Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Barbara Keeley.)
As the House will be aware, there is a growing interest in my constituency and up and down the country in the potential contribution of community land trusts to increasing the supply of affordable housing. The Government have encouraged the development of policy on CLTs in the past two years by funding, through the Housing Corporation, which is now the Homes and Communities Agency, the national pilot study of 14 CLT projects.
My hon. Friend the Minister has made his interest in the potential of CLTs clear by issuing a consultation paper. The deadline for responses was the end of December, and I hope that when he replies to the debate, he can announce when the Government’s response to submissions will be published.
In my constituency and elsewhere, interest in CLTs has been stimulated by the growing demand for access to a decent, affordable home. CLTs are means by which communities can come together and work to find ways of securing land and other property as community-owned assets to help sustain them. Meeting affordable housing need within a community is a common driving motivation for establishing a CLT.
Although housing is central, it is not the sole motivation or interest: sustainability embraces social, economic and environmental dimensions. That is shown in the Devonport CLT, which is in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck). The trust is as much motivated by the need for premises where new businesses can start up as by the need to increase the supply of affordable housing.
It is good to see so many Co-op MPs in the Chamber today, because the co-operative model underpins the working of CLTs and, indeed, other social enterprises. I represent a former coalfield seat. Three of the larger villages in my constituency have had community enterprises with an economic brief for quite some time. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is crucial to have a professional, paid person at the heart of a CLT, alongside an array of volunteers? I hope that the Government recognise that, and ensure that there is appropriate training and models that CLTs can draw on to be successful when the brief is widened—rightly—to affordable housing, as she described.
My hon. Friend makes a good point that will sit well with the work of the new Homes and Communities Agency, which is looking not only at housing regeneration but at the management of jobs and everything that goes to make a sustainable community.
I want to pay tribute to David Rodgers. He works with the Co-operative party nationally, but he has made his expertise available to me and others in Plymouth over the past few years as we sought to understand what is happening in housing and the innovative models that are available to address the growing challenges we have been facing. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) has also worked with David Rodgers, who has had a career in co-operative housing since 1972. Since 1979 he has been executive director of CDS Co-operatives, which is now the largest secondary housing co-operative in England—it manages some 3,000 homes. As befits someone steeped in the co-operative movement, David Rodgers—in addition to his experience on the board of governors of the Co-operative college and a track record in the Co-operative Housing Finance Society, of which he was a founding member in 1997—has international strings to his bow. He is the UK’s representative on the housing board of the International Co-operative Alliance, and is recognised as an international expert on community ownership and residence control.
I have been following the evolution of David Rodgers’s advocacy of CLTs for a good few years. The Co-op party pamphlet, “New foundations: unlocking the potential for affordable homes”, which was launched last week, takes the thinking on the subject in an innovative direction. That thinking could help the Government to rise to the challenge of restoring lending and trust to a banking system that is beset with uncertainty, and a lack of trust and confidence, stemming from the “ninja”—no income, no jobs, no assets—mortgages in the American sub-prime market. That has been like a pandemic disease.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate—she is an expert on the subject in her own right. Does she accept that it is right to consider the CLT option, which keeps land in collective ownership and supports and sustains business, in the current economic climate? We should encourage the Government and the HCA to give it full support.
I agree with my hon. Friend. The time of the CLT model of housing has come. The ideas that are espoused in the Co-op pamphlet—David Rodgers is its prime mover—deserve serious and urgent attention, and I hope that this debate will play a small part in counteracting the pandemic with a dose of co-operative common sense and values.
I acknowledge the work of the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) who last year published a report entitled, “Living Working Countryside”. I believe that he saw a role for CLTs in addressing rural housing needs. Recommendation 21 of the report, which was commissioned by the Prime Minister, states:
“The Government should anticipate increased interest in Community Land Trusts…as a model for affordable housing delivery and draw up guidance on how best to implement this model”.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England, in its submission to the Minister’s consultation, also makes the case for CLTs in rural settings. It says that in seeking to meet the aspirations for a decent home and a sustainable community, it is crucial to engage local communities in developing constructive solutions, and to take into account the capacity of the environment to accommodate development.
One of the best features of CLTs is that they command the confidence of people on both sides of the House and all parties. On the hon. Lady’s last point, CLTs offer the potential for communities to welcome housing, rather than setting up machine gun nests to prevent it.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I hope to make some remarks on that aspect of the CLT model.
Shelter published an excellent pamphlet last December entitled, “Building Blocks”. It promotes debate on solutions to maintaining the momentum on affordable housing generally, and mentions the potential of the CLT model. It states that the model has the capacity to capture the
“value of public investment, philanthropic gifts, charitable endowments, legacies or development gain…in perpetuity, underpinning the sustainable development of a defined locality or community”.
I am pleased that the Conservatives are developing their interest in CLTs and their potential to contribute to the supply of affordable housing. I understand that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) recently established a community land taskforce—it had its first meeting last week. I look forward to hearing his views in this debate, and when the taskforce concludes its deliberations later this year.
What is a community land trust? Through the wisdom of the Government accepting an amendment tabled in another place by my noble Friend, the Labour and Co-operative peer, Lord Graham of Edmonton, we now have a legal definition of section 79 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. It defines a community land trust as a corporate body
“established for the express purpose of furthering the social, economic and environmental interests of a local community by acquiring and managing land and other assets in order—
(a) to provide a benefit to the local community, and
(b) to ensure that the assets are not sold or developed except in a manner which the trust’s members think benefits the local community”,
“established under arrangements which are expressly designed to ensure that—
(a) any profits from its activities will be used to benefit the local community (otherwise than by being paid directly to members),
(b) individuals who live or work in the specified area have the opportunity to become members of the trust (whether or not others can also become members), and
(c) the members of the trust control it.”
Where CLTs are set up in rural areas, it is likely that already elected parish councillors will be responsible for the community. It seems inevitable that in some cases the views, hopes and plans of the parish council will not necessarily be in accord with those of the community land trust. There could be tensions; let us not shy away from that. How does my hon. Friend think those problems can be overcome and those tensions removed from an important area of parish life?
Again, my hon. Friend makes a good point. Community land trusts have been seen as part of the answer to rural housing. Representing an urban constituency as I do, I believe that they are also a part of that, and I am sure that the tensions that he discussed will show themselves as we go forward. However, community land trusts have the capacity to involve their members. I hope that through the learning process of managing, the Homes and Communities Agency, to which I referred earlier, will develop national vocational qualifications that will help the people involved. It is the old co-operative ideal of education. I hope that it will help them to foresee things and relate to their communities appropriately.
My interest in the potential of community land trusts was given fresh impetus by a housing inquiry that I carried out in Plymouth last year and the report that came out of it, “Homes for the Future: 21st-Century Solutions for Plymouth—Putting rungs back on the bottom of the housing ladder”. That inquiry started as a result of my meeting a constituent with a young family who had been asked to move five times in five years by a number of different private landlords. She was not a bad tenant, just the victim of insecure short-term housing. Some of her neighbours had other housing challenges that I wanted to understand, as I realised how much the housing market in my city was changing.
I had two specific aims in the housing inquiry. The first was to ensure that we in Plymouth go as far and as fast as we can to provide housing that meets demand, especially in respect of affordability. The second was to inform continuing development of national policy legislation and regulation. My inquiry resulted in several specific recommendations, all of which are directed at maximising the availability of housing across all tenures in Plymouth. The advent of the Homes and Communities Agency, set up under the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, has created an environment in which many of those recommendations can be pursued. Many of the provisions in the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech will also help to carry forward improvements, particularly in the rented sector.
One of the key findings of my housing inquiry was that there was a significant gap in housing supply and affordability between those housed by the city council, by housing associations or by registered social landlords because of priority housing needs, and those who find their own housing through renting from private landlords or buying on the open housing market. Of course it is important that private landlords are encouraged to provide good-quality, well-managed homes for rent in the private sector, and my inquiry report outlined how that sector might be encouraged and improved further, but for many in housing need, neither the private rented sector nor buying on the open market is an affordable option. My report concluded that we need to put rungs back on the bottom of the housing ladder.
Since last summer, when my report was published, there have been significant falls in the housing market. Even so, the ratio between house prices and average earnings in Plymouth, which was one of the worst in the country, remains high. In 2008, the average house price in the city of Plymouth was eight times average earnings. Notwithstanding the downturn in the housing market, the national housing and planning advice unit predicts that affordability in Plymouth and the south-west will continue to worsen until 2026 unless there is an increase of affordable housing supply to meet the demand arising, as we know, from demographic changes affecting the UK and the rest of the developed world. Supply is out of kilter with demand.
To many, of course, the fall in house prices is welcome, as it brings the possibility of buying or part-buying a home within reach. However, I am advised that house prices in Plymouth would have to drop by more than 50 per cent. before many hard-working households aspiring to home ownership could fulfil their dreams. Heaven forbid that that should happen, as it would bring all sorts of other mayhem in train, but the pressure on social housing and the private rented sector will remain great and must be addressed.
That reality led to two of the report’s key recommendations. There is a pressing need to restore some rungs at the bottom of the housing ladder by creating a supply of permanently affordable housing in the intermediate housing market. A permanently available supply of homes at a price between the cost of social rented housing and open market purchased housing is desperately needed to create a greater range of affordable housing choices for those in need of a decent home.
It is desirable in Plymouth to develop, in addition to current homebuy products, a range of affordable intermediate housing market products that will remain permanently affordable. That will help to create communities that are sustainable in the longer term, as it will enable many households currently excluded from the open market to finance part of the value of their homes and to own a property asset. That will allow them to do that in a way that will remain affordable from one generation of occupants to the next.
Community land trusts could play a large part in responding to those conclusions. They can take land out of the market, capture the uplift in value for a local community and harness that community’s talents through an openly governed and accountable democratic organisation. That contributes to increasing housing supply in a way designed to be permanently affordable and sustainable. CLTs can do so on their own or, as I recommended in my report, in partnership with a local housing company.
A partnership being developed in Plymouth between the local housing company and the local community through a community land trust could help to ensure that the additional homes produced by the local housing company are not sub-market with the potential to become unaffordable and destined to move quickly into the open market, but are genuinely affordable, in compliance with the definition of affordable housing set out in the Government’s supplementary guidance to planning authorities in planning policy statement 3.
Developing new forms of permanently affordable intermediate market housing is not easy. It is never easy to float new ideas, particularly at a time when the global economy is facing major challenges due to the volatility in the financial markets, but it is precisely because we face major challenges that new ways of increasing the supply of affordable housing and maintaining activity in the construction sector of the economy are needed.
Last week, the Co-operative party, of which I am proud to be a member, launched a pamphlet in its “Politics for People” series that made the case for a new form of co-operative intermediate market tenure. The pamphlet is entitled “New Foundations: unlocking the potential for affordable homes”. It proposes the development of mutual home ownership on land owned by community land trusts. As in a unit mutual property trust, members of the mutual own equity shares in the property in which they live. The more they earn, the more rent they pay and the more equity shares they own.
The Co-operative party’s case is based on three central propositions. The first is that the global financial crisis has fundamentally changed the world in which we must work to meet the affordable housing needs of our nation. Gone are the days when mortgage finance from high street lenders was readily available. The loss of £1,800 billion—there would be nine noughts after the 1,800 if the figure were put out in full—in the global financial crisis means that, for the foreseeable future, mortgage finance will be in shorter supply. Commercial lenders will, of necessity, return to the old canons, lending to low-risk borrowers buying on the open market, who can afford a deposit of at least 15 per cent. of the property’s value. I was talking to someone who works in that sector at a Federation of Small Businesses dinner last night and he suggested that buyers could be more commonly asked to provide a deposit of 25 to 27 per cent. of the property’s value.
Secondly, because of the financial crisis, if we are to meet the demand for affordable homes and to maintain activity in the house building sector of the economy, including the associated manufacturing industries and their skills bases, we need to find new sources of finance for affordable housing development. The Co-operative party’s pamphlet explains how co-operative mutual home ownership has the unique potential to be an attractive investment for pension funds. That is because it can be structured to guarantee long-term investors a fixed annual yield on their investment to match their liabilities and it is also designed to remain permanently affordable, from one generation of occupants to the next.
Thirdly, mutual home ownership treats a home not as a speculative investment but as a consumer durable. Like a car or a washing machine, a home has a value that is consumed over its useful life. In the case of a house, I am told that that useful life is about 65 to 70 years. The view expressed in the Co-operative party’s pamphlet is that one of the consequences of the global financial crisis is that the days of speculative house inflation, driven by unwise and badly regulated lending practices along with easily available cheap loans, have passed.
Adopting the Co-operative party’s proposals in “New foundations: Unlocking the potential for affordable homes”, which provide the basis for co-operative mutual home ownership on land owned by community land trusts would be a win for the Government, because it would increase the supply of affordable housing and maintain activity in the construction sector of the economy. It would be a win for pension funds and other long-term investors, because it would offer them a fixed annual yield on their investments, irrespective of inflation and secured on the value of the housing that they invest in. It would also be a win for communities in need of affordable housing, giving them an opportunity to contribute their energies and efforts to secure its provision. Finally, it would be a win for the environment, because environmentally sustainable elements of design and construction can be financed over the full 60-year term of the investment in the mutual homes, rather than needing to generate a short-term return for each individual owner.
There is a growing body of evidence showing the success of co-operatives and of other forms of mutual ownership. It is a common form of ownership in other countries, such as Sweden, Norway, Germany, Austria, Canada and elsewhere around the globe. In addition, research commissioned by the recently established Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing, which is independently chaired by Adrian Coles, the director general of the Building Societies Association, has shown how co-operatives and mutual forms of tenure promote social, environmental and sustainable communities, which is just what my hon. Friend the Minister, who is responsible for the Homes and Communities Agency, is looking for.
I urge the Minister to look at the evidence from the Commission on Co-operative and Mutual Housing and to consider the case made by the Co-operative party in its new pamphlet. I ask that he responds positively to the representations made to his consultation paper on community land trusts by the experts working with local communities, to remove the barriers to the development of community land trusts. In particular, there is a need to reform the leasehold enfranchisement provisions in the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, so that homes built on land owned by community land trusts can remain affordable in perpetuity, putting those vital rungs back at the bottom of the housing ladder.
I also ask the Minister to proceed as a matter of urgency with the exemplar community land trust and mutual home ownership pilot projects, to demonstrate their potential. Finding ways of assessing the value for money of permanently affordable housing in the intermediate housing market would be helpful, if it were done on the basis of cost per affordable housing year rather than the crude capital subsidy cost per unit. That would reflect the value to Her Majesty’s Government of having such a stock of permanently affordable housing. I also ask him to ensure that Government policies for community land trusts empower local communities to use them as a means of meeting their needs for affordable housing and other needs.
Finally, I ask the Minister to work with the co-operative movement to put in place arrangements that will encourage long-term institutional investors to invest in mutual home ownership and, in particular, to consider underwriting a national insurance fund to guarantee such long-term investment in affordable homes, which would be controlled and owned by the communities that they serve.
In the time that we are privileged to serve our constituents in this place, many ideas come to our attention and demand our advocacy. Of all the things that have come to my attention in the 12 years that I have been the MP for Plymouth, Sutton that might change my constituents’ lives for the better, community land trusts must be one of the most significant. We desperately need something that will halt the slow-down in house building that was set in train by the credit crunch, which was inspired by the American sub-prime crisis. We need the homes and also the work that is associated with building homes, selling them, moving into them and furnishing them. We need the money that was speculative and created a bubble—a bubble that was bound to burst and has now gone forever—to be replaced, at least in part, by new, different and more trustworthy sources of money that can flow into the housing market, particularly into the affordable housing sector, which will be competing for loans in a more crowded space and from more risk-adverse lenders. Similarly, pension funds and insurance funds are looking for safe and sustainable places to invest their funds, which will guarantee steady yields.
Community land trusts have a unique role to play in putting those two pieces of the jigsaw together, in a way that would begin to build the picture that people are crying out to see. It would be a picture that shows that there are new ways out of this nosedive, led by trustworthy sources, and that shows there is a bit of ethically-based competition to the banks in some of their traditional stamping grounds.
Just as we are looking to innovation to create the jobs of the future, I urge the Minister and the other Ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government not to be risk-adverse but to be innovative, and to make those two needs match up to address one of the greatest challenges that we face in constituencies the length and breadth of the United Kingdom and, indeed, further afield too.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) on securing this debate. I agreed with much of what she had to say. I want to add a number of points. The first is that in my constituency, in the village of Buckland Newton, where we have had experience for some years now of trying to develop a community land trust, some features of the scene have emerged. Some of those features have been alluded to in the debate so far, and we all need to attend to them.
The first of those features of community land trusts is the difficulty of ensuring that there is sufficient professional help to take these projects from conception to realisation. The great virtue of the community land trust is that it is a community idea; it springs from the bottom up. However, the great difficulty when things spring from the bottom up is that a cadre of professionals are not necessarily available to help turn the very good ideas into reality. The experience of Buckland Newton clearly shows that we need to work on that.
The second feature that has emerged is the contrast between that small village in my constituency and the towns in my constituency; no doubt that contrast also exists between that village and cities in other constituencies, although I do not have any cities in my constituency. Buckland Newton benefits from having a development boundary and therefore from having the potential for exception sites that lie outside the development boundary, which can be exploited by a community land trust to provide cheap land and to make the housing built on that land intrinsically more affordable. Not very far from that village in my constituency is the town of Lyme Regis. Because Lyme Regis happens to exceed a certain size, it does not have the potential for an exception site and therefore the same economic dynamics do not work there. So, as I say, the second feature that has emerged for me is that we need to attend to the question of how we enable community land trusts from lower land values than are charged to private developers.
A third feature has become evident, to which I referred in my intervention, and on which I think the hon. Lady and I agree. My attention was engaged by a remarkable phenomenon some years back, and since then I have been besieged by people asking me to represent them in their efforts to prevent housing from being built in their areas. I am sure that a poll of all Members who represent rural and suburban constituencies, and perhaps even urban ones, would show that they have had a similar experience, so my situation is not unique.
I suspect that local councillors all over the country have been elected on the presumption that they will help to prevent new housing in their areas. However, those local councillors, as well as we Members of Parliament and successive Ministers and Administrations, have all accepted that there is a huge need for housing in the UK on a trend basis. I accept that there is not a huge demand for housing at the moment, other than social rented housing, for obvious reasons, but we will get through this situation eventually, and then we will be back to the trend of having an excess of demand over supply.
We all recognise the bizarre tension between what we know in the aggregate and what we experience in the microcosm. What was remarkable about Buckland Newton was that, because it sprang from the bottom up, the village came together and the very same people who I am pretty sure would otherwise have been at a large meeting objecting to the houses in prospect, were demanding that they be built. That offers the potential to unlock something that the present and previous Governments have desperately sought to unlock—as, no doubt, will future Governments: the ability actually to build houses, rather than merely have targets but find that no more houses are built. I know that the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor), who produced the recent report, has focused on that issue.
I really believe that a bottom-up approach can liberate us from the ghastly tension of local feeling versus national need, because people in villages, towns and city neighbourhoods, who feel that a community land trust will be useful to their relatives, children and grandchildren, will have a different feeling about the houses that are then built. They will see the social utility of those homes directly, and will therefore vote for them.
The last point I want to make about the Buckland Newton experience is one that the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) made in an intervention on the hon. Lady about the connection between community land trusts and parish councils in villages, or the new urban parish councils in urban settings. It is absolutely vital that there should not be the tension that he described, but a coalescence of the two sides. Unless the democratically elected representatives of a location are in tune with the efforts of the CLT, we will not unlock the potential of this movement. This approach should bring people together, not force them apart.
Those of us who represent rural constituencies will have come across cases in which the village hall committee is locked in mortal combat with the parish council, which is unproductive. It is when the two come together that the village hall is renewed. The same is bound to be true of CLTs. We have to bring them into some kind of symbiosis with locally elected representatives. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who speaks for the Conservative party on this issue, has had discussions with me and others about this issue for some time, and I suspect that it will be one of the main subjects that his admirable taskforce will cover. We need to find a way of putting those things together, and I am sure that this can also become a matter of political consensus.
I should also like to approach this issue from the national point of view, rather than in relation to my Buckland Newton experience. It is absolutely clear that as a result of the amendment that was accepted in what became the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008—as a small dose of partisanship, I must say that my hon. Friend and the Conservative party in the House of Commons probably had quite a lot to do with that, although the hon. Lady very skilfully put it in a different way—the Homes and Communities Agency is starting to take on board the idea of community land trusts. I welcome that enormously.
It is also clear that this issue is to some degree counter-cultural, by which I do not mean that Ministers are anything other than enthusiastic about it. I suspect that down there, through the spreading bureaucracies over which Ministers preside from an Olympian height, there is still quite a lot of doubt and hesitation about this newfangled idea. They are sort of used to registered social landlords, and it is inevitably the case under any Administration that large bureaucracies will like to deal with large bureaucracies because they are used to large things. These small, bottom-up enterprises pose certain difficulties for bureaucracy, and it will require a certain amount of political will—in the sense not of party politics but of elected politicians—to get the bureaucracy as a whole to recognise that CLTs are not a marginal, interesting and rather terrifying development, but part of the wave of the future.
My last point is that we are not just being nice when we talk about community land trusts, which are of the essence and are not a point of dispute between the three major parties. CLTs will not survive, prosper and multiply, or become an enormous feature on the scene, if they are like the nationalisation and privatisation of steelworks, coming and going with Administrations as they favour or disfavour them; the approach has to be persistent across time. We have a wonderful opportunity to put together something that will last, although it will no doubt vary over time, and that can be sustained because it has combined political will on both sides of the House.
However, a danger of which we all need to be aware lurks in that magnificent consensus. The two worst pieces of legislation for which a previous Conservative Administration were responsible are the Child Support Act 1991 and the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which were passed without opposition, and there is an uncanny connection here. If everyone is enthusiastic about the idea, as we all are, no one adopts the position of sceptic, and there is then a danger that we will move in directions that have not been sufficiently inquired into. I hope that while we exhibit all the enthusiasm that we need to exhibit, we will also retain our sense of proportion and accept that there will be all sorts of difficulties on the way. We need to maintain our critical faculties and ensure that we develop this idea in a way that is robust and that allows for the possibility of objections and changes rather than simply assuming that it will be plain sailing because we all agree on the essence of the idea.
It is perfectly possible to combine consensus and appropriate, constructive scepticism, but it requires an effort of will. That is one reason why I welcome so strongly the taskforce that my hon. Friend has set up, and the pilots in which the Government are engaging. Pilots, taskforces and inquiries—and, indeed, the reports of the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell—are very useful devices. We need to open this subject up and get people to comment on it. This must not become a private event inside the House of Commons that gets steamrollered through because we all agree on it. We need to do things in a way that is open, debated and discussed. There will then be a real prospect that in 20 years’ time we shall regard this as the moment when we began a process that transformed the housing landscape of Britain.
It is a delight to take part in this debate. I am aware that the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) wants to speak, so I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible, particularly as he was very helpful to me when he listened to my plaintive pleas on behalf of community land trusts in rural Britain.
Let me pay my respects to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), a fellow “Co-operator” who is a doughty campaigner in this area. It is important to give credit for the work that she does locally and nationally. We could argue about who tried to get CLTs into law, but they are now in the law, and we welcome the fact that that definition of them now exists. I pay due regard to the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who has visited Cashes Green, which, without making any understatement, I intend to speak largely about. My hon. Friend the Minister has also been, and remains, very helpful. He keeps a weather eye on that site, which I shall not describe as bedevilled, although there are some problems with it. I hope that my comments will help to take the debate forward. I do not demur from what my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton has said about the wider context of CLTs, and I pay particular respect to David Rodgers, who has been so helpful to me in trying to get the Cashes Green community land trust under way.
Why do I spend so much time on the Cashes Green site? Not only is it in my constituency, but it is an important model that we have to deliver because of all the ramifications that there will be if we do not. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has visited the site and has spoken to Gloucestershire Land for People. I pay due regard to those who have driven GLP forward: the two Martins—Martin Large and Martin Alder—Max Comfort and Jan Bayley. However, others have also played a part.
Why is it so important that we are able to deliver the Cashes Green community land trust? As the Minister knows better than me, there are 14 community land trusts, including at least one in his constituency. He therefore has a practical handle on what is going on. I believe that Cashes Green is still the largest initiative being introduced, and I have seen it from its infancy. When the then Minister for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill), was looking for sites to move from the NHS to English Partnerships, which was the ownership body, I persuaded him to include Cashes Green—I, among others, claim ownership of that idea.
Cashes Green was a classic site. It was disused and difficult to develop and it therefore seemed sensible to consider its being used in this new form. From the outset, I stress that Cashes Green is in the more urban part of my constituency, so it is not a truly village concept. However, if the initiative can work in Cashes Green, it can work in many of the villages across the country, as the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) rightly alluded to.
I shall quickly go through some of the issues that the Cashes Green initiative has unearthed, and hopefully the Minister will consider them—even if he does not do so today. There are ongoing problems that have to be resolved. As I said, it was pleasing that Cashes Green was considered to become one of the community land trust pilots. In 2006, we completed the project feasibility study on behalf of GLP and submitted it to English Partnerships, which is, of course, now part of the Homes and Communities Agency. After initial support for Cashes Green being a pilot CLT on the mutual home ownership model—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton has alluded—sadly, in mid-2007 English Partnerships advised GLP that it could not proceed with the project as planned because it did not offer value for money. The way in which that has been measured is debatable and, as land prices have crashed, has become even more so.
The problem has been that although there are those of us who see the scheme as an excellent form of intermediate housing market provision, English Partnerships compared it with other forms of low-cost home ownership, principally New Build HomeBuy. It measured value for money according to the full site value. That was about £3 million, as opposed to what English Partnerships paid to the NHS, which was £1 million. Site values have of course fallen and that might be helpful, but the value for money calculation currently being used is very simplistic, if not crude.
In comparison with the open market value of the site, which would deliver 30 per cent. of the units as affordable under a section 106 planning agreement, the GLP proposals would produce an additional 27 affordable homes. English Partnerships calculated the cost for the additional affordable homes provided by dividing the site value—some £3 million—by the 27 units. Surprisingly, it came up with the figure of £111,111 as being the cost of this form of model. Both David Rodgers and I feel that that is highly simplistic and has been a pall over this site. It has made it difficult to deliver the mutual home ownership model for our community land trust.
We believe that a real cost assessment has not been made and that the real cost should be nearer to £60,000, which was in the original proposal. No one was pretending that this site was going to be given for free; that would be illogical and would not help future community land trusts. We know that there has to be a land subsidy, because that is the way in which we bring community land trusts forward, and that is what we are asking of the private sector. We are asking private landowners to accept that these sites would not necessarily come forward otherwise. They should therefore bring them forward on the basis that they would take something of a hit on the site value that they are helping to deliver. That is the nature of our criticism and so far we have not been able to resolve the matter.
In my speech, I referred to the concept, which has come out of a recent conversation with some people in housing finance and David Rodgers, of looking at a cost per affordable housing year. Does my hon. Friend think that that might help to resolve the dilemma that he is describing?
That is helpful because, of course, the proposal from David Rodgers in his pamphlet will go some way toward looking at how we can bridge the gap between public and other forms of finance.
I return to the key point. We are looking at a false comparison: one that has derived a value for money calculation that we think is unfair. In addition, CLTs have been compared with other forms of affordable housing, principally the grant-giving process regarding housing associations. To do so is at best illusory.
My report was obviously about rural areas, where exception sites can, in principle, allow the bringing forward of land at low value because that is the only use it might have. In the urban setting, particularly where there is a form of public sector land, I wonder whether there might not be a reverse exception process whereby the exception is that the land is only available for certain kinds of uses and therefore does not carry an open-market use. That is not available in planning at the moment, but it might be a useful reversal of the rural situation.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will talk more about that when I shut up shortly, when he will have a chance to build on his argument. His point is exactly right. I will not use the word “subsidise”, but this is a lower-cost form of land access. That is the way in which we are able to kick the process off.
The case I am really making is that mutual home ownership has many benefits, the best of which is that the ownership of the land is locked in perpetuity. That is what makes it distinct both from other models that the Government are continuing to pilot and from a housing association, through which the grant is invested initially and there may be subsequent problems. This is an exciting opportunity, but it has been somewhat curtailed because of the way in which the calculations have been done.
As the Minister knows, we have argued this case for about 18 months. I hope that we can resolve the situation because, rather than the whole site being made available, we are now talking about between a third and half of the site. I understand why GLP is looking at a twin-track approach. It is talking to the HCA about the proposal that it is putting forward, which is being worked on by the consultancy firm ikon. I would like the whole site to be made available so that we can look at larger developments, which are different from the other pilots that are mostly smaller developments in rural areas. However, I am not sure whether I can talk about the Minister’s area. I hope that we will look again at what is being proposed by the original mutual home ownership model; we are talking about a 77-unit development in totality being derived, according to the mutual home ownership form of community land trust.
At the start of the month, I went to a presentation of the ‘Enquiry by Design’ proposal, which, although disappointing, had some merit. I am not saying that work has not been done, but at that presentation, which was done by the agents GVA Grimleys, there was no mention of community land trusts. Certainly, the constituents who went along, many of whom are older and have views on what they would like to see come out of the site—including community provision—were somewhat confused about why they were presented with just a housing development. That is sad and is not the way to do it. I am not criticising Grimleys or HCA, but we need proper consultation and to badge this for what it is: a different form of housing provision. It was wrong not to do that, and I had to mount a defence regarding whether we could deliver the site for the things that we wanted to do.
I make a plea to the Minister to look in detail at what the mutual home ownership model provides in terms of community land trusts. Ikon has come up with six different models for Cashes Green and Plymouth, and it would be useful to put them in the public domain, so that we can argue about them, look at their strengths and weaknesses and know where we are going. The debate is largely consensual and one on which Members from all parties can move forward, but we must look at how we can deliver the programme quickly. That is my big concern, because if Cashes Green is indicative, we are stuck in the detail and not delivering what we want: low-cost, affordable housing through locking the housing in perpetuity into mutual ownership and allowing people to climb the staircase by obtaining some equity value, if and when their incomes increase.
I welcome the comments of everyone who has spoken, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) on initiating the debate. I am glad to have a few minutes to address the issues.
My principal concern is about rural communities. If the papers are to be believed, there will be a formal response to my report relatively soon. If so, the debate is well timed on two grounds: first, it may influence the response; and secondly, it may nudge the response so that it is made sooner rather than later. As the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) said, there is a time to move from finding that we all agree on the issue to taking some action, and the present economic circumstances have, to a degree, taken the matter off the boil in the press, because some believe that falling house prices mean “problem solved”. The truth, however, is that it is problem worsened—in three key respects.
First, if people think that the issue is no longer important, action is less likely to take place and will be diverted, because the Government have to address big issues that, to some extent, displace the issue before us. Secondly, need is rising. There are more people on lower incomes, and more people losing their jobs and unable to afford housing on the open market. One might think that that would be addressed by falling house prices, but because the issue is about a credit crunch and the availability of mortgages, the demands for deposits make buying even more unaffordable for people at the margins. Although they might have struggled to pay a monthly mortgage before, the rates available to them have not fallen in line with the Bank of England rate; broadly, they have stuck at 5 per cent., and people who have small deposits are being asked to pay 6, 7 per cent., and in one recent constituency case 9 per cent., on a self-build exception site. The costs of getting into the market are higher than ever before.
Thirdly, the really big issue is that the private sector is no longer developing. I was at a meeting last week of a large number of developers, lawyers and those who are involved in the industry, and they were discussing who still had cranes up, because they were pulling out of any scheme that was not heading to completion—where they were not so committed that they could not get out. The great majority of affordable homes are delivered as a quota on the back of private sector schemes, but that is not happening now. In every possible respect, the situation is worse now than when I reported, even though the detail may have become more complex and a little different.
I shall focus on the 16,000 communities with fewer than 3,000 people in this country. In such communities, there are two groups of people. There are the relatively wealthy, who may be incomers or local but can afford the homes and have benefited from the price rises, certainly as an investment. The majority of people say that they would like to move to a little village in the countryside, so the demand on such communities from people looking to buy is absolutely enormous. However, the other group of people in those communities—the people who work in them, the farm labourers, the tradespeople, the people in the shop or the pub and those who provide support as care workers for the elderly rich who have retired there—are being priced out. At best, such people end up having to commute from the poorer part of town to the rural areas, which makes no sense from a sustainability viewpoint; at worst, many of the facilities close—the shop and the pub no longer run.
We are just at the beginning of the cycle, because 20 or 30 years ago those people could still afford a home, or find a rented place or council house. However, the council houses were sold, the rented places have been turned into holiday lets or retirement cottages and the new generation is being priced out.
The hon. Gentleman is much more of an expert on the rural situation; I tend to look at the issue in an urban setting. But did he find, or is he concerned about, what I found in my housing inquiry: that more than 40 per cent. of working households in the age group that would aspire to buy their own houses, at about 30 to 35 years old, are unable to get a mortgage? Although house prices will have brought that percentage down, that is the figure behind the demand and supply situation, and it is completely out of kilter.
I agree, and I do not want to take anything away from the urban problems, because they exist, too. We worry about an ageing population and how it will be supported if there are not enough people in work to provide facilities, but we are experimenting that situation in our rural villages right now, because it is already happening there, not because there are no young people, but because they are being priced out of the communities. What do we about it? Nobody in this place believes that we should tear up the planning rules and build all over the countryside, despite the fact that when the issue is debated in the press, that is often how it is described. We all agree that that is not the appropriate way forward. I do not have time to go through all the reasons, but to most people they are self-evident. We need to provide a route for people who work in such communities but cannot afford a home there. Interestingly, they are often working people who, even if there is council housing, will not get any because they are not high enough up the need scale. They can afford the bricks and mortar but not the excessive land values.
The solution is partly in place: the exception site process, which provides affordable homes in perpetuity to people with local need and connections in such communities. There is a fundamental problem, however. First, some local authorities do not apply the policy. It does not apply universally, and its application is discretionary for the local authority. Even in those local authorities that have such a policy, however, it may be applied only in certain villages that meet criteria of “sustainability”. The smaller communities are allowed to die or wither and lose their services on the grounds that there is no bus stop; that they do not have a boundary, because we allow the policy only where there is a defined boundary; or that there is no suitable site, because the planners can be restrictive. The wording states that it should adjoin the existing community, but some interpret that as “right bang up against the nearest 20 properties,” which may be the very place where there is most resistance. Another, more flexible site may not be miles away from the village; indeed, it may have a connection to it, which is the way that properties used to be developed. Not every property used to be bang up against the next, and those sites may be available and attract support, but planners say no.
I raise the issue because it is the nub of what not only CLTs, but registered social landlords and even, in some cases, the private sector seek to do. I feel passionately that there is a role for the private sector, provided the development has a section 106 planning agreement, is affordable in perpetuity or has a local connection. There are various routes, but we need to turn exception site policy from something that is exceptional to something that we do in communities where there is housing need but where we would not allow open-market housing, which would almost certainly be sold to people moving into the community anyway.
So what do we need to do? We need to say to all the authorities that they need to have this policy in place if there is not an alternative supply of housing. Houses will not be allowed to go on to the open market, and the process must be allowed to take place, subject to key criteria. There must be community support—not absolute support, as there will always be some opposition, but if the community itself says that it wants a development to take place, the role of the local authority should not be that of a gatekeeper, refusing it on technicalities, but that of an enabler, supporting it.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset was right to say that there needs to be support because communities themselves do not always have expertise. They need help with the process, which begins with identification of need in the community. Agreement around need opens the door to finding a site, talking to Farmer Joe and Lord Whatsit to find somebody who is willing to make a site available. We know that sites become available if people understand that the houses will genuinely be affordable in perpetuity for the local community. “For the local community” is a key criterion, as is “affordable in perpetuity,” not least because no one will part with land at low cost if they think they could part with it at a higher value for an open-market development. They also do not want someone else to make a profit from it. No landowner will make land available if they think that a few years down the road the houses will be sold off as the council houses were and someone else will make the money. Therefore, “affordable in perpetuity” is important.
Another criterion, of course, is evidence of housing need. There is no point in doing this if there are not people with a local connection in genuine need who will be part of the mix of the community. The development must be of appropriate scale and style and be well designed, but as I said, it need not be on the one piece of green open space at the centre of the village on which all the opposition is focused. There needs to be flexibility about the site.
The key thing with the CLT model is that it brilliantly pulls all those criteria together. It gives the community surety on all those points because they appropriately hold the value of the site. That is why the model has support not just from Shelter, the Country Land and Business Association and the National Housing Federation but from organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England. A point that I always make to those who say that we are talking about ploughing up the countryside is that the last organisation in the country to support ploughing up and concreting over the countryside is the CPRE, but it is behind this kind of proposal.
It is time to move from words to action, and I hope that is exactly what the Government are about to do.
This interesting debate has been different from the kind of debate that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), the Minister and I usually engage in on Wednesday mornings, which is when we regularly debate housing. I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) on securing this debate. I want to acknowledge from the outset her report and the report of my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor), which are helpful additions to the debate.
Liberal Democrats have been championing community land trusts for a long time—long before others became so keen on them—and I am absolutely delighted that there is now cross-party support for them. I was relieved when the Government agreed to cross-party representations to have them added to the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, and I acknowledge the contribution of the hon. Lady in ensuring that that happened.
The hon. Lady clearly laid out the issue around need. She spoke about the case in her constituency that provoked her to begin work on her report. Both she and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell spoke about house prices. The fact is that falling house prices have not actually increased affordability for many of my constituents and many people around the country, because the issue is affordability of credit. The hon. Lady made the point very well that we would require a substantial drop in house prices in many areas for affordability to become a reality.
The real danger is that if we do not keep pace with house building during this period when credit is drying up, we may experience hyperinflation later. Need does not go away just because mortgages dry up. People still want to be able to buy or rent houses, and the fact that they are finding it difficult to access credit does not mean that need disappears. The danger is that when lending comes back on stream, we will get back into another housing bubble and then, of course, another bust later.
Another point that the hon. Lady made very well was about the need for intermediate housing, which is often overlooked when we debate these issues. We talk a great deal about the need for social housing and home ownership, but the particular thing that CLTs offer is intermediate housing for people who fall between two nets: they cannot afford to buy but have too much income, are too wealthy or are not deemed to be in priority need and so are unable to access social housing.
The Co-operative party pamphlet, “New foundations—Unlocking the potential for affordable homes” is particularly helpful in laying out how CLTs may deliver an innovative model during economic downturn. It is a helpful addition to the debate, and I hope the Minister recognises that and will respond to it in his summation. Housing associations’ ability to deliver housing has been based on a model of cross-subsidy through private sales, which of course is now failing, whereas this innovative model of mutual home ownership offers an opportunity to deliver housing in a different way.
The hon. Lady spoke about mutual home ownership being an attractive investment for life and pension fund investors. It would be far less risky than investing funds in shares, asset-based securities, derivatives or hedge funds on global markets. It is an attractive model for investors but also an attractive model for people who are looking for some form of home ownership because there is far less risk that they will fall into negative equity. If mutual home owners do fall on hard times, they could sell some of their equity shares to others or freeze their equity and convert to a rental tenancy, which would not be possible in other situations.
I agree with the hon. Lady and thank her for making that point.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who is no longer in his place, made an interesting point about the potential for CLTs to get around the nimbyism that we often see when we encourage communities to build more houses. There is always tension between the Government’s targets for house building and people’s fears about loss of lifestyle and change to the nature of the local community. The point of CLTs is that they get around that problem because they come from the ground up. People have a stake in the development—they feel that they or their children may benefit from it. That makes CLTs particularly attractive for rural areas, which is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell made here and elsewhere, although not in his report. However, the importance of CLTs extends beyond rural areas. The model is gaining a great deal of interest in London as well. The sense that people have that there is some possibility of accessing the development overcomes crucial fears. The right hon. Member for West Dorset also discussed the need for professional help and the importance of the relationship with parish councils and housing associations.
I shall conclude with a few questions for the Minister, which pick up on some of the points made by the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). Of course there will be areas where separating the price of land from property will not, on its own, bring homes into an affordable range. What guidance has the Minister given to the Homes and Communities Agency on subsidies that it may make available for this kind of development? What has his response been to representations from CLTs that the Leasehold Reform Act 1967 should be amended to ensure that affordability is locked in?
A number of hon. Members mentioned value for money. I am interested in the idea of valuing a site based on the cost per year of affordable housing. The point about the current system for valuing a development being simplistic was well made. I wonder how the Government will ensure that we also take account of social value and social benefit to a community.
Having made those points, I remind the Minister that this matter has cross-party support, if he had not already gathered that from the debate. I hope that he will not just make it possible for community land trusts to exist, which is what the amendment to the Housing and Regeneration Bill did, but will positively enable CLTs, because this important, innovative idea may offer a solution at a time when many of the other models that we have for housing development are failing.
I will try to be brief. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) not only on securing the debate, but on her excellent paper, “Homes for the Future”, which sets out many of the principles behind today’s debate and the future of housing. I also thank the Minister for his phone call to me, during which he said that, having voted twice against our new clause on community land trusts, he had decided, under some persistent and welcome pressure from hon. Members in this Chamber and others beyond, to accept in the House of Lords an amendment that looked remarkably similar and which, for the first time, defined community land trusts in law.
There is a huge amount of agreement and perhaps even co-operation on CLTs, as is fitting for such an idea. The hon. Lady has already mentioned the community land trust taskforce, which met for the first time last week. I set up that taskforce to produce a report that will, I hope, provide the recommendations that need to be put in place to encourage CLTs into action—to make them happen, as it were. Many of the eminent names that have already been mentioned this morning—such as David Rodgers and Martin Large—sit on that panel, so we know that we are getting expertise from the best sources. The taskforce is chaired by Dr. Karl Dayson of the university of Salford, who has spent a large amount of time, academically, studying this subject.
Some of the problems that CLTs face are questions of culture and misunderstanding. I enjoyed my visit to the CLT project in the constituency of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). I was struck by the story of a community coming together and doing all the background work, including studying and consulting the local community and working up the plan that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in great detail, only to meet English Partnerships, which insists on redoing all the work at a cost of £160,000, as I recall. That is nonsense and is contrary to the principles that we are all trying to establish for CLTs. I have taken that specific example up with the chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency, Sir Bob Kerslake, who promises to investigate.
Last week I sat on a panel with Sir Bob Kerslake at the Guardian “Future of Housing” conference and one of the questions that came in was about what could be done to speed up CLTs. His response was, “Look, I’d just like to see any of these actually go ahead.” There are many trials now—I have been round the country and have seen many or most of them—but they all suffer from problems of understanding or misunderstanding. People do not quite understand what they are about.
We are now in a position to do something with cross-party support and I hope that the Minister, in his last year or so, can get this scheme moving. There is a really pressing need, which has been brilliantly outlined by many, including the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) in his report and the hon. Lady in hers, and in the Co-operative report of last week.
I was struck at the first meeting of our community land taskforce last week, here in Westminster, when, in response to the question, “This is a great new idea, but how are we going to get it going?” one panel member said, “I saw this idea in Estates Gazette 20 years ago and ever since then I have spent my life trying to get the thing going.” The time has come. Minister, we look to you to provide the guidance.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Illsley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) on securing this debate. As has been said throughout the debate, my hon. Friend is a huge champion of the whole idea of housing and her report is excellent. I like the concept of housing for the benefit of the whole community and she has been a strong champion of community land trusts for some time now. She has rightly and successfully held the Government to account on the matter of community land trusts, particularly on the definition of them. Let me spoil the consensual cross-party thing that we have had throughout this debate by saying that it is thanks to her efforts and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) that we were able to accept an amendment to the Housing and Regeneration Bill on the definition of CLTs.
This has been a professional, high-calibre debate, reflecting the importance of the concept of CLTs. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton mentioned that there is a growing interest in the potential for CLTs. I agree. She beat me to it in saying that the time has come for CLTs—I had already written that phrase down—but, again, I believe passionately in them and agree strongly with her about that.
Let me declare an interest at this point. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud has already mentioned it, but hon. Members will be aware of the 14 CLT pilot areas—seven in urban areas and seven in rural areas—which the university of Salford is helping to run. Hartlepool, my constituency, is the location for one of the seven urban area pilots. Progress has been slow so far, but I take a strong interest in the concept of CLTs, particularly because I have a constituency as well as a ministerial interest.
We in the Government feel strongly about putting power back in the hands of communities. That theme is repeated across the range of public services, with a stronger voice and more direct involvement for people throughout the health and education sectors and local democracy, so services improve and quality is raised. There is no reason why we cannot do the same thing in respect of housing and planning. At the same time, we know that the lack of affordable housing is a major concern for people throughout the country. One of the strong themes of the report by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton is the need for affordable housing. The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) has also produced a strong report that we will respond to shortly.
Yesterday in the Department, we had a presentation on the affordability of housing. We saw a map of the country showing the pressures on affordability, and the least affordable places to live were represented in red. As hon. Members would expect, London was bright red. However, I was struck by the fact, which will be of interest to the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell and to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton and for Stroud, that the south-west was burning red. In both the urban and the rural areas of the south-west, there is a real affordability issue. We should ensure that we build more houses to a model that helps to provide them in perpetuity. How to provide affordable housing for today’s generation and the next generation is a long-term concern for all hon. Members.
The Government are keen to back the aspirations of people who want the chance to own a home of their own. The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell is strong on that in his report and in his comments in this debate. Future household growth projections, the fact that we have an ageing population and the current short-term difficulties with regard to the global economy underline the need for us to go further and faster to help more people to realise their aspiration for affordable housing. That was a strong theme in the debate.
We are doing our bit. The Government are investing £8 billion in affordable housing—for both social rent and low-cost home ownership—through the new Homes and Communities Agency throughout the next comprehensive spending review period. That represents a £3 billion increase compared with the previous three years. We have never seen in this country the investment in housing that we will see in the next three years.
That is simply not true. We have responded quickly and decisively to the current economic difficulties. We have brought forward future years’ spending—about £550 million—for the HCA precisely to allow housing associations and RSLs to bring forward spend, not only to help to ensure that we have affordable housing for our people, but to ensure that we can stimulate economic activity and help the construction industry at what everyone acknowledges is an extraordinarily difficult time.
To be fair, this is something that we look at closely with Sir Bob and the HCA and, in the two months that the HCA has been up and running, to be able to spend £600 million is not a bad state of affairs. We consider this issue very closely. It is extraordinarily important. We need to ensure that we have the homes that this country needs. I have already mentioned the affordability issues. The hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell was right when he mentioned the evaporation of lending capability, which is putting acute affordability pressures on young families. We need to ensure that we build the homes that people need and that we stimulate the construction industry to help to do that.
The market is struggling, leading to sharp falls in house prices, and developers are finding it harder to sell new homes. That is why we have brought forward money to allow the HCA to go to RSLs and councils to buy unbought stock from private developers. In central Government, our focus is on proactively responding and intervening to address those difficulties, helping to restore stability by rebuilding confidence and reassuring consumers that there is practical support where that is needed. The Government have a key role to play and we have stepped up to the plate to help to achieve what I have set out.
Unsurprisingly, I shall return to the value-for-money calculations. I would be happy for this to take place outside the orbit of this discussion, but it would be useful for the Government to examine value for money, to help the HCA, and then to come back and discuss it with those of us who are trying to move things forward, because that is the crux of the problem that some of us are facing at the moment.
My hon. Friend mentioned value for money during his excellent speech. It is an important point. I will spend some time talking about the role of the HCA, because that is important, but I want to respond to that intervention in two ways. First, I recognise the point about value for money. Community land trusts can provide additional albeit somewhat intangible benefits, whether that relates to community cohesion, building capacity in the community or strengthening the sense of ownership. During the passage of the Bill that became the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) and I debated at length how land can be sold for less than market value for a wider social good. That is an important point. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton mentioned the consultation exercise on CLTs that I launched in October. That closed on 31 December. A key issue that we were considering in the consultation was how to get the concept of value for money into this process—how we can assess value for money when considering community-led development. Again, that is an important point.
Secondly, given the economic difficulties that we face, the evaporation of mortgages and the business model for RSLs being inappropriate in the current market with regard to private money helping to fund socially rented stock, we have to be as flexible as possible. That is the key point and I think that it is what Sir Bob Kerslake would champion. The HCA has to be as flexible as possible in responding to the current difficulties.
I have mentioned the role that central Government have to play, but I return time and again—this point was reiterated throughout the debate—to the power of the community itself. In my experience and, I know, in the experience of hon. Members on both sides of the House, there are few problems that communities cannot solve for themselves. If their talent and ingenuity are unlocked, they can work wonders. Change goes deeper when people have ownership and can take control of things themselves, rather than having them imposed on them. I strongly oppose the idea of public services being provided at people, rather than for people and with people. That is a disgrace. Working together and shaping public services according to specific local needs is the way we need to go.
It is in the context of community empowerment with regard to housing—including long-term concerns about affordable housing, about the evaporation of mortgages and about how our children and grandchildren will get on to the property ladder—that CLTs can play a key role. That is why I and a number of other hon. Members have said that their time has come. CLTs are about engaging, galvanising and mobilising the community. They are about bringing communities together to improve the quality of their local environment, the services that they receive and the facilities available to them.
The Government’s firm aim is to see CLTs that are well managed and have the capacity to take on development. I am mindful of points raised in the debate about support and training for communities. The point has been made that a bottom-up approach is not sufficient; people need professional help in this regard. We recognise that and, in response, have commissioned research to review the availability of and access to technical expertise and information for community organisations to enable them successfully to manage their own assets. Community transfer of assets, community ownership and how those things are achieved on the ground practically and technically are important points.
I am sure that the Minister is right on that, but I think that he will also accept that, if the planning officers see themselves as gamekeepers whose job is to say no to much of this development, to apply very strict criteria or to say that a community is already unsustainable, and they will not allow anything to happen there, what ought to be quite quick and simple loses its certainty and gets bogged down in ridiculous planning arguments. That is the experience of community groups. Even when communities start in favour, they too often run into a brick wall. We need to move from these schemes being seen as exceptional to their being seen as what people do in the community.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I would certainly be against the “Computer says no” philosophy and in favour of the idea that people should be helping to enable and facilitate. Central Government have a role to play in that in providing resources, but local agencies also have a role. A strength of the HCA is the can-do attitude stemming from Sir Bob Kerslake downwards. That is about saying, “How can we help you in your local community? How can we ensure that you have the tools to do the job and realise your ambition on the ground?”
I will get that on the record now because I know it concerns my hon. Friend. As I said, we launched the consultation in October and it ended on 31 December. We received 63 responses—very in-depth, professional, high-quality responses, including one from my hon. Friend. I am currently reviewing and assessing those and I hope to be able to respond fairly shortly.
I am not able to give a firm date. I am sorry to disappoint hon. Members on that. I am keen to do the work as quickly, but as thoroughly as I can, taking the whole House with me to ensure that we have cross-party support.
It is a disappointment that the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) did not have the courtesy to stay for the winding-up speeches, because he made a very perceptive and intelligent point about development often being seen as negative when it should be seen as positive, as something that helps a community to realise its ambitions and aspirations. I do not want that nimby attitude to exist in planning and development. I want development to be seen as a positive thing that helps to engage people. Community land trusts can be a vehicle to achieve that and, with cross-party support, we can move from talking to delivery and action.