Wednesday 17 January 2007
Housing and Regeneration
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing to the House the outcome of the housing and regeneration review, launched in April last year by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and the then Minister for Communities and Local Government, my right honourable friend the Member for South Shields (Mr Miliband).
On 24 July 2006, I told the House that I was extending the review and had asked officials to examine my own department's delivery functions to determine the scope for rationalisation. I told the House then that I wanted to build a modern, dynamic delivery chain to realise our ambitions for stronger communities and places in which people feel proud to live.
Following my statement in July, the review has considered a range of modernisation and structural options for reform. Having studied the analysis, I am convinced that we should now move towards one national housing and regeneration agency that combines the functions of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships with key delivery functions from my own department, including in the areas of decent homes, housing market renewal, housing PFI, housing growth and urban regeneration.
I propose to establish a new agency, Communities England, to support local authorities in their drive to create and shape prosperous and cohesive communities. This new expert partner will pioneer innovative new ways of working with key partners in the public, private and voluntary sector to ensure we get even better outcomes from our investment in places throughout England.
Communities England will be tasked with embedding new and innovative approaches to regenerating strategic sites. In Hattersley in Tameside, for example, an integrated approach to estate transformation is delivering decent homes, new private housing, new commercial and community centres and local jobs, and enhanced transport links to Manchester. Where previously the project was not commercially viable, our intervention has attracted strong private sector investment. An integrated approach to housing and regeneration that addresses the physical, social and economic needs of the area is restoring confidence and creating the basis for long-term sustainability.
Communities England will move delivery closer to local communities, ensuring that decisions better reflect local and regional priorities. In future, for example, the regional offices of Communities England will be far better placed than Whitehall to support local authorities in the implementation of their plans for housing growth. This will enable my own department to focus on strategic policy-making.
Communities England will form a key part of the new delivery landscape set out in the local government White Paper, offering a one-stop delivery partner for local government. It offers a coherent portfolio of investment tools, and will work alongside local authorities, to adopt a more flexible market-based approach to housing development:
in growth areas and many new growth points, it will work to unlock strategic sites, building on successes like West Bedford, where developing key local infrastructure will deliver 2,500 new homes, and Milton Keynes, where the new tariff is providing the community and physical infrastructure for another 15,000 homes;
in areas of weaker housing demand, Communities England will work alongside pathfinders and local authorities to strengthen delivery and innovation, helping authorities to make best use of assets and maximise receipts and drawing on the experiences of the best performers;
it will work across England with local authorities, private developers and housing associations to build more social rented and affordable homes. It will help to meet the needs of England's communities—north and south, urban and rural, large and small households and the vulnerable; and
it will work to improve council housing and transform our worst estates. In Manchester a project under the Decent Homes programme enabled additional private investment to be levered in, creating new homes for sale alongside refurbishment and remodelling delivering a choice of homes to rent and buy resulting in a popular and more mixed community.
Communities England will also help to reduce the environmental impact of our homes and buildings. Domestic heating and lighting is responsible for 27 per cent of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions. By creating a single agency with enhanced purchasing power, and by demanding exacting standards of house-builders and RSLs including through the Code for Sustainable Homes, we will better influence the development of, and demand for, environmentally friendly products and techniques and low-carbon technologies.
Work towards Communities England starts now. We will consult on our plans to establish the new agency, and its roles and functions, later this year. The precise scope of the new agency will be finalised in the light of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.
I am determined to ensure a smooth transition with high levels of delivery throughout. I have therefore appointed a small senior team drawn from the two agencies and key officials in my department, under the chairmanship of Baroness Ford, to advise the department on planning the transition to Communities England. Alongside this, English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation are putting in place business continuity and risk management processes to maintain their delivery focus throughout the transition period.
National Minimum Wage
My honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Postal Services and Minister for London has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
I am today announcing that the DTI will be undertaking a review of the national minimum wage in relation to voluntary workers. The review aims to explore whether or not any changes are necessary to the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, or identify alternative non-legislative options to clarify and/or add flexibility to it in respect of voluntary workers. The review would also address the Low Pay Commission's 2005 recommendation to consolidate relevant guidance. There is no intention of altering the original scope of the National Minimum Wage Act in terms of those who should, or should not, be paid the minimum wage.