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Lord Whitty: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for initiating this debate. I think that the range of opinions expressed has indicated its importance. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshottwhether he is writing his own speeches, or delivering the speeches he has written I should sayfor it is not everybody who can find a text from 1972 and recycle it; I know that I could not. His knowledge of housing, and many other areas, will bring lucidity and calm in the face of what amounted to robustness in your Lordships' House as he rose to speak. I appreciate that he has experienced robustness of different sorts at various stages in his career, so I expect he can put up with that.
Stepping back from the RPG, it was opportune for my noble friend Lady Uddin and the right reverend Prelate in particular, to remind us of the importance of housing, as it covers every aspect of our lives, our security, our life chances, our health and the nature of the communities in which we live. The Government's vision on housing is guided by central principles of sustainability, economically and physically, and also as socialists. It is the spatial dimension of that approach to housing that is reflected in the regional planning guidance. As the noble Lord implied, I think we share this vision largely with SERPLAN and the Regional Planning Conference for the South East. It is a vision that is based very firmly on the principles of sustainable development.
The social aspect of housing was emphasised by my noble friend Lady Uddin, who made particular reference to the situation in Tower Hamlets. But throughout the South East and London enormous problems still remain in relation to housing of various descriptions. There are deep social problems. Those problems have not improved hugely over the past 20 years. Therefore, one of the key issues is housing for the future. There are those who say that the figures that even SERPLAN, Professor Crow and the Government are producing means concreting over the South East. That is not the case. It is not the Government or SERPLAN that are putting pressure on the South East. The economic pressure is there; the demographic pressure is there; the pressure of migration is there already. The important question is how we manage it.
The housing needs in the South East outside London derive, in very large part, from the needs of the people who are already in the region as well as these additional pressures. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, there are very serious external pressures on the housing market within London, much of them international. They affect the prices and the whole nature of property development so that almost every property in London is now described as a luxury flat and is beyond the reach of many middle-income families. She is absolutely right. That has its knock-on effect down the property market, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, indicated, when we come to look at the relatively poor provision of accommodation for young single people in our capital.
In the context of SERPLAN, we have proposed an annual increase of 43,000 homes outside London and 23,000 inside Greater London. The regional guidance process that we have adopted leads to an agreed regional target for net additional dwellings. SERPLAN's estimate, which was subject to public consultation and examination, was reassessed by the panel chaired by Professor Crow. We agree that a figure above SERPLAN's estimate is necessary but not as high as that suggested by Professor Crow. In implementing the new approach we have proposed an
I turn to the situation in London itself. The adoption of a planned, monitored and managed approach with the provision of 23,000 additional dwellings per year in London is very much in line with what the London Planning Advisory Committee believed could be achieved. As the noble Earl indicated, in view of the new local government structure in London we shall need to give careful consideration to the views of the mayor. It is very important that the social housing dimension of the mayor's planning responsibilities is co-ordinated with that of the London Boroughs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, implied, to see how the overall level of provision should be distributed and delivered within London. The mayor will want to keep under regular review both the housing requirement and the capacity to meet it.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton pointed to the problems in the area of social housing and called for additional resources. We have provided no less than £5 billion. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, regarded that as not real money, but those funds were not previously available for this purpose and are now being deployed on a priority basis for the improvement of the housing stock, principally local authority housing.
With regard to brownfield land, we strongly support the strategy of SERPLAN for an urban renaissance that focuses development on existing urban areas and brownfield sites throughout the region. We have set a recycling target of 60 per cent which is underpinned by our new policy guidance PPG3. I accept that there are problems in connection with recycling land in the South East and elsewhere, but we believe that there is substantial land available. As to the urban parts of the South East and London itself, the Urban Task Force has set a number of objectives which will be turned into a White Paper later in the year. We have also recently published a draft strategy for neighbourhood renewal. All of this has a bearing on how we mobilise the brownfield sites that are already available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether the database on brownfield sites had worked. I can assure the noble Baroness that the results of our first survey have been published. The survey represents an audit as of two years ago of land available for recycling, and that will be updated next year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about VAT in relation to brownfield sites. Regrettably, that is a matter for the Chancellor, not me. Nevertheless, the Chancellor has said that, where appropriate, he will consider the use of economic measures to underpin urban policy. That is where the matter lies at present. A number of proposals have been put forward for changing the VAT regime and perhaps equalising the rate. The Chancellor will be looking at these and other suggestions in the fiscal field by the task force headed by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers.
Research shows that often local authorities underestimate urban capacity in their areas. That tends to reinforce existing restrictive planning policy rather than contribute to urban renaissance. Part of that issue is density. In the South East we have been building at some of the lowest densities in the whole country. On the one hand, many say that land is so precious that we cannot build on it as many houses as we need; on the other hand, local authorities and developers make little attempt to build more economically and provide lower density housing, let alone affordable or social housing. This means that to meet housing requirements one uses far more land than is necessary.
We need to plan for a wider range of housing, more smaller units and less lavish provision for the car in residential layouts. We also need to look at more sustainable patterns of development and movement. This is not a call for what some refer to as town planning; on the contrary, it is a call for an urban renaissance and more efficient use of land in town, suburb and country. Many local authorities are beginning to heed that call in a very creative way in both the South East and London. In the case of the latter local authorities have led the way on the basis of the work of the London Planning Advisory Committee. We place even greater emphasis than SERPLAN on better urban design and layout. As the right reverend Prelate indicated, it is very important that in the urban renaissance we regard housing as provision for the totality of the community, not simply the physical provision of housing and housing sites. In the urban renaissance we need to provide for the wider community. There is a clear element of design and build in this. Recently we published further guidance on this matter in the document By DesignUrban Design in the Planning System: Towards Better Practice.
The noble Earl and others expressed concern about the difficulties in implementing the broadly-agreed strategy, in particular the mechanisms available to local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, rightly, that there had been much good practice in local authorities in past decades in providing effective and often affordable housing. We seek to strengthen the ability of local authorities to achieve a more balanced housing provision in their areas. Some of the main delivery mechanisms range from new measures to ensure that there is affordable housingI shall mention those in a momentto possible new CPO powers and financial incentives. Those matters are being examined at national level in the context of
As the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, we have recently published revised guidance on housing in PPG3. In addition, we have recently produced a White Paper on housing which provides a way forward, despite the disappointment expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. As to that, I have already addressed the issue of resources. We are also looking at how compulsory purchase powers can assist regeneration initiatives. We are using some of the £5 billion referred to earlier in particular to regenerate areas of local authority housing, and the forthcoming urban White Paper will clarify policy and other mechanisms to achieve an urban renaissance. In parallel, in July we shall announce a 10-year transport strategy and, later in the year, a rural White Paper which will be important milestones in the delivery of RPG. In particular, we are putting forward proposals in the South East for a new strategic partnership in the Thames Gateway area. We believe that that is an important contribution to the attempt to deal with pressures in the South East.
As to affordable housing, I hear the concerns of noble Lords on all sides about the problem of delivering the appropriate proportion of affordable housing. There are already very robust provisions in planning policy which allow local authorities to seek affordable housing as part of residential developments on suitable sites. That is an important tool which is available to local authorities. The proposed changes will emphasise the need for local authorities to undertake a rigorous assessment of housing need to ensure that sufficient affordable homes are provided.
There is a case for more flexibility in planning for affordable housing in parts of the South East, and PPG3 and the housing Green Paper provide a lead on this. For the purposes of planning policy, while definitions in this area can be fuzzy, affordable housing is low-cost market and subsidised housing that is available to people who cannot afford to rent or buy houses that are generally available on the open market. That definition is deliberately wide in order that local circumstances can be met. Local authorities are able to seek an element of such housing to be provided on all sites of 25 dwellings or one hectare or more. Thresholds are lower in inner London and, exceptionally, may be lower elsewhere.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether there was a 40 per cent target for the whole of the South East. In line with our general approach, an overall affordable housing target is considered inappropriate. Nevertheless, an indicator has been included in the Government's proposals that an annual average of 18,000 to 19,000 houses be provided within the total figure for the South East outside London. However, in order to contribute to that, specific targets should be made locally. Broadly for the period as a whole, the figures add up to those mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. However, as I said, as part of that requirement we want local
Of course, it is true that questions of balance arise between the regions in this respect and the south-east region is under particular pressure. It is not so true, as is often alleged, and as, I believe, may have been implied by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the problems in the South East relate to those of low economic performance in the other regions of England. The migration from the rest of the South East is net outwards from all other regions except London. The migratory pressure on the South East comes almost exclusively from London. The movement from regions outside London into the rest of the South East and, indeed, even into London itself is relatively small.
However, it is important that the new regional instruments in each of the regions address the pressure on housing as well as they do on the rest of infrastructure. Therefore, I agree totally with the noble Baroness that these matters must be considered together by all regions so that a compatible approach can be produced across the board.
Perhaps I may return to the SERPLAN figures. I hope that we shall be able to consider this matter maturely and reach a cross-institutional and cross-party consensus on what is a most important issue for the whole of the South East, including London. We hope that SERPLAN will consider the implications of simply reverting to its original numbers. I believe that to do so would be to ignore part of the process that has taken place since those figures were produced and put at risk some of the key elements of the economy of the South East and London. In particular, it would not address the problem of the lack of suitable housing for those who already live or need to work in the South East, in particular those examples referred to in the debate, such as teachers, nurses and so on. We can make more effective use of urban and brownfield land in meeting those targets.
However, I agree totally with the noble Earl that the vision for the South East can be achieved only through a co-ordinated partnership. The Government's proposals for the South East set out clear guidance to local authorities on preparing development. They also identify a number of mechanisms which, between us, we can bring into play on this matter. For our part, the Secretary of State will give serious consideration to comments which we shall receive shortly on an official basis from SERPLAN, including comments on the housing figures, before we decide finally whether to make further changes to the RPG.
We want to resolve the problems of pressure on the housing market and the social consequences that they create. I can assure my noble friend Lord Graham that we give a high priority to housing improvements and housing policy generally. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is not literally accurate in saying that the arguments and the situation at present are precisely the same as they were in 1972. I do not believe that they are. For some people the situation is better;
As a government, we are committed to tackling the housing problem. We are committed to putting in place effective and consensual planning arrangements region by region. Probably the first in which we have encountered problems is in many respects the most difficult. However, we hope that we can resolve the issues between ourselves, SERPLAN, the local authorities and the other key players in the South East.
The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, I believe that the debate began at 3.7 p.m. Therefore, I have approximately 90 seconds in which to reply. I believe that it produced a very important message to both SERPLAN and the Government: that strategic planning for housing is about not only numbers but, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said, it is about homes. He changed the word "houses" to "homes", and I thoroughly agree with and underline what he said. "Homes" mean community facilities, transportation, leisure and affordability.
With regard to affordability, the point was madeagain, I underline thisthat that means affordability for renting and for buying. I referred to the five-bedroomed houses in Tower Hamlets, built by the Asian housing association, which rent at £85 per week. When I visited Tower Hamlets I was struck by figures which seemed to me quite incredible. The average earned wage in that area is £600 per week, but one-third of the ratepayers of Tower Hamlets have a yearly income of under £10,000. That is an incredible diversity.