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House of Lords

Thursday, 17th December 1998.

The House met at eleven of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Ely.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Housing

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the number of houses they expect to be completed in the next 12 months by (a) local authorities and (b) housing associations.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we expect local authorities and housing associations to provide around 50,000 new social lettings in 1999-2000. These will be provided through a combination of new build, the purchase and renovation of private sector properties and sale incentive schemes which release existing homes for reletting. Within that total the number of newly built homes and homes provided through the purchase and renovation of private sector properties will be around 45,000. Local authorities are expected to complete less than 1,000 new dwellings themselves, but they also provide financial support for housing association schemes where high demand for social housing makes this a priority.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful for that detailed Answer. It indicates an improvement on the poor building programme--it was almost nil--of the former government. Does the noble Baroness agree that in order to deal with the established and identified shortage by the housing report commissioned by the former government--it demonstrated a need for another 4 million houses or flats into early next century in order to deal with present foreseeable shortages--it would take 40 years at 100,000 units a year? That was the production capacity of the last Labour Government under Lord Wilson and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. Is it not time that the nation again puts social housing on a level with education and health in the bid for financial resources?

Is the Minister aware that society is a three-legged stool? I mentioned the three components. Should we now give housing the priority, with education and the health service, that it deserves?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend is right. Housing is a top priority for the Government. We took early action to boost investment through our capital receipts initiative and over the lifetime of this Parliament we shall have made available an extra £5 billion for investments in housing. We expect that the 50,000 new social lettings to be created during 1999-2000 will include a mixture of 32,000 new

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build, acquisition of private sector properties with renovational conversion where necessary of about 13,000, and sale incentive schemes.

My noble friend's second question is important. We are determined to join with local government, the voluntary and the private sectors in local communities, in a concerted attack against the causes of social and economic decline. Included with unemployment, crime, poor health and a degraded environment, one of the priority areas is tackling bad housing.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that despite the good will and the intentions of the Government and the building industry there is a chronic shortage through lack of training opportunities over the past few years? There is a desperate need not only for employment but also training. Have the government schemes under the new deal been warmly welcomed by the building industry? If not, those schemes should be stressed. Unless we have trained plasterers, bricklayers and others, the dreams of the Government will be as naught.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my noble friend is right. That is why the Government have included the new deal in construction as part of the employment option. The numbers of long-term unemployed have fallen sharply as a result of the economy picking up. But we hope that the scheme will be able to offer over 3,000 jobs a year. The DfEE figures so far indicate that more than one in 10 job placements for subsidised employment under the new deal are in the construction sector. That amounts to about 1,000 recruits to the industry.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, despite the figures given by the Minister today, does the noble Baroness agree that homelessness remains a serious problem? Is she, like me, disappointed that the last quarterly figures on homelessness indicate a 7 per cent. increase in families and people being accepted by local authorities as statutory homeless? I hope that the noble Baroness will join with me and others in congratulating Shelter on setting up Shelterline in the past 10 days. It is a 24-hour, 365 days a year helpline for those with housing needs. I believe that it is unique in the world.

Will the Minister tell us what else the Government will do to tackle homelessness, in particular among our young people?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in congratulating Shelter on its new helpline. It is precisely because the problems to which she refers vary enormously across the country that the Government's strategy for housing is to consider local authority housing plans which are achieved in partnership at local level to meet local need. For that reason we believe that the planning process is best determined by those local authorities working out how to meet the needs to which the noble Baroness refers.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the latest English house condition survey indicates that some 50,000 local

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authority owned properties and 20,000 registered social landlord owned homes await repair and modernisation before they can be occupied. Does the Minister agree that that presents a higher priority and a better return on investment than new build? Those houses could be put in order more quickly than new construction can take place.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I agree totally with the noble Lord. I believe that I am welcoming him for the first time in his new role on the Front Bench and look forward to working constructively with him.

Perhaps I may chide him gently. The inheritance of lack of repair on local authority housing stock was one of the reasons for the capital receipts initiative and the more than doubling of the amount of resource going into the local authority sector. I share my noble friend's concern that we need to build new houses. But patently local authorities will be using the additional resources to improve housing stock. I hope that the noble Lord joins with me in congratulating the Government on that aim.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell me how many times the Government have given approval to build houses on green-belt land?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, no, I am afraid that I do not have that figure. However, I can refer the noble Lord to the fact that we are working with a number of bodies, including Ordnance Survey and local authorities, to produce a national land use database. For the first time that data will be available to local authorities. Phase one covers data on previously developed land; that is, brownfield sites. We are aiming to publish initial summary results of the work in the spring of next year. Our target is that 60 per cent. of new homes should be built on previously developed land. I am sure the noble Lord will work with us to ensure that that target is achieved.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, what proportion of those new homes will be suitable for people with physical disabilities, bearing in mind that there is an estimated shortfall of 300,000 such dwellings?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, sensitivity to the level of provision at local level is one reason that we believe that local authorities need to work very carefully within their communities. The Government are aware that the pattern of provision varies from place to place. We shall seek to ensure that local authorities are fully aware of the need to provide that specialist form of housing, as well as meeting other specialised needs within their communities.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, within the Government's overall strategy is any provision being made for housing for refugees and asylum seekers? Does not the Minister consider that, in respect of those particular needs, it is unfair that the local authorities should be left to deal

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with the matter in view of the fact that authorities such as Kent and the London boroughs must bear the brunt of accommodating those people when it is a national requirement and need?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the Government are working very closely with the Local Government Association to ensure that there is sensitivity to those particular needs and pressure points.

Train Delays and Cancellations: Cost

11.11 a.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have made any recent assessment of the cost of train delays and cancellations on the rail network.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, while we have not attempted to quantify the cost, it is clearly substantial in terms of missed and late appointments and frustrated passengers. More generally, a poor train service puts people off public transport and adds to the problem of road congestion which is a cost in itself.


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