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Housing (Telford)

Volume 456: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2007

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]

I appreciate the opportunity to speak this evening about housing growth in Telford. I will focus on two issues in particular—the range of initiatives in place to meet housing needs locally and the level of housing growth envisaged in the spatial strategy for Telford over the coming years.

First, it would be appropriate to set the scene. Telford is of course no stranger to housing growth, as one of the most successful post-war new towns. It was designated as Dawley new town in 1963 and became Telford in 1968. The designation drew together a series of towns on the former east Shropshire coalfield, and it is fair to say that one of the strengths of Telford is that those smaller communities retain their own identity some 40 years later. I shall return to that point.

There was massive housing growth in Telford in the 1960s and 1970s, with the creation of new communities. It started in areas such as Sutton Hill to the south of the town. Estates such as Brookside and Woodside were developed throughout the 1960s and 1970s. There was enormous housing growth, but looking back, we realise that there were often design problems that we are only just starting to recognise and rectify. The pattern of growth steadied in the 1980s and 1990s. However, many developments continued to be proposed for areas such as The Rock and Priorslee.

We have now embarked on a significant housing growth strategy, which must be handled carefully and sensitively. Why do we need housing growth in the UK, and in Telford in particular? On a national basis, the Barker report indicates a significant gap between supply and rising demand for new homes. The UK has an ageing and growing population, to which the housing market is not responding. Over the last three decades of the 20th century, the number of households increased by 30 per cent., but new house building fell by 50 per cent. Household numbers in England will grow by 209,000 a year up to 2026, of which 72 per cent. will be single-person households.

At the time of Kate Barker’s report, only some 150,000 housing units a year were planned, so there is clearly a significant gap between the number of new homes being provided and the level of demand. That problem is emerging across Telford. Each year, some 5,000 households seek social housing in the borough of Telford and Wrekin and only about 1,000 of those households are rehoused. We are building some 100 social housing units, and that is not enough.

The demand for housing is the top issue in my advice surgery. More than 50 per cent. of the cases at my fortnightly advice surgeries are housing related, with people looking for accommodation. The west midlands regional spatial strategy suggests that there will be demand for at least 19,689 additional units of accommodation in the constituencies of Telford and the Wrekin between 2001 and 2026. It is also worth noting that house prices locally are below the regional and national average. The Halifax bank says that the average in 2006 was £156,658, which compares with the west midlands average of just over £170,000, and the UK average of £199,487. However, although house prices in Telford are below the west midlands and UK averages, it is important to note that wage rates are too, and that many people still struggle to get onto the housing ladder.

So much for setting the scene, but what is in the pipeline for Telford’s housing growth in the coming years? English Partnerships and the local council have worked together to bring forward some key sites for housing development. For example, a new community is planned in Lawley, with 3,300 new homes as well as offices, a primary school, shops, park land, bars and restaurants. The new name for the scheme is Ironstone, which reflects Telford’s industrial heritage.

The local community has been intensively involved in the consultation about the scheme’s design. I know that because I live about two miles away, and have attended a number of consultation events set up by English Partnerships, whose performance in respect of consultation has been excellent. The scheme’s affordable housing component will include 396 homes for social rent and 429 shared-ownership units. I am pleased to say that those homes will be pepper-potted throughout the development, using what I describe as a “tenure-blind” approach. The idea is that people walking down a street will not be able to tell which homes are for rent, for sale or for shared ownership. That will enable us to build a more cohesive and sustainable community in the longer term.

The partners in the Ironstone scheme are Barretts, George Wimpey, Persimmon, the Beth Johnson housing association and Bourneville village trust. It is a model scheme, and one that should be built on in the years to come.

Another site in Telford is Lightmoor. Owned by English Partnerships, it will be developed in the spirit of Birmingham’s Bourneville village, the world-famous example of an urban community created by George Cadbury, the founder of the Bourneville village trust. The development proposals include up to 800 homes, 25 per cent. of which will be affordable housing owned by the trust.

The Lightmoor development will be built around a green, and will include a range of facilities such as shops, a family pub and restaurant, a primary school and a lifelong learning centre. There will also be a community centre with facilities for indoor recreation, health care, multi-faith worship and indoor sports, as well as community management offices. It will be a really sustainable community in the long term. Bourneville has a tradition of building such communities, and the Lightmoor village scheme will be developed in a sensitive manner that respects the existing landscape.

The Lightmoor scheme has been a difficult one to put together. There was public opposition initially, with many people thinking that the development should not go ahead because of the field pattern in the area, but a compromise has been achieved. A large area of open space to the south of the site has been saved, and the community being developed will be sustainable. I have visited the first phase of the development and can say that the design standards are superb. The approach that has been adopted in Lightmoor should be expanded across the whole town.

Schemes such as those at Lawley and Lightmoor, and at the millennium community at Ketley in the Wrekin constituency, provide a benchmark for the design and quality of future housing growth. Alongside those new developments, we need high-quality new housing to form a key element of estate regeneration projects. For example, the new housing in areas such as Woodside is a major component of regeneration activity, providing a mix of accommodation for older people and young families. In fact, when we put the scheme together, people in Woodside were worried that the existing accommodation for older people would not be replaced. However, we have delivered on our commitment to put a brand new sheltered housing scheme on that site, in partnership with Wrekin Housing Trust. When we give communities specific commitments about the type of housing that will be built in their areas and deliver them, people tend to support activity.

I was pleased when the Government announced in October 2006 that Telford would be one of 29 new growth points, and look forward to hearing in more detail from the Minister how that will work in practice. At present, we are building about 700 new homes a year in Telford and Wrekin, but it is acknowledged that we need more homes throughout the region, especially in Telford where there is potential for growth, so my second point is about how to tackle the spatial strategy for the west midlands and for Telford. Three options are proposed in the west midlands regional spatial strategy, which is out for consultation. Option 1 would deliver the existing agreed targets for housing, which would result in 24,000 new homes in Telford and Wrekin between 2001 and 2026—about 960 homes a year. Option 2 proposes 30,000 new homes between 2001 and 2026, which is 1,200 a year, while Option 3 is for 36,000 homes—1,440 a year.

In my view, we should look at the middle way—I am sure the House will agree that is very new Labour of me—at a figure of about 30,000, while acknowledging that we will carry a significant share of the regional housing growth figures. As I said earlier, Telford is used to housing growth; if it is handled carefully and sensitively in consultation with the community, there is no opposition. That is how we developed the schemes at Lawley and Lightmoor, and I hope that we can have positive dialogue with communities about continuing housing growth over the coming years.

In the past, sustainable communities have not been developed. Schemes such as Priorslee and The Rock were built in the 1980s and 1990s. I live on The Rock, which is a large estate with a large range of facilities, including a post box, a public telephone kiosk and about three bus stops. It is a commuter estate. People travel to work by car, often down the motorway to Birmingham, and home again. There are no local shops, pubs or facilities. We have to get such developments right in the future, as we are starting to do in the schemes that I mentioned earlier, but the car-commuter estate where I live is unsustainable. We need to learn from the failures of the 1980s and build more facilities in communities to make them sustainable.

One of the key achievements in the growth of Telford has been retention of the character of communities such Oakengates, Dawley and Madeley, and that must be a factor in any development proposals. We also need to protect valued open space, which contributes to our green network locally. The envisaged growth can be achieved only if we secure support from the Government through infrastructure development. Furthermore, it is only fair that we have help in regenerating the older housing areas in Telford, which were built right at the start of the new town process. Specific targets for the creation of affordable housing should be clearly communicated to the community, and I intend to hold a housing summit in Telford to discuss those issues.

One of the key components in any housing growth strategy must be schemes to tackle youth homelessness. Projects such as KIP and STAY do sterling work in Telford, but we need more supported accommodation for homeless people and more move-on capacity. I would like to see a high quality foyer project in Telford, offering young people and young adults accommodation, access to training and support in sustaining a tenancy. It could be a prestige building that forms part of our town centre redevelopment, and I hope that the partners involved in that strategy will take note of that point.

We also need more supported housing for client groups. For older people, we need accommodation tailored to the needs of an ageing population—along the lines of the extra care model, for example. We also need more bungalow schemes to help people to move and free up family housing. That sits alongside our wider strategy for housing growth. I would also like to see our growth strategy take on board lifetime homes standards, and build them into the design of all local housing developments.

Playing an active role in the city region will be crucial if Telford is to be successful. I hear some siren voices locally saying that we should not be involved in the city region process. I say to those people that if we exclude ourselves from the decision-making structures that will direct investment in training and skills, transport infrastructure and wider regeneration activity, we will relegate ourselves to being a bit-part player as the regional economy grows. If we are to succeed as a town in the future, we need to be a housing growth point and a jobs and skills growth point. Investment directed by the city region partnership can help us to secure that.

What do we need from Government? We need a long-term partnership that promotes employment growth alongside housing growth as a key element of the city region strategy. We need ongoing support for the regeneration of areas of older housing, building on the Woodside initiative in south Telford, which I have already mentioned. We need help to deliver sustainable communities through the deployment of the skills of English Partnerships, the Housing Corporation and Advantage West Midlands. We need support to create a vibrant town centre and to rebuild and regenerate our local centres to service a growing population. If the Government can give us that wide-ranging support, we can not only help to meet the housing growth targets that flow out from the Barker report, both on a national and regional level, we can continue to transform Telford into the kind of place that I am proud to live in and represent, and the kind of place that Telford people richly deserve to live in.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) on securing the debate. Housing is an important issue in all areas. It is a particular pleasure to be taking part in the debate, because he is not just an expert on Telford, which one would obviously expect, but he has a long history of working in the field of housing. He is representing his constituents’ housing needs very well. As he is aware, the Government are determined to see an increase in the provision of good quality housing in sustainable locations across the country. Before I explain a little more about the issues that relate to Telford as a new growth point, I will briefly go over some of the background.

Telford has important economic connections with Birmingham and the black country and between 1991 and 2001 was the second fastest growing town in the country. As my hon. Friend said, it was originally planned as a new town covering 7,200 hectares. The intention was to use the large amount of despoiled and contaminated land created by the former extractive industries, integrating the market town of Wellington with a number of smaller settlements including Dawley, Ironbridge, Madeley and Oakengates. The focus for the town was the purpose-built central retail, administrative and commercial area that now serves as Telford town centre. The new town had a planned target population of 225,000 by 1991 and roads, infrastructure and industrial estates were built with that in mind. Telford currently accommodates just over 140,000 residents in 55,800 dwellings—a population that is about double the size that it was at its designation in the late 1960s. Despite not reaching the original target, since 1991 the population has still grown by 20,000. That is a rate of 13.8 per cent.—six times the national average. As he said, it is an area that is well used to dealing with significant population growth.

The west midlands regional spatial strategy aims to halt the historic migration from the major urban areas to the surrounding shires. That is to be achieved by focusing investment and growth within the major urban areas. However, the strategy also recognises that there is a need to plan for growth arising in areas more remote from the major urban areas. It includes five “sub-regional foci”, which will accommodate higher levels of future growth. Telford is one of them. As my hon. Friend is aware, the regional spatial strategy is currently being reviewed and the latest revisions to population projections are being considered. Those projections indicate that a 50 per cent. increase is needed in the amount of new housing provided throughout the region. As the major areas reach their capacity, the role of places such as Telford will become crucial for accommodating growth. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it is not just in that regard that Telford has a crucial role—it is a crucial part of the city region.

Nationally, we must recognise the scale of the challenge of delivering sufficient and affordable housing for the next generation. Although low mortgage rates have helped more than 1 million extra families into home ownership since 1997, rising prices mean that many people are struggling to get on the housing ladder. As Kate Barker made clear in her report of two years ago—my hon. Friend referred to this—we have not been building enough homes for a generation. That is true in Telford, where housing completions recently have not met targets.

Since the introduction of the sustainable communities plan, new house building has started to increase. In 2005, it hit its highest rate since 1990, with a total of 168,000 new homes being built. That was a major increase from 131,000 homes in 2001, but we need even more. Happily, we are all living longer, and more people are living alone—I do not know whether that is happily or unhappily. The demographic changes that we are experiencing mean that there is growing demand for housing.

As part of the sustainable communities plan, major growth areas were identified in the south-east of the country. Those areas are benefiting from substantial investment and the realignment of resources to address the need for more housing. However, we are aware that more housing is needed outside the south-east, and, as my hon. Friend said, we announced 29 new growth points in October 2006. If all the proposed growth is realised, the new growth points will contribute about 425,000 dwellings by 2016, which will be an increase of 100,000, or 32 per cent., on previous plans for those areas. That would represent a major contribution towards the objective of delivering 200,000 dwellings a year by 2016. We have allocated start-up funding of around £40 million for 2007-08 throughout the new growth points to support capacity building, early site infrastructure projects and essential growth-related studies into such matters as flood risk and water supply.

I am pleased to say that Telford is one of the new growth points. The town’s leaders have considered the potential for growth and are committed to building 13,000 new homes by 2016 and 25,000 by 2026. For our part, we will be supporting the authority on studies in 2007-08. In later years, we hope to have funds available to support facilitative infrastructure works.

As my hon. Friend suggested, Telford has a good history of delivering substantial numbers of new homes. Between 1995 and 2005, the average building rate was 800 homes a year, while the highs exceeded 1,000 a year. There is strong demand for new homes because of a high indigenous population increase that is due to the relatively young population—obviously, I include my hon. Friend as part of that. Recently, lower completion rates of about 600 resulted in a tight demand-supply situation, which led, in the past two years, to net migration out of Telford. Additional housing growth is thus desirable to support the development of a sustainable community.

The low completion rates have largely resulted from the need to redesign and re-plan many of the strategic sites owned by English Partnerships. Many of those sites did not benefit from the latest thinking on urban design, and they have been reviewed to create more sustainable and accessible forms of development at higher densities. The redesign process is contributing to significant additional capacity in Telford, thus enabling maximum use to be made of the excellent infrastructure that is largely in place. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we learn from what makes sustainable communities as we develop those additional homes.

It is intended that the additional growth of about 5,900 homes will be achieved by focusing on sites in Telford’s central east-west corridor, which is well served by road, rail and public transport. The corridor runs through Telford town centre and includes several sites that are owned by English Partnerships.

The corridor will bind together the new communities at Lawley, Ketley and Lightmoor with the older communities of Dawley and Oakengates, which will also benefit from the new facilities and opportunities that the remediation and regeneration will provide. The council considers that the corridor offers the most substantial opportunity to create sustainable communities and is potentially capable of delivering significantly greater levels of development over the longer term. My hon. Friend described how, in Lawley and Lightmoor, sustainability will be achieved.

I shall deal in a little more detail, as my hon. Friend requested, with the new growth point status. We invited local partners to put together new growth point proposals based on their understanding and assessment of local housing need and opportunities that they face, including national and international migration, as well as population growth, household formation rates and changing economic roles in relation to the rest of their region. New growth point status means that Government and local partners agree the potential for growth and are committed to working together to ensure that the growth will be sustainable and can be supported with affordable, realistic and sustainable infrastructure.

Additional infrastructure will be needed to provide for growth. The Government have recognised that in their response to the Barker review and have established the Treasury policy review supporting housing growth to ensure that departmental resources across Government are targeted appropriately. That will feed into the comprehensive spending review, due to report this summer. New growth point status means more than access to funding streams, however. It means more direct access to dialogue with Government about all aspects affecting the delivery of locally driven sustainable growth ambitions. New growth points have already begun to develop constructive relationships with the Environment Agency, the Highways Agency and Natural England in particular. We expect these to go from strength to strength. We are also encouraging direct dialogue with the utility companies to ensure that their own planning is aligned with the anticipated phasing of growth.

In conclusion, I am pleased to say that the town’s leaders are committed to further sustainable growth. A number of exciting projects are being implemented. I am sure that my hon. Friend will want us to continue the constructive relationships that have been established. The Government are committed to supporting the council in delivering its aspirations. We all want to see sustainable communities, and we want Telford to continue to be a growing and thriving place to live.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes to Eleven o’clock.