questions of those who advise me on these matters, they tell me that Salford University conducted a survey that reported that inhibition flowed from the uncertainty of a legal definition of a CLT. I can understand that. The report said that authorities and communities, and especially those who fund them, want to know the precise standing of the CLT before putting money in.

That is a good idea. I am willing to hear the Minister tell me that it is a good idea but that it is not in the right form of words. I would be saddened if he were to say that there is another opportunity, but not yet. There is no better opportunity than now. The Housing Corporation permitted and encouraged pilot projects in Stroud, Plymouth and Bristol, which were enthusiastically received. In my post last week came a letter from the community asset trust in north Shropshire which had heard about the initiatives. It has written to me, telling me what it is about and what it hopes to do. Frankly, it says everything that I believe should happen.

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Local people will have an asset owned by the community. As the Committee knows, one of my objections to the sale of council houses is that they have been taken out of community control. The houses are controlled by private landlords or private owner-occupiers. I see an opportunity for the Government to give their blessing—I am not talking about funding, resources or priorities. The amendment asks the Government to agree that a legal definition is needed and to authorise their colleagues to table a better drafted definition on Report; I have been in this place long enough to realise that my wording may not be in the correct form.

I declare an interest: as the Committee will know, I am well associated with the Co-operative movement. Those involved in co-operative housing are anxious to serve the community, particularly David Rogers, the chief officer of CDS Co-operatives, who has a lot of experience. It was only a working party that made the recommendation for a legal definition. The Government are also anxious to serve the community. Nothing divides us politically or in trying to make progress. I welcome the Government’s stance in having not just one aspect, arrow or bow, but a number of them. This solution will not suit everyone. In north Shropshire, a thriving group of people represents many aspects and they should be encouraged.

Land is precious. Where will it come from? It could come from redundant brownfield sites owned by the council, the Ministry of Defence or other parts of government. It could come from private individuals, who wish to say, “I love this community. We are being denuded of our young people who cannot afford a house. I will donate acres of land. Instead of making a killing and getting millions of pounds, I will give it to the community”. The community then has the knowledge that that is an asset controlled by the community to serve the community in perpetuity.

I hope that the Minister will say something sympathetic. I hope that he will not ask me to wait for a better opportunity in another Bill. Time is pressing. This idea has been about for some time. People are making plans, possibly based upon the fact that this is a housing and regeneration Bill. They may be naive in believing that this is the best vehicle to take this idea forward. It is the best idea, so I hope that the Minister can help. I beg to move.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: It gives me great pleasure to be associated with the amendment of my noble friend Lord Graham, and I do not intend to repeat his eloquent case for local communities having some say and control over how land in their area is utilised. I hope that the Minister will recognise that it is in tune with the Government’s current agenda of empowering local communities. It will do what we were talking about earlier: it will ensure—as my noble friend said, in perpetuity—that we have mixed communities and that our local housing stock does not become skewed in some way by market pressures. This is one of a range of future measures that local communities could have, and it should be seen in that light.

As my noble friend has said, these amendments appear here for a particular reason: the absence of a legal definition currently hampers the development of

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these activities. In this respect, this is a modest amendment. It does not propose to extend community land trusts, ask for extra funding or state that they are in any way superior to other forms of provision. It simply enables them to operate as a partner with other housing sectors.

I, too, am slightly concerned that the Minister will say nice words about this and then add that this is not the appropriate place. In Inside Housing a few weeks ago, the Minister Iain Wright said that he was sympathetic and would do more work on this but did not feel that the Bill was the right place. Doing more work on this is not in contradiction to putting a modest definition in the Bill. Some of the Government’s aspirations for consulting on how this can be used more widely are fine. Let us have that consultation. But, in the mean time, let us include that definition and work on it. It may be that the Government can come up with a better form of wording, but I do not see why we cannot have the definition and the consultation at the same time. The two issues are not in contradiction. This is a small and modest enabling clause. Let us have a wider debate further down the line. In the mean time, I hope that the Minister will feel able to agree to this amendment.

5.30 pm

Lord Best: My name is added to Amendments Nos. 111 and 112 which, at the very least, gives us the satisfaction of knowing that we already are talking about Clauses 274 and 275. I have nothing to add to the eloquent speech made by my noble friend Lord Graham, except to add my support.

Lord Dixon-Smith: The poor noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is having a very hard time because we are all suspecting his motives before he has had a chance to defend himself. I, too, support this group of amendments. This subject has been hanging around for a long time. My noble friend Lord Cathcart made a particular plea for rural areas and housing earlier in this Bill. In many rural communities, there are people who would make land available for way below the commercial value of development land on the basis of a community land trust, so that houses would be available to the local community and would remain so in perpetuity. This would help rural areas very much; so, on that basis, I support this group. It is interesting that the proposed system would be available to all communities where land was in the ownership of people who might make it available on this basis.

However, this does not overcome all the obstacles. This is only one technical lacuna—if I can put it that way. The land would still have to go through the dreaded planning system. This does not remove that obstacle at all, as the Government have found when their eco-towns are considered, which seem to have raised a battery of negative sentiment. Going back to rural areas, this would be on such a scale that most communities would welcome it. Whether it would fit with the detailed village envelope as it existed would always be a matter of contention. It may be a matter of time before one can do something about that, because that is the planning system.

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I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will say, “We will take this away, look at it and produce a better form of words”, if he does not think that the wording is adequate. If a better form of words cannot be found before Third Reading, I suggest that he does the honourable thing and accepts this form of words. It is a fairly modest challenge. If the Government do not like this form of words because there is some insuperable obstacle in them, they should produce a form of words which would make it work. This is the opportunity. The time is now. I am very much with the noble Lord, Lord Graham, on this. Heaven help us, we are all getting older and we would like to see it happen.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: Speak for yourself.

Baroness Hamwee: A few months ago I met a gentleman whose daughter had given land to be used by a community land trust. That is clearly admirable. However, she did not, of course, have to achieve best consideration, which a local authority or any other public body would presumably have to do. I imagine that is one of the problems in creating CLTs, which is a concept that we on these Benches very much support. As I read this—I may have got it wrong—these amendments would make CLTs subject to registration. I do not know whether that is what is intended.

The noble Lord said that this is a very modest amendment. I was taken aback to discover there was an issue over the absence of a definition. I can understand that the absence of accepted structures could be a problem but not the absence of a definition. However, I am not trying to create these bodies and I take his word for it. The Housing and Regeneration Bill is exactly the right place to consider this matter, but we should be looking for something that is not necessarily very long but that gives a basis on which authorities can work and, forgive the pun, build on.

I appreciate that the Bill is at a relatively late stage but, more to the point, the Government are under pressure to get legislation through before the end of the Session. Nevertheless, I hope that we take this opportunity to facilitate the outcomes that we want to see. After all, what should legislation achieve other than to facilitate an outcome?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: In replying to this amendment, I think that I have been cast as the unwitting curmudgeon and I am not looking forward to the task. My political spirit is very much with the amendment. As I listened to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Graham, I thought back to when I chaired a housing committee a long time ago. We wrestled with some of these issues but managed successfully to resolve them when we created the Two Piers Housing Co-op in the 1980s. This issue has been around for a long time and noble Lords with more wisdom and knowledge than I have discussed it.

We understand what the noble Lord is trying to do here and we are very much in tune with its direction and political spirit. His amendment seeks to add community land trusts to the list of organisations which are defined as “English bodies” and which may consequently become registered providers. It is a clever way of trying to get the issue into the Bill. In doing so,

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he has argued about the important role that community land trusts can play in helping to deliver affordable homes, which we all agree are much needed by communities, in a way which is sustainable and supported by the community.

As I said, I am sympathetic to the arguments behind these amendments and the Government very much support the whole concept of community land trusts. My notes say that I must resist these amendments but I shall explain why that is the case. First, I emphasise that the Government believe both in empowering people to make decisions about their own lives and in the importance of home ownership in giving people a stake in their community.

We want to capture people’s enthusiasm, solve the problem of affordable housing supply in a way that is right for their local area and give them the opportunity to get involved and influence decisions about local services and assets. The CLT approach is a way of doing that. Community land trusts provide an opportunity to enhance those policy aims and objectives, and we are keen to explore what role they have to play in providing more households on lower incomes with the opportunity of home ownership. We have therefore provided community land trusts with access to funding through the Housing Corporation’s national affordable housing programme. That programme has been working closely with the University of Salford to assist 14 pilot community land trusts across the country. Seven of them are in urban areas, and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, will be pleased to know that a further seven are in rural areas, so we recognise the contribution they can make in both settings. The university recently released a report on the experience of the seven urban pilots. It included some helpful pointers for communities wishing to explore the potential of a land trust. It also provided the Government with food for thought and observation in recommendations about what we can do to pave the way for the development of more community land trusts.

As the Government, our task is to take the lead. We will be consulting further over the summer and seeking views on how we can develop the community land trust and address some of the issues that the report raises. The noble Lord anticipated that I would ask the proponents of this approach to wait—

Lord Graham of Edmonton: Was I wrong?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord was not wrong, but I want to go further than that and make the simple point that the amendment is not necessary because community land trusts use a variety of legal entities, some of which are charities, some are industrial or provident societies—the noble Lord knows more about those than I do—some are companies and some are other community bodies. Clause 80 simply defines what is meant by the term “English bodies”. As noble Lords can see, all these types of bodies are already included within the definition of “English bodies”, provided that they are registered in England or intend to make accommodation available in England.

Therefore, we do not think that the amendment is necessary. Community land trusts have real potential to help provide more affordable housing and they are

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an exciting model, but it is inappropriate to put this mechanism to define community land trusts or any other vehicle, such as local housing companies, in legislation. Nor do we think it is wise or necessary. For example, development trusts are similar and hold assets for communities but do not have a definition in law, so there is no barrier there. To embed one particular mechanism in legislation is perhaps too short-term an approach. Circumstances differ and times change, and we would not want to see future innovative proposals or models held back because they do not fit a particular definition.

We have listened to the views of community land trust representatives, and Iain Wright announced at the Community Land Trust conference that we will be seeking views in the summer on the need for a legal definition. However, we do not think it is appropriate legally to define community land trusts without proper or full consultation. It is not just the Government who need to be convinced on the right words for CLTs; the financiers, the Local Government Association, the Council of Mortgage Lenders and housing lawyers need to have their say so that we can get this right. We are committed to getting this right so that we can take this policy area forward. If we were to accept this wording or an improved wording, we would be pre-empting that consultation.

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