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Social Housing

Volume 547: debated on Monday 2 July 2012

The Government and the private sector are together investing £19.5 billion in an affordable homes programme that is set to exceed all original expectations. It will deliver up to 170,000 new homes for both rent and affordable home ownership. We are also spending £1.3 billion to get stalled developments back on track, and to build the infrastructure needed to unlock sites for housing.

I welcome the Minister’s comments, but in many coastal communities there is a surfeit of holiday accommodation in caravan and chalet park centres. If one of those sites closes down, it has to revert to agricultural use. Does he agree that it would make sense to redesignate caravan parks as brownfield sites to make it easier to develop them for affordable housing?

These are very much matters for the local plan, which is in the hands of my hon. Friend’s planning authority. I am sure that he will also be alert to the options in the neighbourhood planning system for local communities to seek a different designation, if that is appropriate.

I do not know whether the Minister is aware that according to figures from Shelter, in 2010-11 there were 104 new affordable home starts in Sheffield, including social rented housing starts. Assuming that he will put that down to the inadequate legacy of the previous Government, is he aware that in 2011-12, the number of new affordable starts fell to two, in a city of more than half a million people? Does he accept responsibility for that, and if so, what will he do about it?

The Homes and Communities Agency significantly exceeded its corporate plan target for last year. It delivered 51,665 new affordable homes, of which 33,000 were for social rent, and that is in very stark contrast with the Labour Government’s performance; they reduced the number of social homes available for rent by 421,000.

What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that houses sold under the right-to-buy legislation are replaced on a one-to-one basis?

My hon. Friend has been a lively campaigner for more social housing, and rightly so. It is an essential part of the coalition agreement on the right to buy that there will be a one-for-one replacement of every home sold, to provide a new social or affordable home.

I draw attention to my interest, as declared in the register. The House will have noticed that the Minister’s response to the question about the availability of social rented housing was to use a different term—affordable rented housing. Everyone knows that under this Government, social rented housing has virtually come to a halt. When will they recognise that affordable rented housing depends on very much higher rents, and when the Department for Work and Pensions is cutting housing benefit and the Prime Minister is encouraging even deeper cuts in housing benefit, how can they possibly hope people on low incomes will be able to afford those rents, if social housing is not being provided?

The right hon. Gentleman once sat in my office and he will know that during his period of office he reduced the number of social homes available. In 2011-12 two thirds of homes completed—33,227—were social homes for rent. If he had paid more attention to getting a positive input of social homes during his period of office, we would not have such a deficit to fill now.

This Administration are presiding over the worst housing crisis in a generation. There has been a 97% collapse in new social housing starts and a 68% fall in affordable housing in the past 12 months. We have heard the Minister tell us that everything is fine and dandy, but nobody believes him. I cannot help wondering if he is modelling himself on Voltaire’s hopelessly optimistic Dr Pangloss or on one of George Orwell’s cynical apparatchiks, or is he just plain incompetent?

The hon. Gentleman left off the correct response, which is that unlike him, I am supervising the development of more social and affordable homes. It was the Government whom he supported who cut the number of social and affordable homes by more than a quarter of a million. If his Government had performed properly in their period of office, we would not be facing that housing crisis now.