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Decent Homes

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 10 October 2006

15. What progress has been made towards meeting the decent homes standard in the north-east of England; and if she will make a statement. (92550)

In the past four years, 57,000 homes in the north-east have been brought up to decent homes standards, with 48,000 new kitchens, 31,000 new bathrooms and 48,000 new central heating systems having been installed.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Can she advise the House whether the principles enshrined in composite 10 at the recent Labour party conference will be used to ensure that the Government reach their aim of having decent homes for all, including those tenants and councils who rejected private finance initiatives, arm’s length management organisations and stock transfers?

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s continued interest in these matters, and I respect his contribution to the debate on them. However, he knows, as do other Members who are present, that we have a pledge to try to meet the ambitions, right across the country, of every tenant in council or social housing to have a home of a decent standard. If we were to go down the route of not levering in the money from the private sector that we could through housing associations, that could cost the Exchequer an extra £12 billion. That is £12 billion that we could spend on more kitchens and more central heating—on homes of a decent standard—and my hon. Friend and other Members should agree that that money could be better spent.

Does the Secretary of State realise that many people in the north-east will not have a chance of having a decent home if the regional housing board continues with policies, done at the behest of her Department, to restrict the number of houses built in areas such as Alnwick and Berwick to about 60 a year, which will mean that there is no social housing and still higher prices for the remaining houses in the private sector?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have an ambition to build more than 200,000 extra homes a year by 2016. In order to achieve our ambition, and to meet the housing aspirations of people throughout our country, we need to have a system in place that will provide the extra supply that we need—more homes in every region. Within that general framework, we aim to give as much flexibility as we can for local authorities to build on brownfield land rather than greenfield land and to decide the appropriate places where homes can be built. But the bottom line is that we must have extra homes if people’s housing aspirations are to be met.

On meeting the decent homes standards, will the Secretary of State tell us when she will announce the successful bids in round 6 of the ALMO—arm’s length management organisation—programme?

I can tell my hon. Friend that we will announce the extra money very shortly, and I hope that many more millions of people will be able to benefit from the modern kitchens, central heating and new bathrooms that that money will buy.

Further to the matter of the 200,000 new homes, the question is: where? Is it not the case that the drive towards decent homes in the north-east, and in the north generally, is being undermined by a stealthy transference of regeneration funding to the south of England? Why has English Partnerships’ spending in the south risen sevenfold, to some 59 per cent. of its budget, which is a massive swing away from its previous funding pattern? Is that not further evidence that commitment to reviving cities in the north is taking second place to the dash for concrete in the south?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman at all. If he were serious about providing the extra homes that people need and ensuring that they are of a sufficiently decent quality and standard for them to live in, he would back our housing market renewal pathfinders, which are regenerating communities throughout the north and giving people a decent place to live. But ultimately, we need the extra homes for people to live in if we are to meet their housing aspirations. Young couples today find it difficult to take their first step on to the housing ladder. If we are to stabilise the house price affordability ratio, we need to deliver 200,000 more homes, and we need those homes in the places where people want to live.