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Social Housing

Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 20 January 2009

8. What recent discussions she has had with housing associations on fulfilment of their current plans for social housing in Greater London. (248946)

Ministers and officials have been meeting housing associations and the National Housing Federation to discuss provision of affordable housing in the current downturn. In response, we have taken a number of steps to encourage delivery, including bringing forward £550 million of spending to help to provide up to 7,500 new social rented homes earlier. The Homes and Communities Agency has increased flexibility on levels of grant funding to support development. The HCA is working closely with housing associations, including those in London, to maximise delivery.

I welcome the Minister’s reply. She may know that Southwark council has two very large schemes to demolish the Haygate estate at the Elephant and Castle and the Aylesbury estate a bit further south in Walworth, and to replace them with more affordable housing. Both are supported by London government and by Ministers. Will she ensure that both her officials and people at the Homes and Communities Agency facilitate the passing of the money to the housing associations now? The plans are there and everyone wants the homes to be built, but something in the pipeline is holding them up. The communities of south London would welcome those thousands of good, new affordable homes soon, and they would help the building companies that are looking for work in the affordable sector.

I am aware of the schemes that the hon. Gentleman identified, as well as the need for them and the local community’s desire that they should be completed. I am also aware that there have been recent concerns about delivery, and both the council and the HCA are working closely together to decide how to resolve the problems and, hopefully, to overcome them.

The business model on which housing associations funded affordable homes for rent through shared ownership sales is, effectively, broken. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that she is working with the Homes and Communities Agency to ensure permanent adjustments to the grant regime to plug that gap, to undertake an urgent stocktake of unsold shared ownership properties across housing associations to ensure that none stays empty, and to reject the Mayor of London’s proposal to give priority for shared ownership to families whose household income is greater than that of Members of Parliament?

My hon. Friend takes a great interest, and has great expertise, in these matters. I recognise the difficulties that housing associations face at present, and how the expectations about their funding sources, which they have had for some time, have changed. She will know that increased flexibility is being shown, and I hear what she says about her belief that that will need to be the case for some time into the future. We will certainly discuss that with the HCA. I also understand her concern about unsold properties, including those designated for shared ownership: it is my understanding that there is no substantial backlog of unsold units at present, as has been the case. However, if my hon. Friend, or any other hon. Member, has concrete evidence that that remains a problem, I would be happy to look at it.

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) for his earlier words of welcome.

Back in April 2006, the Government introduced their flagship Social HomeBuy scheme. It was meant to help those people who were ineligible for right to buy, or unable to afford it. But as of June last year it had helped only 103 house purchasers across London, or just four a month. What are the latest figures for Social HomeBuy across London, and why has it not helped more people?

First, like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, I welcome the hon. Lady to the Front Bench. May I give her a piece of kindly and well meant advice? She should not pay too much attention to the colleague who is sitting on her immediate right because Social Homebuy is one of his obsessions. It is true that large numbers have not taken it up, but the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) always omits to mention that it was a pilot scheme. It is neither the Government’s flagship scheme nor the chief element of our HomeBuy Direct scheme. The latter is a portfolio of schemes, which I know that the hon. Lady will find interesting when she has had a chance to study it. Contrary to the hon. Gentleman’s observations about a couple of hundred people, 110,000 people throughout the United Kingdom have benefited from our HomeBuy Direct programmes. Recently, we have provided some £400 million of funding in partnership with developers to ensure that 18,000 properties throughout the country are offered to first time buyers. Barratt released some 3,000 towards the end of last week. The hon. Lady will find HomeBuy Direct offers an interesting series of options, which are popular, especially with many first time buyers. I repeat the suggestion that she does her own research in future.