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Volume 720: debated on Thursday 8 July 2010


Asked by

My Lords, we recognise the need for new homes and are committed to increasing housing supply. We will take a bottom-up rather than top-down approach so, instead of imposing unwanted developments on local communities and creating opposition to new housing, we intend to provide financial incentives to local authorities that build additional housing. This will allow local communities really to benefit from the proceeds of growth.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her valiant Answer, but it is estimated that over 1.5 million households need affordable homes, yet the Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, is reported to have said that he sees little or no role for public housing. Where are the new affordable homes to come from, including in the countryside, where only 13 per cent of homes are affordable, and why is it fair to cut the grant to the Homes and Communities Agency by £230 million when this will deprive the most needy of an affordable roof over their heads?

My Lords, the HCA, like every other aspect of public authorities, has been affected by the disastrous financial position in which we have been left. Like everyone else, it has to take its reduction. Of course, we are going to try to support affordable housing as much as we can. The House will know that under the last Government only 29,000 affordable houses were built each year, which is well below the figure of 39,000 under the previous Conservative Government. We will do as much as we can to support affordable housing, including when private developers get planning permissions.

My Lords, I declare an interest as I have always let property. Is the Minister aware that there is no encouragement for residential landlords who would perhaps buy and do up some of these very rundown properties and provide necessary accommodation? Does the scheme still work whereby local councils work with private landlords to provide such accommodation? That would be a way in which to make up for the shortfall in what is being built.

My Lords, local authorities work with private landlords in a number of ways. Some help to put people who are homeless into the private sector, and others work on an “empty homes” basis. I do not think there is any thought of changing any of that. Certainly, the private sector provides a valuable service in housing people, although there must be some restrictions on the amount of rent that people pay.

The Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that public expenditure cuts will be deeper in the north-east of England and Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Can the Minister tell the House whether this blatant discrimination against the people of the north-east, and their services, will apply to the social housing sector?

My Lords, under the Government’s plans, the decisions about housing will be passed down to the lowest level, to local authorities, and it will be up to people in the north-east and elsewhere to decide themselves what housing they need.

Are there any plans to bring back into use the almost 1 million empty properties that are being wasted in this country at the moment?

Once again, my Lords, this is a matter for local authorities, particularly with their own housing. I know that some local authorities have not made the maximum use of it, and of course we will encourage them to do that. The private sector will still be encouraged to ensure that empty properties in the private sector are brought back into use. I think we would all agree that empty property is not desirable, by any stretch of the imagination, and it denies homes to people who need them.

My Lords, will the Minister please share with us the coalition Government’s assessment of the impact on homelessness and the need for social housing as a consequence of the proposed draconian—indeed, wicked—cuts in housing benefit?

My Lords, there will be reductions in housing benefit via a cap, but I am sure everyone will note that the real-terms costs of housing benefit have risen from £14 billion 10 years ago to £21 billion today. I think we would all agree that that is completely unsustainable. The measures announced in the Budget will refocus the welfare system on supporting those who should be working while continuing to provide for those most in need. Housing benefit reform will help to make better use of all our social housing, for example by freeing up larger homes for overcrowded families.

Some noble Lords will have read that up to £2,000 a week is being spent on housing benefit in the private sector. That is well beyond the means of all but a very few of the richest people in this country.

My Lords, as the Minister knows, affordable housing is needed mostly for vulnerable families with children. Will the Government ensure that any new building programme will include appropriate facilities for schools and other community resources?

My Lords, again, it will be for local authorities to make sure that when major developments are being designed and developed and planning issues come up that appropriate infrastructure is included and that there are facilities. It makes absolute sense for them to be included in large developments, because without schools and infrastructure there is no community. There is no disagreement about that. As I have said before, this has all been passed down to local authority level. Local authorities will make their own decisions against their own plans and will know their own needs.

My Lords, will my noble friend take a particular interest in a most deserving group? The whole House knows that many of our servicemen coming back from Afghanistan will sadly not be able to serve again and will be in desperate need of housing.

My Lords, I feel the sympathy not only around the House but in the country. I will of course take that back and ensure that it is well noted.

My Lords, the Minister has said that the coalition Government will do the best that they can on housing. How is that expected to be done when other measures that they are taking will result in a lot of construction workers being unemployed?

My Lords, the amount of people in construction work will depend on the amount of housebuilding, which will depend on the recovery of the economy, which the Government have set out to achieve.