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Affordable Housing

Volume 472: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2008

The Housing Corporation is on track to meet the affordable housing targets we set for its 2006 to 2008 affordable housing programme. Not only that, the corporation is today announcing initial allocations for the new affordable housing programme for 2008 to 2011, which will contribute towards our Housing Green Paper target of providing 70,000 new affordable homes per annum by 2010-11, of which 45,000 will be social rent homes.

Funding has been scrapped for the rural housing enablers at a time when the Government are nowhere near meeting their unambitious targets for new affordable housing in rural areas. I wrote to the Minister recently about the “Home on the Farm” scheme, which would have provided hundreds of new dwellings by transforming disused farm buildings in my constituency. Does she agree that that is an imaginative scheme which could help to prevent more of our rural communities from becoming lifeless ghettoes of empty second homes? If so, will she support the restoring of the funding to the rural housing enablers so that such schemes can become a reality?

There is plenty of opportunity for local authorities, should they wish to do so, to use planning policy statement 3, which provides for marketing affordable housing in rural areas. There are several ways in which that can be done, including using disused buildings. I am pleased to announce today a new national target for rural affordable housing, to deliver 10,300—[Interruption.] At least we have targets for house building. The target is to deliver 10,300 completed homes in communities of fewer than 3,000 in the next three years. That represents a rise of more than 50 per cent. on the 4,625 units allocated, and it is for completions, which is a lot better than for allocations.

Will the Minister review the targets for supported housing for young people? We need more such housing, especially through the development of more foyer projects. We made a commitment that we would have a foyer scheme in every town: when will we get that?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s question because in my previous role at the Department for Work and Pensions I was pleased to meet the Foyer Federation to hear how it was providing homes for 10,000 young people a year, and supporting them in finding work, through learning and skills packages. I am pleased to say that the number of homeless 16 and 17-year-olds in bed and breakfast accommodation is down a third. We need to do more and, with my colleagues in the DWP, I intend to explore further what more we can do for young people through housing.

With the number of first-time buyers at its lowest since 1980 and home ownership falling, is not it time for the Government to remove the roadblocks to home ownership that they have put in place, such as rising stamp duty and home information packs?

The Tories say that they want to help first-time buyers, but across the country they oppose the extra homes that first-time buyers and young families desperately need. The fact is that we have helped almost 95,000 people get their first step on the housing ladder through shared ownership schemes. We have 1 million more people in home ownership since 1997, and we are building not only the homes but the sustainable communities to ensure that everyone has a chance to have a roof over their head.

The real roadblocks to a property-owning democracy are mass unemployment, hugely high interest rates and low standards of living. I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on having avoided all three of those factors left to us by the Conservative party. Does she accept that, even given that, it is necessary for people to get a step on the first rung of the ladder? Will she therefore insist on going ahead with her plans for affordable housing and not be diverted by the opposition or cynicism of the Conservatives?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. In order to create the environment for home ownership, we need good employment rates, and they are at a record level; we need low interest rates and inflation; and, importantly, we need to build the houses. There is no point Opposition Members talking about supporting more people in buying their own homes if they then join Tory councils locally to oppose every house building venture. We are committed to more affordable homes and to considering different schemes to make that happen, but we should not kid ourselves: we need to overcome the lack of house building over decades to ensure that we can provide, among other things, the first rung on the property ladder.

What discussions has the Minister had recently with the house building industry about the provision of affordable and social housing, and how it might be a good idea to have such provision as part of general housing development, so that ghettoes of affordable and social housing are not established? I would be very interested to know what initiatives the Government are taking.

I am pleased to say that one of my first telephone calls was to Stewart Baseley, who leads the Home Builders Federation. The hon. Gentleman is right: we do want to ensure a mix of tenures in developments. To achieve that, we have to have support at local level, which I have to repeat is not often forthcoming from his party.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, while we need more affordable housing, especially in my constituency, we should remember, too, that some tenants in Keighley—especially on the Woodhouse estate, which is managed by Bradford Community Housing Trust—live in appalling conditions? The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, our hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), will bear that out, and he is going to visit that estate. I wish that we could do something to encourage the trust to improve those houses, especially at a time when it is shoving the rents up—notices went out yesterday.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s question. I know that she recently had an Adjournment debate on that issue. I hope that she is aware of the measures that we are taking through the Housing and Regeneration Bill to provide the tenants of registered social landlords with the opportunity through Oftenant to ensure that they get the services that they require. We want to raise the standard of support for tenants, and that means empowering them to have a voice about how to drive up the standards of services.