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Housing Stock

Volume 504: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2010

7. What his estimate is of the number of (a) new homes which will be built and (b) empty homes which will be brought into use in 2010. (312954)

The Department does not publish forecasts for house building. We are committed to reducing the number of long-term empty homes. We have strengthened the powers of local authorities to deal with empty homes when owners have failed to act.

Would Ministers be sympathetic to the request from local councils—such as mine in Southwark, where 43 per cent. of homes are social housing and one third are council properties—to be able to restructure their debts, often on properties that no longer exist? In Southwark’s case, the repayment figure comes to £43 million. If we are going to build more homes and refurbish homes, we need help so that we do not spend all our money paying off debts on homes that no longer exist.

That is exactly why we have published proposals to restructure council house finance debt, and I look forward to the Liberal Democrats’ support for those proposals.

Will my hon. Friend recognise that if we are to see housing numbers increase significantly, as we all wish, from the current difficult position, what is required above all is certainty and confidence in the future? That could be very seriously damaged by the ill thought out, uncosted and dangerous Opposition proposals for changes to the housing planning scheme.

My right hon. Friend, who is an expert on these issues and probably knows more about them—[Hon. Members: “Than you do.”] He certainly knows more about them than I do, and I am not at all—[Interruption.] He knows a damn sight more than Opposition Members, who want to drag race and immigration into discussions about housing. Opposition Front Benchers would gain some credit if they were prepared to distance themselves from the attempts by their Back Benchers to drag immigration into discussions about housing numbers.

I can tell my right hon. Friend that we are building many more homes now than we would have been if we had taken the Opposition’s advice and slashed spending this year and last, in the midst of a recession, because that would have strangled this recovery at birth.

Does the Minister for Housing stand by his comments to the Fabian Society, when he said that it was time to give up on the dream of home ownership? Does that have anything to do with the fact that home ownership is falling under Labour, and that house building is at its lowest level since the second world war—with, incidentally, social affordable homes now being built in smaller numbers than under any previous Government? Does not this Government’s appalling house building record mean that they have no choice but to abandon any lingering claim to be the party of aspiration?

I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of my right hon. Friend’s speech, because the hon. Gentleman has obviously not bothered to read it. In actual fact, there are almost 2 million more home owners now than there were in 1997, when the Government came to office. The Government have also overseen an increase in the supply of housing to almost 207,500 in 2007-08, which was the highest annual level of net housing supply in the past 30 years. As I said earlier, we are building many more homes now than we would have been if we had cut spending last year and this, in the midst of a recession, because that would have strangled the recovery at birth.