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Social Housing

Volume 478: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2008

The 2007 comprehensive spending review provided £6.5 billion for the delivery of 45,000 social rented homes a year by 2010-11. I recently announced that the Housing Corporation will have increased flexibility to help registered social landlords and others to purchase new homes from developers for social rent. It is expected that £200 million will be spent on that in 2008-09.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Given the credit squeeze, what are she and the Government doing to maintain a house building programme for social needs?

What we can do is ensure that we use the money that we have available for our affordable housing programme to keep the market moving. I shall shortly announce a new set of actions that we will take to show that we have ideas about what happened last year and how the programme will go forward. Clearly, that will be affected by events here today, to which we must be able to adapt. I hope that the announcements that I shall make shortly will show that we are responding to the situation. We will build more affordable homes, for rent and to buy, but at the same time we will use our revenue and influence to ensure that we help the housing market at this difficult time.

Will the Housing Minister undertake to examine objectively the cost of providing affordable houses in the eco-towns? If it turns out that they are much more expensive than affordable housing elsewhere, will that not drain the budget and make it much more difficult to meet the Government’s overall target for affordable housing?

I will take that as support for affordable housing in eco-towns. Of course we look at price issues. I have said that the eco-towns should aim for at least 30 per cent. affordable housing, which could be for rent but will also include low-cost home ownership. That demonstrates the fact that, along with our aims on other fronts such as public transport and the environmental sustainability of eco-town projects, affordable housing is very important to this Government in any development, including eco-towns.

A number of new flats in my constituency remain unoccupied and planning permissions are not being progressed, presumably as a result of the current state of the housing market. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it is no use imposing overall housing targets on an area without being much more robust and specific about the number of social and affordable units that are needed to meet desperate housing needs?

Of course, we do not just impose housing targets out of nowhere. We have in place an assessment that takes into consideration the housing needs of communities, and I suggest to my hon. Friend’s local authority and others that they ensure that they undertake that assessment. The planning guidance and other help that we have given them enables them to influence what sort of housing is built. If local authorities all got on with developing their local development framework, that would give a much better indication of their vision for their community. When developers made proposals, local authorities would then be in a stronger position to argue against the sort of housing that might not meet local needs.

Three quarters of the homes in my constituency that were built as social rented properties have been sold off. As a consequence, the supply of social rented properties locally is inadequate, and one in three of the young people we lose never return because of the lack of affordable housing. Does the Minister accept that it is very important to ensure that homes built to be social rented properties remain affordable, and that community land trusts perform an excellent role in ensuring that such homes are protected from the vagaries of Government policy? Will she undertake to give legal and financial support to the development of community land trusts?

Not only do we recognise the importance of CLTs as a model for the support of local affordable housing, we are doing something about it. We are already working with a number of CLTs of various sizes around the country. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), has been engaged with this matter as part of his work on the Housing and Regeneration Bill. We will do more in this area, but I am proud to be part of a Government who are prepared to look at many different options that offer people the chance to have housing in their communities. Importantly, we are working to ensure that communities realise that affordable housing is an asset that should be kept not just for the next five years but in perpetuity.

What consideration is the Department giving to the CDS Co-operatives housing project, which provides social housing and allows people to buy or part-rent according to their income? The housing remains permanently in a community trust, and thus is an asset for everyone in the community.

I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has met representatives of the project to which my hon. Friend refers. Her example demonstrates that housing for people in the 21st century should be varied. It might be provided by the local authority, a housing association, a CLT or a co-op, but different models of home provision are exactly what we need if we are to open up the market. I have worked with co-ops to tackle worklessness and social housing. Their excellent work has had an important influence on showing how social housing can be a springboard to further opportunities for people.

Sixty years ago, Aneurin Bevan came up with his other big idea—a national housing service that was publicly owned and run, and a massive house building programme managed by central Government. He modelled his approach on his ideas for health, so can the Minister explain why the Government—officially at least—are Bevanite on health but Thatcherite when it comes to the stock transfer of council housing?

Well, considering where we started from in 1997, I think that we have made huge inroads. We inherited a backlog of repairs to local authority housing stock worth £19 billion, 2 million homes were below basic standards of decency, and the Conservative Government started to cut their affordable housing programme in the 1990s. We have made progress, through our decent homes programme and the measures that we have taken to increase social housing. About 250,000 homes have been made available through registered social landlords, but the work does not stop there. That is why, among other measures, we are working with CLTs, housing co-ops and local housing companies, and the £6.5 billion that we have put into such schemes demonstrates that this Labour Government are on the side of people who need housing.