I beg to move,
That this House has considered investment in local infrastructure to secure new homes in the East Midlands.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I welcome the opportunity to debate this important topic, particularly from a regional perspective, with Members from all parties who have joined us. I welcome the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), my constituency neighbour, and the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris). I welcome everybody on the Government side, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) to my hon. Friends the Members for Charnwood (Edward Argar) and for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer), as well as everybody else who is not from the east midlands but who has come to listen to this important debate none the less.
We all know that the United Kingdom faces a huge house building challenge over the coming years. With a growing population and strong economic growth over the last two decades, the number of houses built in this country has lagged behind the number needed to ensure that people have access to affordable homes to rent or buy to live in. The ability and aspiration to own a home, or the ability to rent a decent one, are a cornerstone of our democracy. It is usually the largest purchase that we ever make, and it roots us in our communities, gives us control over the place in which we live and allows us over time to accrue the capital that gives us the freedom to do as we wish in our lives.
Despite having cautioned against it in a previous debate, I will refer to polling to make my argument. Polling consistently shows that, given a free choice, 80% to 90% of people would ideally like to own a house if they could. Interestingly, that desire has only increased over time. According to Ipsos MORI’s long-term tracker, those born before the wars were slightly less likely to aspire to own a home than those in subsequent generations.
However, the aspiration to own a home does not always equate to the ability to do so. Home ownership rates have been falling for a number of years; according to the labour force survey, just under two thirds of people were homeowners at the end of 2016, compared with nearly 70% 10 years earlier. Although home ownership rates have been higher in the east midlands than in the country as a whole, they have also drifted down slightly over the past 10 years, from just over 70% to just under it.
Although that headline movement is challenging enough, the actual distribution of that ownership has also shifted significantly over the past 10 years between different groups of people in our country, particularly by age. One of the most concerning trends is the reduction in home ownership for people my age and below. The likelihood of owning a home for those aged between 18 and 34 has fallen from more than half in 2006 to just over a third.
Capitalism works only when someone has the ability to accrue capital. For too many people at the moment, particularly those in the younger generation, their aspiration to accrue capital is not matched by their ability to do so. We all know that we have a problem; it has been debated many times in this place. Although the roots of all problems are usually more complicated than they look, there is a general acceptance that the issue here can be diagnosed: demand remains, but supply has fallen behind. As the Secretary of State stated in his housing White Paper earlier this year:
“This country doesn’t have enough homes. That’s not a personal opinion or a political calculation. It’s a simple statement of fact.”
The population is growing—by some estimates, more than 210,000 households are created every single year—yet the number of new houses being built has not kept up with that demand in any meaningful way for a number of years. In fact, until last year it was more than a decade since that number was hit. To find a time when we consistently exceeded that volume of 210,000 homes, we have to go much further back. Last year we had a breakthrough, with 217,000 new homes built as part of the Government’s target of achieving 1 million new homes by 2020. I welcome that, but we know that we have a significant amount of work to do to rebuild and to realise the home ownership aspirations of so many of our constituents.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. The specific topic does not relate to my constituency, but the general issue resonates with me. Does he agree that not only does investment provide affordable homes for families in desperate need, but the actual construction of the homes, which perhaps we do not focus on, provides jobs and an influx of spending power into the local economy? There are two wins: houses for people who need them, and jobs that boost the economy.
I completely agree. House building is important for home ownership and for helping people to rent and put down roots, but also for the economic growth and the jobs that come with house building in the first place.
There is a general consensus that increased house building is needed, both to house our growing population but also, I hope, to fulfil the home ownership aspirations I have talked about.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He made an important point about how long it has been since home ownership kept up with demand. The truth is that home ownership has never kept up with demand, except for those times when Governments have built a significant number of homes. It is not in the interests of the house building industry to satisfy demand. Does he see a greater role for arms of the Government—whether local government or others—in satisfying our housing crisis?
There is a consensus that more homes need to be built. There are many ways in which they can be built; some will be via state intervention and some will be via increased support for private building. I welcome them all. The reality is that we have to ensure that significant numbers of homes are built, and the Government are committed to that. The output is what is important to me, rather than necessarily the process, so long as the quality of those homes is at the level we want. The hon. Gentleman and I both know from our neighbouring constituencies that many of the problems with house building have come from houses that were poorly designed and built 30, 40 or 50 years ago, which we are now having to spend significant amounts of money rebuilding or renovating as a result.
In the east midlands, the aspiration to own a house, and therefore the need to build more houses, is just as fervent as it is in any other region of our country. That desire is propelled by the fastest growth rates outside London and the south-east, and by an underlying economic and industrial strength, which the region has always been proud of.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of home ownership, and indeed the economic growth in the east midlands. However, communities in my constituency, such as East Goscote and Queniborough, are very concerned about the potential for speculative applications in the wrong places, due to the council temporarily falling below its five-year land supply, as the council would normally deem application in those villages to be inappropriate. Does he agree that the key to getting this right, and to ensuring local support for more housing, is to build in the right places, with the right mix for the area to meet local needs, not in places where the infrastructure simply is not in place to support additional housing?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I will move on to that point later in my speech. I too have a number of villages in my constituency that are affected by speculative house building. The important point, which I hope is the message that will come out from this debate, is that we need more houses, but we need them in the right place and we need to have local community consent in order to ensure that they are built.
The east midlands benefits from its strategic location, its workforce, its skills base, its good strategic connectivity, its strong supply chains and its reputation. It is an area that gets on with it. It is one of those quiet, industrious and energetic motors of the wider United Kingdom economy. Unemployment is lower than the national average and employment is higher. We are privileged to be the home of great cities such as Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Northampton and Nottingham. We have East Midlands Airport and, in my own county, world-leading manufacturers such as Toyota, Bombardier and Rolls-Royce.
Over the past 30 years, my constituency has transformed itself into a manufacturing, logistics and service centre. As somebody who comes from the area, I am hugely proud of that. We are propelled by small and medium-sized business, the aspiration to do well and the desire to succeed and take advantage of the opportunities before us. For example, the Worcester Bosch factory is home to 300 workers in Clay Cross, the second-largest town in North East Derbyshire. The factory has been in our area for many decades. A few years ago it had only 100 employees but, following investment, support and increased market demand, it now has 300 workers and the number of oil-fired boilers coming off its production line has increased from 30,000 to 50,000 a year. The factory is a market leader and is showing the drive, ability and verve that is the hallmark of the east midlands. We are a “get on with it” constituency in a “can do” region, supporting a growth-driven and aspirational country.
We are also making significant strides on housing. Last year almost 15,000 new properties were built in the east midlands. After the south-west, that was the highest number of completions in the UK on a proportionate basis, based on the existing number of households in our area. That is more than the north-east and the north-west, and—for a proud region with the usual healthy competition, I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) will not mind my saying—more than our friends across the border in Yorkshire and the Humber. However, if we are to meet the Government’s laudable objective of increasing the supply of homes, and therefore increasing the proportion of our constituents who have the opportunity to buy a home, we need to continue to assess and debate the challenges that prevent that from happening. That is the purpose of this debate.
Housing is a controversial topic on the doorsteps of Eckington, Killamarsh, Dronfield, Clay Cross and all the other towns and villages in my part of the world. Most of the residents I speak to recognise and support the Government’s objective of building more houses and their recognition of the importance of ensuring that the next generation can aspire to own their own home and have the same opportunities afforded to them. Many residents have personal experiences of sons or daughters who cannot get on the housing ladder, or perhaps they themselves are years away from doing so. Some of that is solved laterally, by being willing to move a few miles further out than would be ideal, by being willing to wait longer, or by the famous bank of mum and dad—I have to admit that I benefited from that in a small way when I bought my first property a few years ago. The desire to own is real and it continues to burn bright, irrespective of age or the place in which we live. Yet there is also real frustration about the way the house building process works and how the planning process manifests itself in the localities.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and the strong case he is making. Does he share my sadness that too often communities seem pitched against the developer and it becomes a battle of wills as to who will get what they want? One way around that, much in line with what my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) said, might be for the community to be the developer through the local authority. The local authority would then have a greater stake in ensuring that the right infrastructure is in place to allow the development to live sympathetically in the community, because it will continue to have that relationship with the present and future communities.
I agree that communities and developers can often be pitched against each other—I have seen that in my constituency and will talk about it later. For me, it is not about who builds the houses; it is about the consent to build them in the first place. That is the challenge. We have a good planning system as a whole. I wholeheartedly welcome the Localism Act 2011, but the reality is that it has to be implemented locally in a way that works, and in my part of the world it is the council that has not taken the leadership over the past 10 to 15 years. We have not had a local plan in North East Derbyshire since 2005. I would argue, from my experience, that that is where the problem has been created, because it leads to speculative planning applications that completely undermine the cause of house building in our part of the world. There is also a failure of leadership to say where housing should or should not be built, which engenders the cynicism that can cause the kinds of problems that the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) has referred to.
In North East Derbyshire we want to build new houses—people accept that we need to build more houses. As the hon. Member for Nottingham North indicated, there is huge frustration in my part of the world about the local plan. We have been without a local plan since 2005—it has still not been updated, despite several attempts. North East Derbyshire District Council is one of only 15 local authorities in the entire country being called out for failing relating to their local plan. Over the past four years that has encouraged the kind of speculative house building that hon. Members have already referred to.
The beautiful village of Ashover in my constituency has been fighting speculative housing applications for four years. Its settlement limits have been pretty consistent for 40 years, yet a field that for centuries has been used for pasture and grazing will now receive 40 houses. That is not the fault of local residents, or because those residents do not recognise that more housing needs to be built, but because the council did not get its local plan in and the five-year housing land supply could not be evidenced, which meant that those speculative applications could be pushed forward. That community had decided through its own neighbourhood plan to find more houses than will be built on that field, which it was trying to save in order to preserve the overall look and integrity of the village. I find that very sad. There are many examples of that across my constituency, as I am sure there are in others. We have to get the local plan right if there is to be consent in the first place for the house building that we all know we need.
There is also frustration about the lack of infrastructure and forward thinking, because infrastructure sometimes comes only after the house building has begun. To some extent that is a function of the planning system, which we all accept and recognise is a necessity. I recognise that capital spending on schools, health and other public services is unlocked through the provision of housing in the first place, but it is the strategic infrastructure—the next level up—that is particularly important. Some of the problems are solved by the planning process, however imperfectly, but many are not.
In my part of the world, roads and railways are a real problem. Staveley, which lies partly in the north of my constituency and partly in that of the hon. Member for Chesterfield, is a former mining town that has huge potential and is seeking to regenerate and rejuvenate over the next 10 to 20 years, building on its proud mining heritage and industrial past. It has been looking for a bypass for many years—I believe that one has been in the works since 1927. If we want the bypass to be built before the proposal celebrates its centenary, we need to shout about it at country, regional and county level, and as MPs, so that it can unlock Staveley’s potential.
Let me give another example. In the south of my constituency, just outside Chesterfield, is a stretch of the A61 that has been congested for many years—since I was growing up in a nearby village. It has experienced a significant increase in traffic over the past 10 years. In truth, it is a problem that will be difficult to solve. The county council has introduced some welcome changes through the local enterprise partnership, but they will not solve the underlying problem: a road that cannot cope with the amount of traffic on it.
The fundamental point is that even though the council has messed up its local plan and we are not building as many houses as we need in certain parts of north Derbyshire, there are plots around the A61 for up to 2,000 houses over the next 20 years, including brownfield sites for new houses on the old Biwater factory in Clay Cross and on the old Avenue coking works near where I live. Although people often do not want houses built near them, people in my part of the world generally recognise that those are the places where they should be built: brownfield sites with lots of potential that were once engines of growth in our area and can be so again. However, there is no point in building 2,000 new houses to the south of Chesterfield and creating jobs for the people in them if massive traffic jams on the A61 are going to stop them from getting between the two. We need to take a coherent approach to these problems.
The south of my constituency also used to have several railway stations—even my small village was proud to have its own station when it was a significant mining area—but they have all gone. Over the past eight or nine years, the Government have looked into improving and recreating rail opportunities and have put new investment into rail where possible—the former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin), is sitting next to me. I think there is a case for a new station in or around Clay Cross. That has been an aspiration for several years, and I hope that we can make it happen.
Solving congestion on the A61, creating a bypass that has been in the works for more than a century, investigating the potential for a new commuter station in areas that will grow and improve over the coming years—these are the projects that we need to consider in my part of the world to give people confidence that we are putting infrastructure in place. Other hon. Members will have equivalent examples from their constituencies.
A few weeks ago, I took the Transport Secretary around the south of my constituency. We looked at the Avenue coking works and then went down to Clay Cross to see where the old station used to be, near Tupton. He was very interested, and I am very grateful to him for coming to talk to us about it. I understand that these discussions take time, and I do not expect solutions to come quickly, but we have to start talking about the options so that solutions can emerge in the long term. Later in the day I took him up the A61, and what happened? We got into a massive traffic jam, which did my job for me: as well as demonstrating the problem, it gave me the time to explain it. He was a captive audience, because we were sitting there moving at 0 mph—a problem that my constituents experience daily.
[Ian Paisley in the Chair]
I know that the Government are doing hugely encouraging things on infrastructure. Since 2010 they have been at the forefront of pushing the case for increased investment in the regions and spending on new infrastructure projects that will benefit millions of people—unclogging roads, building rail stations, renovating hospitals and expanding schools. To the Government’s credit, we have seen some of that in Derbyshire over the past eight years. A new train station at Ilkeston, just down the road from my constituency, opened a few months ago and is already thriving, demonstrating what can be achieved through strategic planning. Recent improvements to the M1—a key artery that serves our region and is so important for our economic growth—include an additional lane to increase capacity.
As east midlands MPs, we should be hugely ambitious about what we and our region can achieve in the coming years. The Government are making huge progress on unleashing our economic potential and building the housing needed to support it. The east midlands is often a victim of its own success and its quiet determination to get on and get going. We remain stubbornly low in our infrastructure spending, particularly on roads and rail.
I know that regional comparisons are often misused by Members of Parliament, who take narrow figures and extrapolate from them all manner of evils that have befallen their area. I have therefore used only figures that show the east midlands in a good light—what we are doing to outperform, rather than why we have such issues. However, I hope that the Minister will allow me to point out that the east midlands is the lowest funded region for transport per head of population. Much is being achieved, and more will flow from those achievements in the coming years, but just because in the east midlands we sometimes prioritise getting on with things rather than shouting about them, I would not want the Minister to think that the Government do not need to focus on our infrastructure needs and on how we can propel and power progress over the next 20 or 30 years.
All MPs have asks to make, and I am no exception. We all recognise that many others are asking for support and that some of them may take priority—I do not envy the Government their job. I am not sure that we will ever solve all the constituency issues that I have raised today, but I certainly want to see how we can mitigate and make progress on some of our congestion problems. For example, I want to work with our local councils to get the bypass moving in the north of Chesterfield and unlock the opportunity to bring thousands of proper houses and jobs there.
I know that the Minister knows that the east midlands is open for business. I know that he knows that we are doing our bit and will do more in future. However, I also hope that he will remember us when we talk about the need for further spending to continue our economic growth. We accept the need for more housing and recognise that it needs to be built in the right place, but the east midlands knows that it needs the infrastructure to support that new housing. The Government are doing much, but I hope and am sure that in the coming years they will look favourably on us and do more.
It is nice to see you in the Chair, Mr Paisley. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) on his speech and on securing the debate. He is right that many of the issues he raised also apply to my constituency.
The hon. Gentleman focused on the need to achieve more house building starts. I entirely concur. Chesterfield has had huge success in attracting new sites for house building, and I am proud to have seen many new house building starts there over the past few years. The old football ground is now a housing estate, imaginatively called Spire Heights; fortunately the Spireites have a good new ground. The old rugby ground, where I used to run up and down, is now a housing estate called Rugby Drive; we have a very good rugby ground to replace it. The GKN cricket ground is also becoming a new housing estate.
Chesterfield is a very attractive destination for house building sites, but it faces many of the difficulties between residents and developers that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) raised. Interestingly, even on sites where just one or two houses are being built, there are often widespread problems. When it comes to getting planning permission, sometimes it seems more difficult to build two houses than 80 houses. That is a real issue.
It is important that we hold the Government’s feet to the fire on their record on house building. I find it incredible that a Conservative Government are overseeing the lowest number of new people becoming homeowners, as has been the case in recent years. It really is a significant flaw in the Government’s record.
I positively support the opportunity for people to get Help to Buy. A relative of mine is currently going through the process of getting on to the housing ladder through that scheme, and there is some value in it. However, there is a more fundamental issue, which I referred to previously: it is not in the interests of the house building industry for the number of houses being built to meet demand. We all know what happens if there is a shortage of supply—prices go up.
There is also a skills part of this conversation that has not really been referred to yet. At a time when far too many young people are in very insecure work and they do not have huge amounts of skills, it seems a tragedy that we are so short of the people who we need to be trained up in the construction industry. There is a skills part of this whole equation that is missing, and there is certainly a role for Government in that regard.
As a homeowner and mortgage-payer myself, I am not advocating in any way that we should try to orchestrate some kind of collapse in the value of house prices. However, there needs to be a recognition that if the average price of a new home is going to be six or seven times the average wage, it will be increasingly difficult for new people to get into the housing market. As I said in my intervention on the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire, there will be times when the house building industry is able to meet the level of demand, as it did at times in the early part of this century, but it many cases it will not. There is a role for Government there.
I entirely support people’s aspiration to own a home. I remember unlocking the door for the first time on the day I bought my first home, at the age of 22 or 23. I was a young man on a very modest wage, but I was able to afford a small two-bedroom cottage. It is a magical moment for someone when they buy their first home, so I do not ever want to undermine or underplay people’s aspiration to own their own home. However, at a time when there is so much homelessness and so many people are in insecure accommodation, we should recognise that there is also a real value to people securing their first council house and that council houses can also be a route towards home ownership. That part of the whole equation has also been lost.
In the debate on housing in the main Chamber yesterday, I said that the Government really should look at the issue of right to buy on brand new houses. That is because I know that in Chesterfield there will be a real desire to get more houses built; in a small way, the council are getting houses built. However, there is a real worry that if the council was to make a substantial development and get new people into all those new homes, within three or four years those houses would all be getting bought off and the council would be hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket. There is a role for Government in that regard.
Although I support right to buy in general as a principle, if councils were given a moratorium that said that in the case of new homes they did not need to have right to buy for the first however many years, we would actually start to see more houses being built. People would have a choice: they could either take up the opportunity to get a new council house that they recognise would not have the right to buy, or they could stay on the housing list for all the council houses that already exist, which are already massively over-subscribed.
That is something that the Government should think carefully about, as is allowing councils to borrow in order to build. If we are serious about ending the housing crisis but all we are doing is pushing the supply side and trying to make it easier for people to afford a house—even if there is some value in that—simply by effectively providing the deposit, then we will continue to fail to get the number of houses to meet demand. I urge the Government to consider more seriously the steps that can be taken to support councils to do more of this type of thing.
The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire also referred to infrastructure. Again, I do not find myself in disagreement at all with what he said about the need for infrastructure to keep pace with new housing developments. He alluded to a couple of specific infrastructure challenges that both his constituents and mine face on the A61 and the Staveley bypass, and I am very keen to work closely with him on both those issues.
I first came to Chesterfield when I worked at CCS Media, which was slap bang on the A61; it was just inside my constituency and on the border with the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. He is absolutely right to say what he did. Right back in 1990, I was sitting in my old Ford Cortina in exactly the kind of traffic jam that he took the Transport Secretary to see 27 years later. He is right to say that these key infrastructure problems exist.
The previous Government made a massive investment in junction 29A, which was a really welcome and positive step in generating hundreds of jobs out of Markham Vale. However, it is a shame that the work on the development of that junction did not continue through to include work at the Stavely bypass, which it should have done.
The Government need to be held to account on infrastructure spending. They came to power in 2010, at a time when all kinds of pressures were slowing the economy down. However, one of their first decisions—I still remember the former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, standing up to speak—was to cancel all the infrastructure spending. What we saw was two or three years in which all infrastructure spending was slowed down, and although the rhetoric changed from 2012 and 2013 onwards, the level of infrastructure spending in the period between 2010 and 2015 was pitiful. There is a real need for infrastructure, including transport infrastructure, and also for Government intervention in making sure that the people with skills are available, to make construction affordable and to get more houses and more civil engineering projects built.
I will also take up the point that the hon. Gentleman raised about the level of spending in the east midlands. In Chesterfield, we are slightly unusual in that we consider ourselves—I certainly do—to be northern but Derbyshire. The Government consider us to be from the east midlands, but, as I say, I think people in Chesterfield consider themselves more northern than east midlands.
Whatever people consider themselves, the truth is that the east midlands has been massively overlooked in terms of the spending. The hon. Gentleman referred to the amount of spending on both house building and transport. It is true that when someone from the east midlands comes down to London, they meet people who have 10 times more spent on their transport than people in the east midlands do.
There are a number of reasons for that. Part of it is that the east midlands does not fit neatly into successive Governments’ views about how to regenerate areas. I apologise in advance to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North, but we are not a region where the cities dominate and where it is all about the cities. Actually, we are a region of small towns and villages, predominantly—much as Nottingham and Derby might like to think that they are the spoke in the centre of our wheel, they are not entirely.
I remember being at an event where we got east midlands council leaders together. Up on the top table, as was always the case, were the leaders of Nottingham City Council and Derby City Council, and sitting quite a way back from them was the leader of Derbyshire County Council. Of course, the leader of Derbyshire County Council has far more constituents than either of the other two, given the size of that authority. Nevertheless, successive Governments have seen the cities as the way to regenerate regions. There needs to be much more understanding both of the role that towns play and of the make-up of the east midlands. I entirely endorse the point made by the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire about the need for greater infrastructure spending in the east midlands.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of small and medium-sized towns, but I urge him not to forget Lincoln, Northampton and Leicester as key cities of our region, alongside Nottingham and Derby.
I have no intention of forgetting anything. I was perhaps more Chesterfield-focused but, yes, it is important to remember those cities. We should also remember that the surrounding area of Chesterfield, with north-east Derbyshire and Bolsover, is a fairly coherent unit that is basically the same size as Derby city but does not have anything like the same sort of focus.
I want to pose a challenge regarding the desire for politicians to get together. There was a real opportunity with devolution. The Government spoke about it strongly in 2015 but my sense is that it has been petering out since the 2017 election. I was disappointed that Chesterfield did not join the Sheffield city region. There was a coherent unit there that had a long-standing track record of attracting infrastructure spending and there was some real dishonesty about the debate on the whole matter. Notwithstanding that, there is no replacement Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire deal, and I think that exactly what I saw in the run-up to 2015 is what I have seen since: petty political infighting, meaning that our area is unable to punch to its weight, let alone above it. I urge all political leaders to get together to ensure that we get a devolution deal for the north-east midlands.
I again congratulate the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire on securing the debate and raising many important points. Our area really needs to start performing to its potential.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) on securing the debate, moving the motion effectively and setting out clearly not just the problems facing his constituency but the solutions. Since he has been in this House, he has shown a positive way of working and of advocating for his constituency, which abuts mine.
I must admit that I do not quite recognise what the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) said about infrastructure spending. Infrastructure spending overall in the east midlands—in the whole country—has been very positive and very large indeed. At the moment, massive work is going on at Derby station. There is a £200 million investment, and a new platform and new signalling are being put in. That is real investment for the future of the east midlands. Likewise, there has been a lot of investment in Nottingham station. When I was Secretary of State for Transport, I closed the station for six weeks one summer and saw men working all hours to complete the job in that time. A fantastic job was done.
I want to talk about two other large infrastructure projects. One is the upgrading of the A38 around Derby, which is due to start in 2019. That will be another £250 million, to deal with the three islands around Derby, and it will significantly improve the infrastructure as far as the city is concerned. Secondly, I was pleased to be in Nottingham at the final opening of the dualling of the A453—long awaited but delivered by this Government —and the improvements to junction 24 of the M1. Those are big infrastructure projects that we have seen in the east midlands and I think they will make a big difference. There is no doubt that the upgrading of the M1 to a smart motorway, at the moment between junctions 23 and 25—it has already been done between junctions 25 and 28—causes a lot of disruption, but the long-term benefit is important, including for the region. So we can say that we have had a good share of the infrastructure investment made by the Government.
Does my right hon. Friend, who has vast experience of infrastructure spending, agree that it is not realistic to compare spending in a city with spending in a region? If the figures are conflated, a misleading balance is often produced.
I completely agree with the Minister. There is always talk about the investment that goes on in London. At the moment, there is Crossrail, which is a big investment. It is a project that has been wanted in the city for more than 40 years. I was a junior Transport Minister when Cecil Parkinson first announced he had the go-ahead, and it will be completed by the end of the year. Yes, it distorts the figures as far as the rest of the country is concerned, but we in the east midlands should be pleased about Crossrail, because the trains that will go on it are being built by Bombardier. Projects such as Crossrail and HS2 are national projects and the thing to do is ensure that we get investment in companies right across the country. The fact that the Crossrail carriages are being built in Derby and will, hopefully by the end of the year, run on the Elizabeth line—the name of the Crossrail line—is a fantastic achievement and, what is more, a fantastic engineering achievement for our country. I want to pay tribute, in this year of the engineer, to those people who have been progressing the build and the design of Crossrail.
It is misleading for people to confuse the investment in London, saying, “We’re not getting the same as London”. The investment in St Pancras station is beneficial to the east midlands. I remember going there 20 years ago and at that time no one would have wanted to spend more than five minutes there, instead arriving just as their train was leaving. Now, for those arriving half an hour early it is a fantastic place to be, almost a destination in its own right. I believe that St Pancras station is good news for the east midlands, because journeys to the region from London start from one of the finest stations in the country—likewise with King’s Cross. We need to get that right.
Earlier this year, the Government announced some money out of their marginal viability fund—something from the housing investment fund I understand—dedicating £55 million to the east midlands for various schemes. Here I want to come on to something that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire said. I ask the Government to consider how they say to local authorities that money will be made available for schemes that lead to housing development. On the Staveley bypass, my hon. Friend said there would be housing development within the scheme. When I was Secretary of State for Transport, I had something called the local pinch point fund. It was £170 million in one year and was allocated on the basis of developers and local authorities coming forward with plans for road improvements of up to £10 million, which would lead to either more jobs or more housing. That seems a little like the marginal viability fund. I say to the Minister that sometimes such things are overcomplicated and should be much more straightforward and that future plans should be made available.
Seeing as we are all plugging our own schemes this morning, one scheme I would like to see—I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire will not mind me saying this—is the Ashbourne bypass. It would fit well into this particular project. It has already been partly bypassed on the A52, but the bit that links the A52 up to the A515 still needs to be done. If that scheme took place, that would lead to more housing development in the corridor where the new bypass would be.
It is important that we get the whole question of large-scale infrastructure investment right so that the region has the ability to attract business and companies. In the east midlands, we should not sell ourselves short. If we look at the Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire borders, we have world-class engineering in Bombardier, Rolls-Royce, JCB and Toyota. They are world leaders and world-beaters in engineering. There is no doubt that is important for the prosperity of the area.
I ask the Government to be more open about when the other funds will be available. Shovel-ready schemes are important so that work can be started and got under way very quickly. The annoying thing that people get really angry about is that plans for housing development seem to take forever before the houses get built. Also, having given planning permissions for schemes, I know that more attention should be given to what money goes locally, such as to local schools. Sometimes the funds available are kept a bit too quiet and not too public.
I take issue with the hon. Member for Chesterfield only in so far as in the 30 years I have been in the House of Commons, I have not seen infrastructure investment in the east midlands like that we have seen over the past few years and will see in the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I am pleased to participate in this debate on such an important topic as housing, infrastructure and local government. It was introduced by a very close political colleague and friend, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley). I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
In the midst of Brexit negotiations, we should not forget the urgency of local matters that affect our constituents so much. That was proved by the Chancellor when he announced the Government’s commitment to a total of £44 billion of capital funding, loans and guarantees to support the housing market through to 2022-23. Reforming the housing sector is a priority of the utmost importance to the UK. The goal is to deliver 300,000 net additional homes a year by the mid-2020s, which will be the highest level since 1970. Some of the strategies that are part of this grand sectoral investment have already started, such as the £5 billion housing infrastructure fund. That fund is expected to deliver 200,000 new homes. Last month, the £866 million first wave of the fund was announced. The home building fund, which was launched in 2016 and was increased in the 2017 Budget, is set to deliver 88,000 homes. As of December 2017, the fund had contracted 153 schemes, worth more than £1.4 billion in loan funding.
Broadening the perspective, not enough significance is allocated to how transport infrastructure impacts on the housing crisis, hence the great value of this debate. Transport infrastructure is fundamental in delivering housing supply and in determining the type of housing provision, which can vary from the car-based, pollution-intensive, sprawling, isolated suburban extensions to sustainable, safe, people-focused and well-planned communities. Reliable transport networks are essential to that growth and productivity, which is why the Government are delivering the biggest investment in railways since Victorian times. A total of £40 billion will be invested between 2014 and 2019, and that will benefit millions of passengers across the country. It will mean more trains, more seats and better stations. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) has already talked about that in concrete terms.
That is the broad infrastructural sweep, but what about the east midlands and Northamptonshire in particular? The importance of strategic planning cannot be stressed enough, but homes are about people. The involvement of the local community and other organisations and groups is essential in helping local councils to shape a local plan and prevent the purely top-down imposition of housing and infrastructure that would not be right for that area.
Regarding my constituency of Northampton South, I am pleased to say that in February, the borough council cabinet agreed that the council and Northampton Partnership Homes should build or acquire around 1,000 homes, including affordable rented housing, market rented housing and housing for sale over the next 10 years. The council has requested a meeting with the Ministry to explore ways in which the Government can help and support the council in its efforts to maximise the supply of new homes in Northampton within that scheme and more broadly. There are positive prospects to look forward to with forthcoming major investment projects in my area. They include: the Northampton growth management scheme, the north-west relief road, the Sandy Lane relief road, the Daventry development link and the Towcester A5 relief road. That adds up to more than £118 million in funding.
To be hugely topical as a Northampingtonshire MP, there is a case, very much added to by the particular circumstances of Northampton—it is not an uncontroversial topic—for looking at local government reform to facilitate more joined-up and efficient provision of much-needed housing growth with properly co-ordinated and functioning infrastructure. As discussed at length in ResPublica’s report, “Devo 2.0—The Case for Counties”, devolution should expand beyond cities and advance the reform of local government in the counties. I was a district councillor for 12 years. For my sins, I was on a planning committee for 11 of those. I was a cabinet member. I was a county councillor for 10 years, and that included time leading Derbyshire County Council. As well as being deputy chairman of the Local Government Association for many years, I have been its vice-president since 2014.
I am proud of the achievements of the local government membership, as I am sure many people in two-tier district and county areas are. Those who served on urban district councils and rural district councils can be proud of their achievements in their era, but it is no disrespect to that former era and the work that went on in local government under the previous structure to say that it may have had its day and a change is needed. Population growth has been a challenge that has been hard to deal with in some of the two-tier areas. Some 60% of single-tier county areas were able to meet demand and provide homes for at least 95% of new households with an average population growth of 5,100. However, only 30% of district councils in two-tier areas were able to meet the same target, despite having average growth of only 1,750. It is not just about numbers. We heard recently in the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, as it was then called, about how housing and social care functions being together has helped Sunderland deliver better services for older people. Such synergies are clear with transport and housing.
I became a twin-hatted councillor for 10 of those 12 years to prevent responsibilities from being passed from pillar to post, where people say things like, “On-street is county. Off-street is district”, or, “We are a waste collection authority, but they are the waste disposal authority”, or, “Yes, we do libraries, but they do leisure centres.” With hard choices ahead of us and the need to fully engage the community, there is a democratic and administrative case to be made here when housing pressure is so great. As was rightly stated in the report I referred to, the collecting authority does not have an incentive to ensure that it receives the revenue needed to deliver infrastructure investment through section 106. The top-tier council is responsible for infrastructure, but the lower-tier council is in charge of collecting contributions from developers for infrastructure projects, and failure to collect that contribution limits the activity of the top-tier council. Nevertheless, developments continue to get approved without always necessarily having the right funds.
Another problematic aspect is that although services drive costs and go hand in hand with planning, it is not the planning authority that has the responsibility for the bulk of the ongoing costs as a result of the development. For reasons that are well known, Northamptonshire is right in the middle of this debate. The Dorset proposals, which have some genesis in the time that I spent writing the LGA peer report on Dorset in 2013, are starting a change away from a unanimity requirement towards some more rapid change in local government structures. I do not think people have cottoned on to how big that is and how quickly it will happen. In Northamptonshire, we have Cheshire as our potential model of two unitaries.
Bigger is not always better. We would not have any councils at all if we extended that principle too far. The economies of scale argument can be tested to breaking point. It is also important to keep the history. Cheshire is still Cheshire, and Northamptonshire will still be Northamptonshire, so this is not about the 1974, Edward Health-style policies of creating fictional counties that no one had any connection or association with, such as Avon and, particularly pernicious, Hereford and Worcester. We need to look to functional economic geography and thus to the heart of the debate on joined-up infrastructural housing and local feel and needs, and yes, making those savings as well.
Oxfordshire, for instance, has claimed that a move from a two-tier authority to a unitary would not only increase local accountability, but an independent study has estimated that it would save £100 million over the first five years to enable that council to boost housing and infrastructure.
Once the more coherent network of unitary authorities is set up, local authorities in England need to be more sovereign, more respected and less lorded over by central Government than they have been for many decades. That will incentivise strong leadership, high standards of accountability and therefore better delivery of housing and infrastructure. The investment announced by the Government is a great commitment to helping solve the housing crisis, but part of the solution to the problem is also local. In my time as a Member of the European Parliament, I saw how places in Denmark and Holland have a completely different relationship and respect level between national and local government. In leaving the EU, we must not turn away from best practice elsewhere or turn inward or, worst of all, turn Whitehall-wards. We need to really respect such practice from elsewhere and learn from it.
In this debate we have heard, and will hear, about different pressures and needs regarding housing and infrastructure across the east midlands. They are different in different places. The solution, as far as there ever will be one, is a serious commitment to localism.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) on securing an interesting debate that has covered a huge range—from Sandy Lane all the way through to Crossrail and investment in St Pancras. There have been important contributions across the piece on which I will comment as I go along.
Housing has shot up the political agenda dramatically. My own party has been banging the drum for some time, but it is good that the Government are beginning to talk about the fundamental importance of housing both as a social and an economic driver. That must be welcomed. However, we are still not where we ought to be: intelligent public policy, mixed with the private sector and working with local government. The hon. Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) has already mentioned the importance of local government in the mix.
We ought to have a policy of housing replacement. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire referred to the fact that in the east midlands there is a higher rate of housing formation than in most other parts of the country, but it will still take 135 years for it to replace its existing housing stocks. Houses that were built 50 years ago will not last the next 85 years, so we have to do massively better.
We need a mix of housing, but we do not have that in the east midlands. Of the roughly 15,000 new homes built in 2015-16, the overwhelming majority, 12,500, were built by the private sector for owner occupation. Some 2,000 were built by housing associations, but they are often for sale as well. Only 200 were built by local authorities. That does not provide the housing mix that allows people to be properly housed.
In Derby, for example, the average house price is just short of £170,000. Someone needs an income of £37,000 to £40,000 to service such a purchase, and that is above the levels of income typical in large parts of the east midlands. We know there will always be a need for social rented accommodation and we must see local authorities as part of that mix. I endorse the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) about the need to look at the right to buy and how councils build houses that simply disappear from the stock. We must at least see adequate replacement.
We must recognise that houses are people’s homes in their own communities. That emphasises the importance of infrastructure. If we do not integrate the planning process and make infrastructure an integral part of planning for people’s homes, then we miss a huge trick. That means public involvement because only the public sector can have such a planning framework. However, there are problems with that.
People who know my background are aware that I spent time working on the devolution agenda in a very practical way. I profoundly believe that there should be devolution from central Government, who have been far too centralising. Frankly, Government Department does not talk to Government Department; it is much easier at the level of a Northamptonshire or Derbyshire local authority.
For the sake of brevity, I will not name every east midlands county. Localism is important for coherent planning. It is possible to integrate, although I recognise there are difficulties and different arm wrestles between counties and districts. I will not get into the local government reorganisation debate, but devolution is fundamental to the delivery of good infrastructure. We are not there yet across the country.
We must also recognise that the Government are preoccupied with London. I disagree with the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin). Crossrail might be necessary for London, but London should not get the lion’s share of investment too often, whether it is for transport or across the piece. Of course the national capital is economically important, but we do not have a balance. It is not reasonable for public infrastructure investment in the east midlands to be only half that of London. In terms of economic investment, for example, it is only a third of that that goes into the national capital. That is not efficient for the nation’s economy.
Hon. Members have rightly emphasised the importance of the industrial traditions of the east midlands. I have studied and worked in the east midlands, so I am well aware of both the challenges and the opportunities. To liberate the capacity of that industry, we need public investment on a more equitable footing. The Government have to begin to rethink their allocation processes. Interestingly, in the week when the Government re-committed to Crossrail 2, they announced that the electrification of the midland line would not go ahead. That was a symbolic and interesting commentary on the Government’s priorities.
From the hon. Gentleman’s previous experience in Manchester, he will know that HS2 and the whole concept of the Northern powerhouse, which was pushed heavily by the previous Chancellor, are very important. In the hon. Gentleman’s area, there will be one of the biggest upgrades of Northern Rail in the next eight or nine months, with brand new rolling stock—something that was completely missed out when the last franchise was awarded under the previous Labour Government.
Today’s debate is not about the north of England, but clearly I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. However, I do not just live in the Greater Manchester area; as I travel around, I recognise that we have a long way to go. I recently travelled between Manchester and Nottingham, and the journey was frankly worse than many decades ago, when I lived in Nottingham as a young man. We have to do better. [Interruption.] It was many decades ago—hon. Members can check the record. The investment in St Pancras is welcome, but it has not been mirrored by the same kind of investment in Nottingham station. It is not of the same quality as our London stations.
Another issue is the atomisation of local government. I was talking to the deputy leader of Derby City Council recently, and he made the point that the building control and planning departments in his city council have been eroded over recent years, and that is typical of every local authority across the country. I welcome the fact that there will now be an increase in fees in this area, but the skills infrastructure in our local authorities has declined, and it will take time to rebuild that. We need to recognise that if infrastructure is destroyed, it takes time to rebuild it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield made the point that we have the same issue with the skills mix in the construction industry. In the east midlands, we simply do not have the skilled workers for the great leap forward that we need. Those are major issues that we have to look at. Another issue that the Government have to address on infrastructure investment—this is another point that the deputy leader in Derby made to me—is that when Derby, for example, is trying to match its schools with its housing developments, because all new schools have to be academies and therefore delivered outside the local authority framework, a much more complicated balancing act is now needed to incentivise local people to look at section 106 funding to erect the structure for a new school to be built. That is not the right way to plan. We need better mechanics for our planning.
Statistics on the level of infrastructure may be misleading, but they are an important comparator. As a nation, we do not invest in our infrastructure. The World Economic Forum said recently that when it comes to infrastructure quality we have slipped from 16th place to 24th between 2006 and today. That is a major issue if we are to attract the inward investment into the east midlands and other parts of the country. Even the Government’s present plans for infrastructure spending—about 2.8% of GDP—are below the OECD’s recommended level of 3.5% internationally. We are falling behind even now, as the economic tide has changed after the global crisis. We are still lagging behind the levels of infrastructure spending that we need.
Within that, the east midlands does badly. Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber representing communities in the east midlands should be jumping up and down on that issue. The spend on transport infrastructure in the east midlands is some 49% of the national average. That is a long way short of what the east midlands needs for the local schemes that Government Members have talked about. The spend on health is only 79% of the national average; on schools, it is some 78%. At important levels, the east midlands is sliding behind what the nation as a whole can deliver. Hon. Members ought to be concerned about that.
East Midlands Councils, in its committee report, said:
“The recent trend has worsened…and in summary, Government statistics demonstrate that in 2015-16, the East Midlands has…The lowest level of public expenditure on ‘economic affairs’…The lowest level of public expenditure on transport, in total and per head…The lowest level of public expenditure on rail per head…The 3rd lowest on health care…The 3rd lowest on education…The 3rd lowest total of public expenditure on services, in total and per head.”
Frankly, if I were an east midlands MP I would be saying to the Minister, “It’s not good enough. What are you going to do about it?”
The fundamental issue, which comes back to the important speech made by the hon. Member for Northampton South, is that central Government will never provide the joined-up structures that we need to deliver the infrastructure development that will liberate the houses of the future. With no disrespect to the Minister, he covers a huge range of issues. A Treasury Minister probably ought to be responding to today’s debate, if we are to see real join-up in central Government. We also have to give our local communities, through their local elected representatives, the capacity for strategic planning both to build housing consistent with local communities, and to plan public infrastructure, so that schools, hospitals, health services, roads, and transport systems are provided for those houses and those communities.
This is a very important debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire on securing it.
It is a pleasure to respond to this debate. In line with tradition, I intend to leave my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) a minute or two at the end to wind up.
I will rattle through some of the contributions. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate, and on the elegant and forceful way he put the case for his constituents. He is the first Conservative Member of Parliament for his constituency since 1931 and, my goodness, he is doing a fantastic job. It was great to have a contribution from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling), as a Government Whip, has been champing at the bit to champion her constituency. She took the opportunity over the weekend to lobby me about Rugeley power station. In addition, the electrification of the Chase line—something I know that she has been a huge advocate for—is a great demonstration of the Government’s investment in infrastructure. My hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) made a great contribution, showing that the fox’s county still has a couple of wags left in its tail when correcting the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), saying that he had forgotten Leicester. It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend has gone to wag his tail somewhere else for the conclusion of the debate.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield spent some time castigating the Government for the number of houses that we are building. I gently point out that we inherited a housing system in which we were building fewer houses than we were in the 1920s, because of the recession caused in part by the Labour party. Recently, we have seen figures showing that the number of house-starts in construction increased by more than three quarters between 2009 and 2016. Just a few weeks ago, the Halifax survey showed that the number of first-time buyers is at its highest for 10 years.
The hon. Gentleman also spent some time saying that we should address youth unemployment and skills. I am pleased that we now have more people in employment than at any time since the 1970s, particularly with the introduction of T-levels and the Government’s drive to create 3 million high-level apprenticeships. That will ensure that young men and women come through our education system with the necessary skills to build an economy fit for the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) talked about devolution. I would happily have an entire debate devoted to that subject. In my view, devolution should be the golden thread of Brexit. When more than 60% of my constituents voted to leave the European Union, they did not do so to bring more powers back to Whitehall; they wanted to bring more power back to themselves and, in my case, to east Lancashire. Of those areas that voted remain, the vast majority—London, Manchester, Liverpool, large parts of Wales and Scotland—already benefit from devolution, which shows that where people feel more connected with local government and government in general, they were, in my opinion, more likely to vote to remain in the European Union.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South also correctly pointed out that there is huge pent-up demand for devolution and for local government reorganisation. Eric Pickles famously said that he had a nickel-plated, pearl-handled revolver in his desk drawer for the first MP to come and ask him about local government reorganisation. Recent progress in that area shows that the Government’s position has changed and we would now welcome discussions from any area about local government reorganisation. That big change, led by Dorset, may be the trickle that leads to a torrent.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales (Sir Patrick McLoughlin) delivered a masterclass on transport and infrastructure. I was interested to hear how he has made himself massively popular by closing Nottingham station for six weeks—I am sure that was a pretty difficult thing to do. His point about housing infrastructure having to come before development, in order to support development, reflects a lot of the debate today. There are legitimate concerns about whether buses can take the capacity of new houses and whether local primary and secondary schools have the capacity. That is exactly why the Government set up the housing infrastructure fund; it is an acknowledgment that people want infrastructure first. That is what we are doing.
The announcement of the second phase of bids to the housing infrastructure fund is due to take place tomorrow. I say to all right hon. and hon. Members whose areas have submitted a bid that, even if the bid fails, Homes England has committed to continuing to work with areas to bring forward both the infrastructure and the housing development of the good bids.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales will of course be aware that our right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) is working on the Government’s plan to bring forward sites for development. It is a common problem across the country that people refer to anecdotally, saying that there are more planning permissions granted in their area than are being built out. Our right hon. Friend is looking at how we can tackle that issue.
I agree with comments from the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), about the idea of replacing housing. It is a very interesting area. Houses built in this day and age do not seem to last as long as the fantastic Victorian terraced houses that I have across my constituency. Of course, I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the Labour Government left office in 2010 there were 400,000 fewer social homes than there were when they took office. I would have hoped that they would spend a bit more time devoting themselves to delivering social homes, rather than removing them from our national housing stock.
The hon. Gentlemen used the issue of house prices in Derby interestingly and well to demonstrate the crisis in affordability. It neatly demonstrates that the housing crisis is a national crisis. When people talk about the focus that the Government are putting on tackling the housing crisis, all too often they talk about the housing crisis as being a problem in London. It clearly is not; it is as much a problem in the midlands engine or the northern powerhouse as in any other area of our country. Through the £5 billion in the housing infrastructure fund, the changes we are making to the national planning policy framework and other matters outlined in the housing White Paper and the Budget, we have set out an absolute determination to tackle the housing crisis not just for London and the south-east, which we have talked about a lot today in terms of spending, but for our entire nation and constituents all over the country.
With that in mind, on 1 February the Government announced the first wave of funding from the housing infrastructure fund: some £886 million for 133 local projects. I am delighted to say that £55.2 million of that went towards 49 projects in the east midlands, which shows how we are using housing infrastructure to drive development. It includes £2 million to Sleaford West to unlock 1,400 new homes, creating a new roundabout to unlock development; £3.6 million to the Desborough North project, creating 700 new homes, where the housing infrastructure paid for a school and community facilities; and £2 million to Hogshaw and the Granby Road sites in Buxton, which released 675 new homes by making new road junctions and improvements.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire mentioned the A61 corridor. He raised specific concerns about that corridor. From the Ford Cortina traffic jam to the Secretary of State for Transport traffic jam, the problem is obviously ongoing. We are taking action and have given £1.9 billion to the midlands through the local growth fund, which includes support for transport connectivity, as well as skills and support to grow the local economy. Some £257 million of that funding was earmarked for the D2N2 local enterprise partnership, which has been putting that money to good use, including by investing £12.8 million in improvements to the A61 corridor into and through Chesterfield. That will improve infrastructure and unlock opportunities for major housing development, including some of the houses we have discussed today, and the growth of Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire over the months and years to come.
A good way of demonstrating that commitment is the Avenue project in North East Derbyshire, which my hon. Friend referred to. I will conclude with that example because it is a particularly pertinent example of good practice. The project is located in Wingerworth—I am sure my hon. Friend will tell me after the debate whether I have pronounced that correctly—on a former coking works, once described as the most polluted site in the entirety of England. A completion ceremony is taking place on the site this very morning to mark the end of remediation and the new chapter of building homes. With support from Homes England, the site has been transformed and will deliver 489 new homes, all starting in the spring, a new primary school, 2.8 hectares of employment land, road improvements, including new access to the A61, and a wildlife habitat and country park.
That example, one of many we have heard about today, is a demonstration of how this Government, together with Homes England, working in partnership with local authorities, are prioritising the delivery of homes. My hon. Friend started the debate by saying that it is still an ambition of people across this country to own their own homes. I absolutely agree. When I travel across the country, people will say that what they most desire to be able to afford is their own home. The Conservative party is the party of home ownership and this Government are on the side of all those aspirational young and old people who would like to own a home in the east midlands.
I thank everybody who has contributed today. It has been a positive debate that occasionally deviated into much larger areas around policy and housing for the future. On the whole, the message from the debate is clear: the east midlands is open for business and wants to get on. To help us get on with getting on, we need infrastructure support, which we are getting and need to continue to get in future.
I welcome the Minister’s comments and I thank him for his support in many of the areas we have discussed today. He is absolutely right that if we are to get this moving and ensure that regions such as the east midlands can move forward in the way that we all hope, devolution is vital. I look forward to supporting additional devolution measures when they come forward, and changes to governance structures where necessary, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) indicated.
I am very pleased with the discussion today and grateful to all hon. Members for making the time and taking the opportunity to talk about the issue. The Minister spoke about the Avenue project, which is a crucial project in my part of the world. In order to bring forward more Avenues—more brownfield sites that were once the most polluted parts of the country and can now bring forward the kinds of homes we need to support the aspiration of home ownership—we need support for infrastructure. I know that the Government are committed to doing that and that there will be more Avenues in future, consented to and supported by local people, because they will see the benefits of the economic growth that they can bring to the local area, helped by the infrastructure support from the Government.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered investment in local infrastructure to secure new homes in the East Midlands.