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Social Housing

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

There are 1.5 million households recorded as on the waiting list for social housing. The accuracy of the list varies from area to area, as it is updated in different ways, and lists do not assess the level of need for social housing in an area.

Bearing in mind the 1.5 million people on the list, is the Minister proud of the fact that under her Government there has been a net loss of 584,000 social homes? Will she consider allowing local authorities to use receipts from social homes sold under the right-to-buy scheme to build more social houses, as well as bringing the 600,000 empty houses into occupation.?

The hon. Lady will be aware that we are increasing the level of social housing and new build by 50 per cent. over the next three years, because we think that we need more of it. We are also investing a lot of the money from capital receipts in supporting housing and infrastructure throughout the country. We have said, too, that when local councils operate the social homebuy scheme, which offers people the chance to buy a share in their home, that money should be recycled into new social housing as well.

In south Yorkshire, which covers Rotherham, Sheffield, Barnsley and Doncaster, according to the House of Commons the latest figures for last year show that the number of social housing dwellings built amounts to 15. Why is the figure so low?

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the distribution of social housing depends on the bids that come forward from housing associations in different parts of the country. He might want to talk to his local council about working with housing associations to come forward with good bids for his area, especially if there is a need for new social housing there. We need to increase the level of social housing throughout the country. It is due to increase by 50 per cent., and the Chancellor has said that social housing will be a priority in the spending review. However, we need closer partnerships among local councils, housing associations and other organisations so that good bids come forward. We also need to use the planning gain system to fund new homes.

Given that hundreds of families throughout south Manchester are waiting to be rehoused, will the Minister join me in condemning my local council’s decision not to guarantee that a proportion of land set aside for development will be for social housing?

Obviously, I cannot comment on individual planning decisions taken by local authorities. However, I can say that we think that local authorities should look seriously at building requirements for social housing into their planning system and approach. It is interesting that of the 140,000 new homes that were built in 2004, some 100,000 were built with no developer contribution to social housing or infrastructure. That is not fair; there should be more contributions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way of meeting the demand for social housing would be for every planning authority to stipulate that at least 30 per cent. of houses in every new development should be affordable?

My hon. Friend is right. We should be doing more through the planning system to encourage more social housing. Clearly, the situation will vary from area to area; nevertheless, that is an important approach, which I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about and has campaigned for. There are ways to use the planning system better, including by using the section 106 system to support and fund a lot of the new homes that are badly needed in local communities.

We applaud the Government’s aspirations for building more social housing, and I hope that the Minister is successful in persuading her right hon. Friend the Chancellor to help the building of social housing to return to the higher level that we had under the last Conservative Government. The Minister will be painfully aware that there are 90,000 empty residential properties in the public sector—including, of course, Dorneywood. However, her recently introduced empty dwelling management orders do nothing to tackle that problem. Instead of creating new powers to seize the homes of the dead, why do Ministers not take action to deal with the paralysis affecting Labour local authorities, such as those to which the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) referred?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, his party cut investment in social housing, whereas ours has increased it. It is certainly right that land prices and construction costs were significantly lower in the early 1990s, but that was because his party engineered a massive housing market crash. I hope that that is not his approach to providing new social housing now.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of empty homes. He is right to say that local authorities and housing associations need to address the problem of empty homes in their areas and ensure that they are refurbished and fit for use. That is why we are putting so much money into the decent homes programme, and thus dealing with the massive backlog of repairs that his party left behind. It is irresponsible of Conservative Members to say that we must do something about the scandal of derelict and abandoned homes that have been left to blight communities, but then to oppose every single measure designed to do something about it.