We have announced a series of measures over the past 12 months designed to improve delivery of social rented housing in the current difficult market conditions, including a £1 billion housing package in the Budget, focused on maintaining activity and jobs, and further help for those who need it in the short term. We remain committed to the delivery of affordable housing for social rent and low-cost home ownership and we are assessing delivery and targets with the HCA as part of its corporate plan process.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. In my constituency, there are 26 applicants for every social housing vacancy. The Homes and Communities Agency has made a good start in giving £12 million to the Chester and district housing trust to build 350 homes, but 3,500 homes are needed. What more can she and the agency do to put pressure on the banks and building societies to make borrowing affordable for housing associations?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Perhaps I can direct her to the evidence given yesterday to the Select Committee, which will be published. Questions were asked about housing associations’ capacity to raise funding. Although there is general recognition of their concerns about the loans that lenders are making available, it appears that the situation is easing to some degree. I share her anxieties and can assure her that we keep this matter under review.
The Minister’s hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), recently gave an interview to that excellent newspaper the Leicester Mercury, in which he commented on social housing, in particular with regard to Pembury and the proposed eco-town. Is he aware that, with or without social housing, local feeling is entirely opposed to the proposal to build a huge town on a greenfield site? Frankly, I wish that the Government would stop backing that plan and that Ministers would stop interfering in Leicestershire’s affairs.
Will the Minister do her best to ensure that the agency secures rapid delivery of affordable socially rented homes, to get people out of private rented accommodation where landlords are making a killing at the public expense through the housing benefits system? Will she also ensure that houses that are built or bought are appropriate, particularly for two very needy groups—large families and single people, who often do not get any social housing options whatsoever?
I can certainly tell my hon. Friend that I know that the HCA shares the concerns that he has expressed, as do the Government. The agency met its targets last year, even in the present difficult economic circumstances, and will be using the funding put forward in the Budget to the best possible effect to build more housing, which is much needed, as fast as possible.