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System-Built Housing

Volume 80: debated on Wednesday 12 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will institute an inquiry into the problems of system-built local authority housing and its implications for future housing investment.

The Building Research Establishment has carried out studies into problems associated with prefabricated reinforced concrete houses designed before 1960 and has published reports. It is now making a study of more recent large panel systems of construction. My Department has written to all local authorities asking them to let us know what work they believe is needed to renovate the houses and flats which they own, including system-built dwellings. When I have the results of this inquiry, I will consider the implications for future housing investment.

Is it not necessary for the Government to give a clear commitment that they are prepared to make financial resources available to deal with this massive problem? If the Government do not make those resources available, they will condemn many thousands of people to live in housing that is environmentally and socially unfit in many respects. People look to the Government for action. What action will the Minister take?

I have already explained to the House that the Building Research Establishment is inquiring into this matter. Sixteen full-time members of the staff at BRE are engaged in the study. I prefer to defer a decision on future investments that will be needed to deal with the problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred until after we have studied the reports from local authorities. I look forward to my meeting, which has been arranged for today week, with the hon. Gentleman and the chairman of Leeds city council housing committee.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have already taken action with the implementation of the Housing Defects Act 1984? Does my hon. Friend welcome the agreement which appears to have been reached between the Building Societies Association and the National House Building Council? Building societies are to recommend to their vendors the fact that building societies will now be able to lend mortgages on PRC houses, thereby enabling people whose houses have been blighted to take advantage of the grants under the Housing Defects Act and once again restore a free market to this vital section of the community.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He might have reminded the House, although he did not, that the Labour party voted against the Second Reading of the Housing Defects Bill. I welcome the progress that has been made by the NHBC and the building societies to arrive at an acceptable method of repairing defective houses. We do not yet have those acceptable methods of repair, but I hope that they will be in operation before the summer.