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House Building

Volume 563: debated on Monday 3 June 2013

First, I commend the right hon. Gentleman on his clear, common-sense leadership during the recent events in Woolwich.

The Government closely monitor the rate of house building. We are on target to deliver 170,000 affordable homes by 2015, and we completed 58,000 of them in 2011-12. We assess that to be one third higher than the annual average delivered in the 10 years leading up to the last election.

May I draw attention to my interests, and thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks?

The National Audit Office, in a recent report, described the new homes bonus as not only badly modelled, but largely ineffective, yet it is hugely expensive, having already led the Government to commit more than £1 billion, with that commitment rising to over £3 billion in the short term. When will the Government reconsider this measure, which appears to have little or no effect and comes at vast cost?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman knows that the National Audit Office also said that it is too early, in the process of the programme, to tell whether there is an impact. He knows that well from his experience as a Minister. It made some suggestions on how the technical modelling could be improved, and we are always open to such suggestions. On the question of a review, it was always our intention, over the coming year, to look to review the programme, as we do all programmes. I remind him and the House that the programme has enabled councils to be rewarded for delivering in the region of 400,000 more homes.

In support of Government schemes to increase house building, what action is being taken to press Government Departments and public bodies in general to dispose of surplus sites and property? In my experience, the NHS is by far the worst offender.

The hon. Gentleman has been a powerful advocate for the hospital site in Colchester about which he and I had a meeting. We have been able to organise the disposal of land for some 33,000 homes. There is much more to do in the health service, across the defence estate, and elsewhere, but this is an important priority, and I understand the point that he raises.

21. Does the Housing Minister think that there is any connection between my Conservative council spending £860,000 last year on keeping 365 families in bed and breakfast, the fact that it sells off 10% of council homes that become vacant, and the fact that it has planning policies that forbid the construction of any additional social homes? (157180)

The hon. Gentleman is nothing if not parochial. He is one of those people, I am afraid, who cannot see the good side in any affordable housing programme. [Interruption.] I am well aware of his connections with Hammersmith and Fulham; we are constantly reminded of, and excited by, that prospect. We are delivering on the completion of 170,000 more affordable homes; the Labour Government presided over the loss of 421,000 homes.

May I invite my hon. Friend to take a joined-up, common-sense approach to the house building programme, and to invite water companies to be statutory consultees, so that they can assess the automatic right to connect for substantially new housing developments?

My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Clearly, we need to be careful about how that is applied, and the method by which we consult, but common sense is always something that this Government take pride in.

In his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford), the Minister challenged the NAO report. Is he going to do what the NAO report specifically requires, which is to publish urgently accurate ways in which he intends to conduct a review of whether the system works?