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South-East (Housing Demand)

Volume 82: debated on Wednesday 10 July 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made concerning the supply and demand for houses in the south-east of England.

While my Department does not attempt to forecast housing supply and demand, it publishes much information on recent trends. The London and south-east regional planning conference—SERPLAN—is preparing an assessment of future housing requirements in the region.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the proposals to meet the alleged shortfall is that proposed by Consortiums Developments Ltd. to build a new town of 5,000 houses in my constituency between West Horndon and Bulphan? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that that proposal has led to universal and substantial all-party opposition from the Essex county council, from the London borough of Thurrock and from the villages of Bulphan and West Horndon and the local Members of Parliament? Will he take that into account when he makes his decision?

I am aware of the proposal to which my hon. Friend draws attention. The matter will be dealt with in accordance with normal planning procedures. There is a planning application before the Thurrock borough council, and it will be for it to take a view in the first instance.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in inner London there are many badly housed or homeless people who are too poor to compete effectively in the private housing market and that his policies of cutting back on the public sector are denying many of them the chance of decent homes in their lifetimes?

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that it has been Government policy that the demand for new homes should primarily be met by the private sector and that the number of houses built by the private sector has increased substantially. The Government recognise that there will always be a proportion of the population unable to afford the full cost of private sector housing. For them, the housing associations and local authorities will provide a way to be housed. But it is up to the local authorities to make the best use of their resources and not, for instance, have up to 25,000 houses and flats empty for more than a year. If they can deal with that, they may be able to help some of the homeless.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no proof of the size of demand for new houses in central Berkshire to justify the foisting of an excessive number of houses on to the area completely against the wishes of the people, the local planning authority and local business?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's forcefully expressed views on this, which I know are reflected in those of a great many of those whom he represents. The Government will be making their view public on this shortly.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, according to his Department's figures, there is enough land available with planning permission to continue building houses at the present rate in Essex until 1990? Is he aware, further, that the proposals by Consortium Developments to use green belt land is opposed by the leading Labour group on Thurrock borough council and that, furthermore, Thurrock borough council is considering plans to use derelict land which is available in Thurrock and can build a further 5,000 to 6,000 houses on it and that therefore Consortium Developments' planning application to misuse green belt land should be firmly rejected by his Department?

I am sure the hon. Lady recognises that if Consortium Developments appealed against a refusal of permission or a failure to give permission within the specified time, that appeal would have to come to my Department and that it would be wrong for me to express any view on the merits of the proposal to which she referred.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the south-east many people are extremely alarmed about the pressure on land for house building? That being so, will he assure the House that he will respect the integrity of the county plans, which are an important protection for my constituents?

Yes, indeed. The county structure plans are one of the mechanisms whereby it is possible to regulate the development of housing in areas which are already under pressure. My hon. Friend will know that the Government have made it abundantly clear again and again that they do not wish to see development on the green belt, where the protection should be permanent, and that they do not want to see good agricultural land taken. At the same time, it has to be said that there is a demand for housing in the south-east, as there is in other parts of the country. It is our policy to make sure that sufficient suitable land comes forward for that purpose to meet the demand.

Given that incomes in my constituency average about £5,000 and that the average price in the private sector is £39,000 for a flat and £48,000 for a terraced house, will the right hon. Gentleman give some thought — given that he accepts the demand for low-cost homes for sale in docklands, especially from young married couples — to introducing new schemes and methods of finance so that people can live where they work and come from and not be forced to move from the area when the demand is there, the land is there and the supply could be there as well?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and he knows of the various low-cost home ownership schemes promoted by the Government. He also knows that in his constituency the London Docklands development corporation has been among the foremost in making use of those schemes so that his constituents can occupy homes close to where they have always lived on land which for many years has lain derelict. I hope that the hon. Gentleman approves of that.

Despite comments from some of my hon. Friends, does my right hon. Friend accept that in parts of east London and south-west Essex there is considerable unmet demand for houses to buy? That must be taken into account when he considers these policies, because many young people are being driven from where they wish to live.

I certainly take most careful note of what my hon. Friend said. It reflects my impression, as I also have a constituency in that area.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in Greater London the average price of a pre-1919 terraced house is now almost £50,000, which is twice the national average and well beyond the means of many needy first-time buyers? Is he further aware that that extremely high price is a reflection of the 1,000 per cent. increase in the south-east in land prices since the Government took office? Does he agree that we have, not a housing policy, but a speculators' bonanza? Will he now engage in an exercise of positive planning to identify private land, along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald), which can be used for private housing, without raping the green belt for private profit?

The Government certainly want to see the maximum possible use of inner city land that is available for housing for that purpose. However, one of the best ways in which inner city authorities, particularly those in London, can meet the needs of the families to whom the hon. Gentleman referred is to bring into use by homesteading or other ways the many thousands of empty houses and flats that they have on their books. It is a scandal that so many should be allowed to remain empty for so long, and that homeless families must then be put into bed-and-breakfast accommodation.