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Volume 694: debated on Monday 23 July 2007

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now make a Statement about housing supply. The Statement is as follows:

“I start by supporting the Statement of my right honourable friend and joining the many Members of the House who have expressed their sympathy to the thousands of families whose lives have been turned upside down by the unprecedented flooding affecting wide parts of the country.

“The Government are publishing today their housing Green Paper, setting out proposals to deliver the homes Britain urgently needs today and for the future.

“The House should be proud of the huge steps this country has taken since 1997—a two-thirds cut in rough sleeping; £20 billion investment in social housing that has helped lift over a million children out of cold or poor conditions; and economic stability that has given over one million more people the opportunity to become homeowners. But we also need to respond to new challenges. Demand for homes to buy or rent is growing faster than supply, and homes are becoming less affordable as a result. Already many first-time buyers rely on the help of friends or family to get a foot on the ladder. It simply is not fair that your chance of owning your home should depend so much on whether your parents or grandparents did before you. Nor is it fair that children are growing up in overcrowded or temporary accommodation, waiting for a settled home. Without further action, housing could become one of the greatest sources of social inequality in the next 20 years.

“In addition, we need to respond to the challenge of climate change. Our homes account for more than a quarter of national carbon emissions. We must provide greener, better designed housing for the future. As recent events have highlighted, it is absolutely vital to take steps to protect all our communities from flooding, and from the consequences of climate change in future. In the face of these three challenges, we propose strong action.

“First, we will build more homes to meet growing demand. The level of house building is at its highest for 17 years, but it is not enough. Moreover, without firm action there is no guarantee that growth will continue, as short-term market pressures mean some developers have slowed starts this year.

“We believe that a total of 3 million new homes are needed by 2020, and we will deliver 2 million of these by 2016. This will include new homes in the north as well as the south, as every region is seeing demand outstrip supply. In more areas we need additional affordable homes alongside areas of housing market renewal.

“Already locations for 1.6 million homes are identified in current regional plans, with up to a further 200,000 emerging in the new regional spatial strategies and future revisions to them. This includes 650,000 homes in the growth areas such as the Thames Gateway and Milton Keynes.

“Forty-five towns and cities have already come forward with proposals for additional homes over the next 10 years in new growth points. We are today inviting more councils to come forward to be new growth points, including in the north of England. We are also inviting bids for councils and developers to come forward with proposals for at least five new eco towns. No one should be in any doubt about the historic scale of this vision; we are proposing the first new towns in 40 years.

“Further changes are needed to support the delivery of these homes. Providing enough land is vital and councils need to identify 15 years’ supply of appropriate land for housing, with the continuing priority for sustainable brownfield land. We will not change the rules on strong green-belt protection. We will introduce additional funding and incentives for councils and communities that are showing a lead in delivering growth—through a new housing and planning delivery grant, a new £300 million Community Infrastructure Fund, and additional funding dedicated for high-growth areas.

“We are consulting on proposals to deter developers from seeking planning permission and then sitting on land without bringing forward new homes. We will work across Government to bring forward more brownfield land. I can announce that the MoD has agreed to bring forward six sites with the potential for 7,000 homes, including at Aldershot and Chichester. The Department for Transport has also identified hundreds of potential sites.

“We will support local councils in setting up new local housing companies with partners to use their own land to build more homes. I can announce that 14 councils have already come forward. They estimate that in their areas alone they have the potential to deliver 35,000 homes on their land, with 17,500 of them affordable homes. Better use also needs to be made of empty homes, including those left empty long-term by investors and speculators. Councils already have powers to take action and we will look at the potential for additional incentives for them to do so.

“Secondly, building more homes is crucial, but they must be better and more sustainable homes. In the 1960s, quality was sacrificed in the name of speed. We must not make those mistakes again. Today, our new homes must be part of well designed and mixed communities with excellent local facilities. This means more family homes as well as parks and green spaces, and with the urgent challenge of climate change they must be greener homes, built to the highest environmental standards. I can confirm that from 2016, all new homes will need to be zero-carbon. We are the first country to set such an ambitious timetable, and I welcome the support of councils, green groups and developers across the country that are committed to working with us to make this happen.

“As well as helping to prevent climate change, we need to ensure that our homes are resilient to its consequences. Over the centuries, many homes have been built in high-risk flood areas, and my right honourable friend has set out immediate action to support the families suffering dreadfully from the extreme weather. Since 1997, we have progressively strengthened the rules on planning to protect homes from flooding, with much higher standards brought in last year. These new rules require councils to consult the Environment Agency. Where the agency says that the risk is too high and councils persist against that advice, we in the Government will be prepared to take over those decisions ourselves. We will also look further at what needs to be done to be ready for future challenges. Later this year we will publish a new planning policy statement that will require local councils to plan more widely for the consequences of climate change.

“Thirdly, we believe that a decent home should be for the many, not the few. I can announce that we will invest £8 billion on increasing affordable housing over the next three years, an increase of £3 billion when compared with the previous spending review. This is on top of continuing investment in decent homes, including over £2 billion on the ALMO programme over the next three years. We have listened to the evidence from Shelter and the National Housing Federation. They have said that we need 70,000 affordable homes a year, of which 50,000 should be new social housing. I can announce that by 2010-11, we will deliver over 70,000 new affordable homes a year. By 2011 we will deliver 45,000 new social homes a year, with a goal of 50,000 in the next spending review. We will also deliver 25,000 new shared ownership homes through expanding existing programmes. Further, we will look to support tens of thousands of additional shared ownership homes through public sector land and local housing companies. As rural areas face particular pressures, we will set a specific target for increasing affordable homes in rural areas later this year after consultation with the regional assemblies.

“We want to see more work by local councils, housing associations and the private sector to increase affordable housing, both to buy and to rent. We are announcing today the first 10 ALMOs and local authority special venture vehicles approved to bid for social housing grant in order to build council homes. We are also consulting on changes to the rules on the treatment of rents and receipts from new homes which will give councils more flexibility to build on their land within responsible public finance rules.

“We believe that first-time buyers need more flexible and competitive products today. The Treasury is consulting on new ways to support more affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgages. We have also commissioned further work, led by Bryan Pomeroy, on expanding private sector shared equity products, and will launch new shared equity products next year. In the mean time, we will offer a new 17.5 per cent government equity loan for key workers and other priority first-time buyers.

“Taken together, these proposals represent not just the most significant programme of house building for decades, but an ambitious and positive response to the growing challenges that many people face in their day-to-day lives. To deliver it, we will need an expanded, skilled workforce. The new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will lead work to expand construction apprenticeships and work with partners in the sector to raise skills. We know that there is no quick fix for the issues we face. Building more houses takes time, so this must be a shared endeavour. Central government are today setting a bolder framework for the future, but we will achieve our goals only if those at regional and local levels in the public, private and third sectors and in local communities all play their part in supporting the homes we need.

“Building the sustainable homes needed by young people today and future generations is a test of our commitment to supporting people’s aspirations and to achieving social justice. I commend these proposals to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by her right honourable friend in another place. I add my sympathy to all the home owners and owners of commercial premises who are caught up in the present disastrous flooding situation, and, indeed, to those who may yet be caught.

I declare an interest in that I own land in Essex. It is always possible that some of that land may become eligible for development and it is right that the House should know that.

The background to the Statement is perhaps not quite as rosy as the Minister stated because the Government have seen annual construction fall to a level below that in the 1920s. There has, of course, been some improvement since then, which is a great relief, but the annual housing construction rate is only a little over 50 per cent of what it was when I first entered local government. We cannot be easy about the present situation and, in the circumstances, I did not find it odd that the Prime Minister, in his programme statement last week, focused on housing and planning.

Among other things, he referred to brownfield sites. I recall that that was included in an early policy statement by the Labour Government after the 1997 election. The former Deputy Prime Minister made much of what was going to be done—and I acknowledge that it has been very successful with brownfield sites—but there is nothing particularly new about that. There is going to be a review of government and publicly owned properties and the same comments apply; these were early adoptions of policy by the Labour Government. They have shown success but restating that does not take us forward.

The Prime Minister referred to some 550 central government-owned sites with a capacity for 100,000 new homes and local government-owned sites for another 60,000 homes. The Statement refers, quite rightly, to the existing 1.8 million sites that are already planned and that the Government would like to have supplied 3 million new homes by 2020. If my arithmetic is somewhere near correct, that merely leaves us with 1,040,000 sites to find over the next decade and a half.

I accept that this is the inevitable result of the planning system which, at the moment, is operating to rather too short a timescale, but the real question is: what steps are the Government taking to discuss and get the agreement of local authorities to these new figures, which I am prepared to accept are valid? There has been no resolution of the difference between local government and central government on this matter so far. In my view, the Government’s handling of the issue has been somewhat inept but, without a degree of consensus, there is not much hope of achieving the Government’s target.

The Government’s social housing programme is also welcome. Extra funding for 30,000 plus houses will be extremely useful and I acknowledge that it will do a great deal to expand construction in this field. However, social housing, by definition, needs to be where it is wanted; it needs to be in town centres and so on. Looking at sites such as old hospital park sites in green belts, brownfield sites such as redundant airfields, or the Government’s suggested publicly owned sites, will not help on the social housing front. Social housing needs to have easy access to the work places of the people who occupy them. Again, the question is: what work is being done to arrive at agreement with local government on this issue?

Finally, I turn to the difficult issue of building on flood plains. I accept that it has a long historical background. Towns were inevitably built next to river crossings because that was where people gathered, and they have grown from that. There has always been a risk of flooding. Things can be done to ameliorate that but in the end, if the good Lord treats us in a hard way, there will be floods.

What is being done to deal with additional flood protection? Much more could be done using artificial flood plains and better construction techniques. More could be done to protect the essential services in particular, such as electricity, gas, water and food, so that their sites were not affected by floods and those services would continue to be available. Part of the difficulty with the present situation is the breakdown of services because of the inability to protect those aspects of supply.

That is quite enough from me. I hope the Minister will be able to answer these points, because it is an essential facet of resolving this problem that there has to be a high degree of agreement.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the important Statement on housing. I join with others in sympathising with all those who are suffering the terrible flooding in many parts of the country. I declare an interest as a member of Berwick Borough Council, which is a housing authority.

The Statement seemed to gloss over the past 10 years. The housing situation has not suddenly come upon us, nor has it crept up on us; it has been obvious to quite a few of us during that time. It started when the present Prime Minister became Chancellor and, for the first two years, stuck to the Conservative spending plans on housing. Indeed, as time went on, the amount he spent became less than the money spent by the Conservatives in the last years of the John Major Government. I found that extraordinary, because the huge increases in house prices meant that the Chancellor was getting hefty sums of money in stamp duty that he had had no idea he would get. He missed a trick there, but I have said that many times before in this House.

For most of those 10 years, it has been obvious to most people that household formation was outstripping housing supply at quite a rate. The Statement says that house building is at its highest for 17 years. That may be so, but we know that most of the houses are not affordable to anyone any more, and they are certainly not the right type of houses in the right places. We applaud efforts to build more affordable homes, but what steps will the Government take to keep them affordable? I commend to the Minister a system in south Shropshire, which Liberal Democrat councillors came up with and which I suspect civil servants know about, called “golden shares”, to ensure that houses are kept affordable for local people in the future. I suggest that where homes are built on surplus public sector land—I think that about 550 sites are currently owned by the Government—community land trusts are set up. That means that when the houses are sold on for the first time, they remain affordable. I would like the Minister to reply to that, because it is important. Otherwise we will end up in exactly this position, with houses not being affordable.

The Statement also highlighted the role of empty properties. Again, many of us have been working on that issue for years, and we had to drag the Government kicking and screaming to change the council tax regime on empty properties. Then what did they do? They gave the money to the county councils, which are not housing authorities. In our authority we do not get it all back to spend on local housing. Another issue that I have raised many times is VAT on repairs. Many empty properties need repairs and refurbishment, and whereas there is no VAT on new build, there is 17.5 per cent tax on repairs.

I welcome the Government’s recognition at last that local authorities best understand the housing needs in their area. But I am a bit confused about the accountability for the spatial strategy. When, some years ago, we dealt in this House with the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill that gave the regional assemblies the power to deal with the spatial strategies, I did not expect the regional assemblies to disappear, which I now understand will happen by 2010. However, the Government will now consult them on the new spatial strategies.

I hope that the Government are clearer in their mind than I am, given all the things that have happened. One of the references to rural areas is to consult the regional assemblies. In my part of the country, north Northumberland, we are allowed to build about 80 houses a year. We need more than that to keep our communities sustainable, yet the power to influence the spatial strategy has been virtually nil. I hope that the Government will take note of this. In some areas, 50 per cent of houses are second homes. I do not know what the Government are planning to do about that—there was nothing about it in the Statement. Everybody recognises that where 50 per cent of homes are second homes, a lot of facilities, such as post offices and schools, disappear.

Over the past 10 years, social housing has been a Cinderella area, not in terms of refurbishment but of new build. I welcome the fact that the Government are trying to do something about it. Again, this situation has not crept up on us—we have lost lots of social housing because of the right to buy and the inability of local authorities to replace those houses. The Government again came late to that.

On green homes, Scandinavia and northern Europe have for years been building far more environmentally friendly houses than we have. I welcome the Government’s conversion but, by golly, it has taken a long time. But there is no mention in the Statement of the existing homes, many of which are very energy-inefficient. I know that the Government have put money towards that. In another place, my Private Member’s Bill tried to do more about it—but that was 12 years ago and we still need to do something. Again, the VAT is important in this regard.

Will the Minister really look at some of the things that the Government are setting up? I have just returned to local government after about 14 years, and what strikes me is the bureaucratic systems that the Government are setting up. I notice at least four more in this Statement—the community infrastructure fund, the housing and planning delivery grant, new local housing companies and authority special venture vehicles. The Government are consulting on the rules on the treatment of rents and receipts from new homes. I can remember the days when local authorities had a lot more freedom; they knew what the people in their areas wanted and they built some very good homes. I hope that the Government will listen to local authorities—please, please do not make the situation more bureaucratic than it already is.

My Lords, I think that I detected in those responses a welcome for some of the things that the Government are doing, although in some cases it appears to be a question of too little, too late. Nevertheless, I think that there is a consensus across the House of how important it is to meet the needs of young people who are falling off the property ladder or not even being able to get on it, and to address the very serious problem of housing.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, criticised the fact that we may have glossed over the history of this problem. It is not recent; over the past 30 years, there has been a 30 per cent increase in household formation and a 50 per cent drop in housebuilding. The problem is not 10 years old; it goes back much further. But in the past 10 years patterns of family change and formation have been accelerated and different. The major pressure is coming from single people choosing to live alone, and many of those are now part of our ageing population, so we have new pressures and patterns in the system to which we must respond.

There has been a significant increase in housebuilding in the past year, with a net addition of 185,000 homes. It is therefore important that we look seriously at the history, but also acknowledge the significance and scope of what we are trying to do. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for listing some of our efforts on brownfield sites and in bringing forward public land. Not only do we have a good record on brownfield development, but surplus land now goes much further. We are looking for new approaches to toughen up the register of surplus land, which will have to be much more reflective of housing policy. In planning policy statement 3, we made clear to local authorities the need to bring forward land for five and 15 years’ supply, so that they can predict and plan much more robustly. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, described the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit and some other organisations as bureaucratic, but they are about delivery. The Community Infrastructure Fund has delivered just over £1 billion to the new growth areas in this country for infrastructure. We have these vehicles for a purpose. I can assure noble Lords that we are not in the business of inventing new bureaucracies.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, asked what steps we are taking to ensure a reconciliation of ambitions between local authorities and national government. That is an important question. The final part of my Statement was about the need for a partnership between everybody who is concerned about housing supply. It is entirely proper that the Government should set ambitious targets for housing, because it is their responsibility to enable people to live in a decent home. That is where the buck stops. The process of deciding with local authorities and regional organisations where, and what sort of, houses should be built is tested in public and by examination, and negotiated through the regional spatial strategies. It is a robust process over which local authorities have great influence.

We said in the announcement on the sub-national review last week that planning would move to the regional development agencies—the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, made a point on this—because we need a regional economic strategy that brings everything together, including housing, planning and skills. That has implications for the regional assemblies, but it has implications also for local authorities being able to play a much more robust role in the beginning. That is what the Local Government Association wanted.

On social housing, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that, wherever we build, we have to have a proportion of affordable housing. No developer is going to get away with not building affordable housing. Social housing is as much needed in rural areas as it is in inner cities.

We take the risk of flooding very seriously, as the previous Statement made clear. We must prevent it. Our new flooding statement, PPS 25 of last December, pointed to the need to ensure that flood risk from all sources—not just from rivers but also, particularly in today’s instances, from surface water—is taken into account at all stages of the planning process. Inappropriate development must be avoided; development must be directed away from high-risk areas. We have announced a review of the lessons learnt from the 2007 floods and will see whether there are implications from its findings. Yes, we need to make space for water as well as to deal with floods, just as the noble Lord described. Our building in the Thames Gateway and other growth areas is tested against that.

I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, drew innovative schemes to our attention. Throughout what we have said about local authorities’ capacity to build more in different ways with different partners, we are looking for and at innovation.

I was asked about equity sharing. We aim to help 120,000 people through equity-sharing arrangements by 2010. In addition, we have come forward with a new product, which involves a government equity loan of 17.5 per cent, which will make matters even easier.

I have spoken about the accountability of the spatial strategy. I was asked about green homes. Our ambition for new homes is simply for them to be carbon free by 2016. The homes in which we live now can be hugely improved, which is why we have brought forward energy performance certificates and why we are advocating better ways of conserving water in different systems. In addition, schemes such as Warm Front will help people not only to reduce their bills but also to be safer and warmer through the winter.

I hope that I have addressed most of the questions raised by noble Lords. I shall certainly make sure that I do so in writing if I have not.

My Lords, does not this initiative give us the opportunity of dealing with the scandal of the abuse of affordable housing targets, particularly in London? Now that the GLA Bill is nearly through, will my noble friend reconsider my proposal in Committee on the GLA Bill, which was based on detailed research of this abuse in London, for footage percentage, and not unit percentage, calculations to be used in affordable housing decisions in London, because we are simply not getting the number of units that we need?

My Lords, my noble friend made a powerful contribution in Committee. I am still not completely convinced that it is the solution, but I can assure him that we have read his contribution seriously, particularly the cases that he brought to our attention. I will get back to him on that.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of the Rural Development Commission, along with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and as the owner of a farm and houses in Suffolk. Has the Minister had the opportunity of reading an important article by Sir Simon Jenkins in the Sunday Times of 15 July and, if so, does she agree with any of the substantive points that he made? Given that the Government have an obligation to try to ensure that the people of this country are decently housed, does she recognise that this really should mean increasing the supply of rented housing, where the occupant rather than the house is subsidised? Does she recognise that there can be no obligation, if only because it is unachievable, to ensure that everyone who wants to own their home can do so regardless of their means, because to offer to do so will lead only to disappointment? Lastly, has the MoD included RAF Northolt in its six sites on offer for brownfield development?

My Lords, owing to the courtesy of the noble Lord, I am familiar with a little of the article by Simon Jenkins, who has been a consistent critic of government housebuilding policies. On reading it quickly, I do not think that there is much in it with which I agree, but, if the noble Lord will allow, I will come back to him with a proper response. The article states:

“The reality is that Britons squander their limited living space more than any country in Europe”.

I do not agree with that, having seen how other countries in Europe build with enormous profligacy across enormous spaces. I am sure that I will find other things to disagree with as I read on. If we do not do anything more than we are doing at the moment in this country, by 2016—it may be 2026, but I will have to check—the ratio of house prices to earnings will be 10 to one. We cannot afford not to do anything about it. The noble Lord’s point about the importance of rented housing was absolutely correct. We need all sorts of different forms of housing. We must look seriously at that sector as well. I cannot give an answer to his question about RAF Northolt. I shall write to him and give him an idea of the identified sites of which we are aware.

My Lords, the Statement mentions building council homes. Why is it therefore necessary to create local authority special venture vehicles to do so, rather than allow local authorities to build local authority homes? Secondly, will the Minister say something about the infrastructure that will be required to enable the development of large sites such as those belonging to the Ministry of Defence? I do not mean just transport; I mean everything that is required to make a community function, including schools, health centres and so on. Thirdly—and this is also an infrastructure point—noble Lords have mentioned flooding and building on flood plains. Does the Minister accept that the intensification in town centres will have an impact on drainage and sewerage and that everywhere with a Victorian sewerage system must therefore be high risk?

My Lords, on why we need special ventures and do not simply tell local authorities to go ahead and build, we have taken the decision over some time now that the better role for local authorities is a strategic one, in determining needs and provision rather than building. Other people build and develop better, not least the housing associations, which can borrow money on the open market. That is why, for example, we have been able to raise £19 billion for the decent homes strategy, which uses the local authorities.

The special venture vehicles, along with the new local housing partnerships, are new ways in which to raise capacity and increase the role of local authorities in innovative ways. Some local authorities have been very open with us about the lack of capacity. This is what will make sense with regard to deliverability.

As for infrastructure, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The sort of infrastructure necessary to be planned into the new growth areas is why, for example, more than £1 billion in growth area funds and £200 million from the Community Infrastructure Fund have been awarded so far. Those sorts of infrastructure are accompanied by massive investment in education, schools, new health centres, transport and so on. This is very much a coherent programme and we are very well aware of the implications. The Treasury cross-cutting review on infrastructure is looking at how to pull all this together.

Building communities is about more than building physical infrastructure. It is about community building: building memory in and building activity for young people, with safe green spaces, and creating spacious places to live, which you can do even in dense communities. That is what people want. Throughout this Green Paper and planning policy statement 3, we make it absolutely clear that we are not in the business of building homes or estates. We are building communities, which need lungs and space to thrive. That is important, as is the question of quality, which runs through this Green Paper.

The noble Baroness asked about flood plains and town centres. There is an issue here about intensification of use, but it is not confined to town centres. One reason why the water companies are addressing the issue of repair to such an extent is the real need in that regard. Drainage and sewerage systems are as important as, if not more important than, providing fresh water supplies.

On the figure that I gave about the income ratios, the ratio between prices and earnings will be 10 to one by 2026.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement made by my honourable friend the Minister for Housing in another place. We should be generous in extending our welcome to an additional £3 billion investment in the next spending period on social housing, and £8 billion in the period to 2016.

I draw attention to two aspects of the Statement that are extremely welcome. We are unusual but not unique in this country in not having a single mechanism for wholesaling public sector assets and land. Many other countries do that before they decide whether public assets are surplus. The Statement moves us a long way forward in giving the Register of Surplus Public Sector Land some teeth. It is excellent news that we are putting an end to the practice of selling public sector land and assets with no regard to housing policy. That is extremely welcome.

I also welcome the return of local councils sponsoring developments in their local areas. Will my noble friend reassure us that we are talking about not a return to wholesale mono-tenure council housing of the type that we saw in the 1950s and 1960s but rather a return to local authorities sponsoring mixed developments in their areas, with a whole range of tenures and houses for sale in communities?

We should remember that over the past 40 to 50 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, rightly pointed out, there was a decrease in construction. But over that long-running trend the private housebuilders have held up the numbers; the withdrawal from publicly sponsored housing almost entirely accounts for that decrease in housing numbers. So it is very welcome that after 20 years the Government have decided to do this. I thank my noble friend again for the Statement.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for raising those issues. I take the opportunity to thank her on behalf not only of the Government but of everyone who wants a decent home for the sort of work that English Partnerships has done for the near and long-term future in bringing land forward and being so proactive and supportive of these ambitions. She is right in saying that we have not had a very toothy register so far, but we will have one now and it will make a big difference.

I can certainly give her the reassurance that we are not in the business of building housing estates. One thing that the Green Paper makes clear is that we very much want local authorities to build mixed developments. We do not want ghettos or just flats being built; we want family homes, large family homes and mixed developments, so that people of all incomes and tenures can coexist harmoniously together. That is very much a clear steer for future building. Some of the new settlements—in the eco-towns, for example—will be extremely broad in terms of their tenure arrangements.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the information that I have is correct and that overseas or non-British citizens who invest in property in this country do not have to pay stamp duty or capital gains when they sell their property? Can she confirm, too, that British citizens resident overseas who sell their property before returning do not have to pay capital gains tax? If that is correct, it obviously has implications for housing.

My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is right, but I am not absolutely certain and I shall have to write to him when I have made absolutely sure. I shall certainly write if I am wrong.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that often it is simply the lack of infrastructure funding, particularly for transport, not the issue of targets, that has held back the delivery? Today we are completing some 40 per cent fewer houses a year than we were in the 1970s. To give an example of why targets are not the problem, in my own local authority area in Kent we have a nine-year land bank available now of housing land allocated in local plans, but it is not being built on simply because of the lack of transport infrastructure. Eighteen months ago, the IPPR report said that transport infrastructure today was less than it was in the early 1990s. Furthermore, does the Minister agree that the much more devolved system enjoyed by European countries in relation to transport infrastructure, economic development and housing powers has been shown to deliver more houses and to keep supply in much better balance with demand?

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord has a case there. Building in transport infrastructure, when one is trying to get release of land, is nearly always very complicated. You can see that across the growth areas. However, the highways agencies are working very successfully and more effectively now than they have been. The noble Lord will know that we have looked at different ways in which to strengthen these sorts of arrangements through the sub-national review.

I must correct something that I said earlier. The figure of £1 billion that I gave for communities infrastructure is the amount for our own funding from CLG from 2003 to 2008. I may have given the impression that that was an annual figure.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government, the Minister and her ministerial colleagues on the range of policies that are contained in the Green Paper. She ought not to be put off by the critics who say, with hindsight, what has not been achieved. In my view, the Government are wise to acknowledge that much more could be done, but, at the same time, the House should recognise that a great deal has been done and that what has been said promises even more, especially on affordable housing. Will the Minister look at that situation?

When the right-to-buy policy came in in 1979, it was very popular, not least because those who already had the largesse of a tenancy from a local authority had the additional bonus, if they sold the property¸ of receiving large cash sums. In Edmonton, where I was Member of Parliament, we found over the years that properties that were bought for £7,000 or £8,000 were changing hands for over £100,000 in a very short space of time. The greatest boon that the Government can give, through agencies and directly, is tenancies to those who are desperate for a house. That ought not to include a hidden bonus that, at some time in the future, they will be able to sell it and get hundreds of thousands of pounds. Is the Minister aware of that aggravation and can she say something about readjustments to the present policy? It was a bribe then and it is a bribe now.

My Lords, I shall have to disappoint my noble friend. For very good reasons, we remain committed to home ownership as an aspiration. We have supported the principle of the right to buy, although, over the years, we have changed the conditions. We do not have any plans for changing the terms of the right-to-buy policy, but I know that he will be very pleased by our commitment to new affordable housing: at least 70,000 by 2010; 45,000 new homes each year, or 50 per cent more than this year; and £8 billion over three years. It is a very significant investment, which will help the kind of people about whom he has always been concerned throughout his long political career.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the Minister’s subsequent remarks about the importance of quality in building and of building for communities, not just housing for its own sake. Does she agree that in the dash for housing it is important not to neglect quality and to remember the importance of the human scale of development? From what she has said, I am sure that she does agree with that, but I invite her to recognise that, if we are to live up to the aspirations of which she has spoken in the Green Paper, a change of policy will be required in certain areas. I am certainly aware of proposed developments in the area of London in which I live where those principles will not be adhered to unless we see a change of heart among those who sponsor them.

I know from travelling around the world, as I do, that it is possible to build high-rise buildings on a substantial scale and yet imaginatively, in a way that is congenial for communities to live in. I have just been to New York where there are in busy streets wonderful refuges of small open spaces with water features and so forth, which make living in those areas a delight, compared with some of the developments of which I have spoken and which are proposed. I invite the Minister to recognise that if we proceed with faceless tower-block buildings, we are likely to have the sort of problems that have been experienced in the Paris banlieues on our hands in a generation to come.

My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord. As we said in the Green Paper, we have to ensure that we are as conscious of quality as we are of quantity. We shall certainly expand our partnership with CABE, which we have had over many years, and which has been invaluable in terms of articulating what we think of as good design and quality. I am sure that that will be very successful. The noble Lord is absolutely right about small open spaces. In recent years, one achievement has been the renaissance of our parks. In building new communities, whether in airfield sites or eco-towns, we will have a wonderful opportunity to pioneer new ways of living and new types of community living. I hope that in due course Scandinavians may come here, rather than us going to Scandinavia, to see what can be achieved on sustainability and beauty.