Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not clear that the expenditure from all the sources mentioned is not only wasteful but damaging? Is it not also the case that the new traffic lights are causing considerable congestion which did not exist previously and are resulting in pollution? They are affecting traffic not only in London but beyond; for example, on roads to the ports and the coast. Moreover, much of the congestion is affecting not only cars, trucks and so on, but public transport—which London is supposed to be in favour of encouraging. Is the Minister aware that, in the chaos south of Westminster Bridge the other night, there was

5 Feb 2003 : Column 206

a queue of nine buses which were stationary for a considerable length of time? Will he refer this whole issue of traffic lights—which seems to have got completely out of control—to the Transport Research Laboratory?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is confusing two entirely different issues. His Question related to the cost of installing traffic lights in London. I answered factually about who pays the cost of installing them. He is now asking a supplementary question about the phasing of traffic lights. It is a perfectly legitimate question; but most of the complaints about traffic lights have been the result of changes in policy by Transport for London—which is its responsibility, not that of the Government. If the Question is about additional traffic lights, there are very few extra sets of lights. I believe that the problems described by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, are problems of phasing.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble Lord said that there were only a few extra traffic lights. Has he not been extremely fortunate in his recent experience? I know that the noble Lord is a great deal closer to the Mayor of London than I am—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, perhaps he would venture to explain the mind of the Mayor, and say whether it really is his intention, as it would appear, to turn the whole of London into a red light district.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not usually seek to emulate the noble Lord's wit. If he wants to ask me a serious question, I shall try to answer it.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, to the extent that there are some extra traffic lights, they are frequently to assist pedestrians—for example, at pelican crossings? I can cite an example on the South Circular road outside a primary school, where there are good reasons for installing a new crossing. As the Question seems to be focused on public spending, does the Minister further agree that attempting to protect pedestrians is a good way to approach public spending—in that it produces savings to the public purse—and that the re-phasing of traffic lights in central London by Transport for London has been in order to bring the phasing into line with the rest of the country and to give pedestrians sufficient time to cross?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness is entirely right. It seems to be a feature of questions in this House relating to traffic in London that they are almost entirely from the point of view of private motorists rather than that of pedestrians or cyclists. It is useful to have that correction. The noble Baroness is right in saying that, in so far as there are a

5 Feb 2003 : Column 207

significant number of extra traffic lights, they are additional provision to protect pedestrians. That is certainly true of the ones that I have seen.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, if the Minister believes that the problem is merely one of phasing and that it merely affects motor cars, will he take the trouble to go as far as Trafalgar Square—preferably not in his ministerial car—where he will discover that the siting of the new traffic lights on the west side of the square has caused a jam every day this week, all the way up Haymarket to Piccadilly, largely consisting of buses.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as with all these matters, I shall happily ensure that Transport for London and the Mayor are informed of the comments made in this House.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, would my noble friend be interested in knowing that I took a bus from outside this House at 12.30 today and arrived in the Strand exactly nine minutes later, without any delay whatever in Trafalgar Square, where the traffic lights work and the construction of the islands is now largely complete?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords, I think that the No. 77A and the No. 11 buses along the Strand are much quicker now that they do not have to go round Trafalgar Square. I do not think that I shall inform the Mayor of London about that!

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is it just a case of "silly us"—of our being rather naive in thinking that all these changes were about easing congestion? If they are about installing more traffic lights to aid pedestrians, then both problems cannot be resolved at the same time. I have certainly experienced new installations of traffic lights a mere matter of yards apart, where the only place one can safely stop between the sets of lights is on a pedestrian crossing.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, everybody has their own experience. There are 700 Members of this House and nearly all of them travel in London. I am sure that the Mayor would be interested to know of the experiences of all of us, but these are not issues of government policy.

Business of the House: Debates this Day

3.20 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of the Lord Hanningfield and the Lord Lamont of Lerwick set down for today shall each be limited to two-and-a-half hours.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

5 Feb 2003 : Column 208

Business

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, with the leave of the House, immediately following this business statement, my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton will repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on sustainable communities.

Sustainable Communities

3.21 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

    "Last July I made a Statement to the House about the Government's plans for a step change in our policies for building sustainable communities. Today, I am publishing Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future, a comprehensive programme of action to take these policies forward. Copies are in the Library.

    "The future of our communities matters to all of us in this House and I would like to record my appreciation to the ODPM Select Committee for the work it has undertaken on these issues, including its recent report on affordable housing.

    "Much of the communities plan is properly about housing. But sustainable communities need more than just housing. They need a strong economy, jobs, good schools and hospitals, good public transport, a safe and healthy local environment, better design, more sustainable construction, better use of land and much more.

    "The plan is part of the Government's programme to deliver better public services, strengthen economic performance, and improve our quality of life. The history of housing over the past 30 years shows that all governments have failed to meet housing need; all governments have failed to provide sufficient long-term investment; all governments have failed to deliver enough affordable housing, and all governments have ignored the mistakes of the past—when we built housing estates, not communities. Not only did we under-invest in our housing, we used land wastefully, and too much of what was built was of poor quality and poorly designed.

    "In 1970, we were building nearly 300,000 homes a year. Today, it is half that, but demand has increased. The result is a legacy of spiralling house prices, rising land values and a shortage of affordable homes.

    "In London and the South East more and more young people and key workers cannot afford to live where they want. They are being priced out of their communities. In other parts of the country—in the North and Midlands—the housing market has collapsed and thousands of homes face demolition.

5 Feb 2003 : Column 209

    "While private house building declined over the past 30 years so did the condition of local authority housing. By 1997, the repairs backlog on local authority housing was a record 19 billion. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, not enough was done. The problem just got worse.

    "As more people moved into home ownership—many of them through the right to buy—local authority housing continued to decline. The 1.5 million right to buy sales since 1980 cost the public purse a massive 40 billion. And despite 29 billion in actual receipts, not nearly enough was invested in improving the housing stock.

    "Local authorities were denied the money they needed to repair the homes of their tenants. Instead, capital receipts from right to buy were used to pay off the national debt.

    "That is the legacy we inherited—fewer homes being built and the condition of the stock getting worse by the year.

    "We decided the over-riding priority was to halt the decline. That is why we released 5 billion worth of capital receipts for housing refurbishment, why we established the major repairs allowance which released another 1.5 billion a year, and why we committed ourselves to make all social housing decent by 2010. And we are on track to do that, with over half a million homes already improved.

    "So our first priority was to deal with the 19 billion backlog across the country. Now we must tackle the fundamental problems of high demand in the South and the collapse of housing demand in some of our most deprived communities.

    "I shall deal first with the action we propose to tackle housing market collapse. I am talking about communities where properties have become almost worthless, where people on low incomes have become trapped in negative equity. In the worst cases, whole streets have been abandoned. In these places, there is no shortage of housing, but there is no sustainable community.

    "Low demand requires a new approach, to recreate places where people want to live—not leave. This means not just tackling housing, but, where we can, rebuilding sustainable communities.

    "We are already investing 5 billion over the next three years to help regenerate these areas, and we have set up partnerships in nine of the worst low-demand areas. And today I am announcing a new fund of 500 million to help those partnerships over the next three years.

    "In some areas, the only option will be to demolish homes that are obsolete. We will make this easier for residents. Homeowners already get back the value of their home and the costs of moving. We now propose to increase compensation for the disturbance of moving home by over 1,000—the first increase since 1991. We also propose to prevent the automatic renewal of planning consents, which will reduce development on greenfield sites in low-demand areas.

5 Feb 2003 : Column 210

    "The issues in high-demand areas are different. Rising house prices and shortages of affordable homes, especially in London and the South East, are having a damaging impact on public services and the country's economic performance. We need a step change in housing supply, reversing the trend of the past 30 years.

    "Two years ago, after extensive consultation, we said in RPG 9 that local authorities should provide for new homes at a rate of 62,000 each year in London and the wider South East. We put in place a plan, monitor and manage approach to planning, moving away from the failed predict and provide approach of the past. We said that if we used more brownfield land at a higher density, we could build more homes on the same amount of land.

    "We are meeting our 60 per cent brownfield target and will continue to do so. We are also taking steps to push up density of build in the South East.

    "These changes, together with the 350 million extra resources we are putting into improving planning and design, will increase the supply of new housing on brownfield land and the quality of what we build and where we build.

    "Good planning means the right communities with the right homes and jobs in the right place. I emphasise "right place", because I want to make it absolutely clear that this is not homes everywhere and anywhere. This is homes in sustainable communities to meet the shortfall in supply—not suburban sprawl, not soulless estates, not dormitory towns.

    "I recognise and share the genuine concern about our countryside. I remind the House that it was a Labour government who introduced the green belt. And it was this Labour Government who have provided access to the countryside and proposed the first new national park in the South Downs—which is being opposed by many Members opposite. And it was this Government who added an extra 30,000 hectares of green belt land—an area the size of the Norfolk Broads National Park.

    "Now we are going further. Today I am giving a guarantee to maintain or increase green belt land in every region of England. We are creating a new body, the land restoration trust, to turn 1,500 hectares of derelict land in our towns and cities into new urban green spaces.

    "We will provide resources for English Partnerships and the regional development agencies to reclaim over 1,400 hectares of brownfield land each year—an area the size of a typical town.

    "In July, I announced four priority growth areas to help meet the shortfall in housing supply in the South East. Each of these offers an exciting opportunity for new design-led sustainable communities, such as the Greenwich Millennium Village and each maximises the use of brownfield land—accommodating growth in a sustainable way, with jobs, housing and regeneration going together. The Thames Gateway alone is the largest brownfield site in Europe. Plans for its development have been on the table for years.

5 Feb 2003 : Column 211

    "We must now turn these plans into action. So today, I am announcing new seed corn investment of 446 million. This will attract extra private investment. With our partners we will set up new local development agencies in east London and Thurrock, which will increase the pace of development

    "We are also investing 164 million over the next three years in the other three growth areas: Milton Keynes–South Midlands; London-Stansted-Cambridge; and Ashford. The four growth areas, with London, have the potential to deliver 300,000 more jobs and an extra 200,000 homes over the next 15 to 20 years. We must take that opportunity.

    "All parts of the country need affordable housing, both for rent and for purchase. We are making 5 billion of our housing investment money available for more affordable housing over the next three years. This includes at least 1 billion more for key worker housing—trebling the current rate of investment. And it includes extra resources for affordable homes built using fast-track, modern methods of building and design.

    "We will also tackle the problem of empty homes. In London and the South East, 70,000 privately owned homes have been empty for over 6 months. This is not acceptable. The House will be aware that local authorities can lease empty properties on a voluntary basis. It is our intention that councils should be able to bring empty properties back into use through compulsory leasing, as recommended by the Select Committee. I also intend to allow local authorities to end council tax discounts on empty homes.

    "Many rural areas also suffer from acute shortages of affordable housing. So we are increasing the number of affordable homes built in small rural communities. And we have changed the regulations to make it easier to keep homes bought under the right to buy for local people.

    "The Government are committed to home ownership, which has increased by 1 million since 1997. But we also want to protect the social housing stock. The right to buy is one way to help people into home ownership. But there are others that do not involve the loss of a social home. I believe we could make better use of these schemes.

    "That is why today I am asking the Housing Corporation to lead a new home ownership taskforce to advise on ways of helping more tenants into home ownership, using the whole range of existing ownership schemes, without reducing the amount of social housing.

    "Sustainable communities need a safe and attractive local environment. We have already given local authorities an extra 1 billion in the local government funding settlement to improve the local environment and cultural services.

    "I am now backing that up with more funding. Over the next three years we will give: 50 million for neighbourhood wardens to help people feel safer; 41 million to drive up the quality of skills and

5 Feb 2003 : Column 212

    urban design; 70 million for community-led programmes to improve neighbourhoods; and 89 million to help local authorities to transform the quality of their parks and public spaces.

    "All this will be supported by the proposals we will bring forward in our forthcoming anti-social behaviour White Paper and Bill, tackling issues that undermine our communities.

    "The most basic requirement of a sustainable community is a decent home. That is why we are making sure that tenants will be involved right from the start in decisions about how their homes are improved. It is why we are investing 2.8 billion over the next three years to improve council housing. It is why we are making the private finance initiative easier to use and providing 685 million of new PFI credits to refurbish local authority homes. It is why we are providing an extra 60 million to improve conditions in private housing. And it is why we are providing 260 million to tackle the problem of temporary bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

    "We also want to improve conditions for people in privately owned homes, especially older people and those on low incomes. As the House has often said, there are inadequate powers to tackle bad private landlords, who are making life a misery for too many of our people. I will publish draft legislation to license all houses in multiple occupation and introduce a selective licensing scheme to tackle bad landlords in low demand areas. In advance of legislation we are funding new pilot schemes to target bad landlords.

    "The step change I have described requires a different approach, linking housing with regeneration, growth, transport, public services and good design. It also requires major reforms of our system of housing finance. We must move away from the top-down approach of the past and decentralise our policies and programmes so we can deliver regional solutions to regional problems.

    "I am pleased to tell the House that for the first time we are publishing nine regional daughter documents that set out what this action plan means for all our regions.

    "As I said in July, we will move towards pooling housing spend in regional pots. Housing strategies will now be drawn up at regional level by new regional housing boards involving key partners. English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation will also work together at the regional and national level, so that finding the land is directly linked with providing the housing.

    "This is a comprehensive programme of action for sustainable communities that I hope will command support across this House. It is backed with substantial resources—22 billion, which is a 40 per cent increase over three years and more than double the plans we inherited. That is a step change in resources by anybody's standards, but it is just a start. This is an enormous challenge for all of us. It is about people and the places where they live. It is about raising the quality of life. It is about working

5 Feb 2003 : Column 213

    in partnership. It is about taking a different approach. It is about creating sustainable communities. I commend this to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.36 p.m.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the extremely long Statement. I ask the House's indulgence if I go slightly over the normal amount of time in an effort to respond to some of the points. It is a very important Statement, as the Minister said. It is a diagnosis of a now well-known situation. The pity is that the Statement was well leaked before today, so this is not the first opportunity anybody has had to think about the items in it.

Good housing and a decent home are a sine qua non for leading a reasonable life. I believe that everybody in the House accepts that. However, since this Government came to power, there has been a substantial reduction in the amount of affordable housing being built and the amount of money available to local authorities to do that. The Government's enthusiasm for home ownership—reiterated in the Statement—has been dented by their attitude to the right to buy, which, to all intents and purposes, they have railroaded into abandonment by reducing the discount from 38,000 to 16,000.

The Deputy Prime Minister rightly rails against the loss of communities and acceptable standards of housing in the North of this country. If there had been a little more enthusiasm there for encouraging home ownership as well as an earlier interest in improving the environment and the property, the situation might not now be so dire.

From what is being said, it looks as though many areas of such housing will now be jettisoned. However, many factors—such as loss of jobs, poor economic prospects and lack of industrial and commercial development—have exacerbated the situation. It would be helpful if the Minister would say whether the partnerships of which he spoke will address those particular difficulties in areas where he says that houses are to be demolished. What is to be put in their place? How is it to be done? How are the commercial and economic aspects to be addressed?

The area of immediate interest in the proposals is the development of extensive areas of housing in the South East in particular. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that at least 60 per cent of this vast new development will continue to be on brownfield land. I acknowledge immediately that the Thames Gateway is almost entirely brownfield. However, he neglects to say whether that percentage is sufficiently sustainable to fulfil the ambition in other areas where there is to be an extension of existing housing, such as Milton Keynes and Ashford. I say that because I am advised that, within the proposed London/Stansted/Cambridge area, it will be impossible to fulfil the 60 per cent brownfield requirement as there is no brownfield land. Will the Minister therefore give the

5 Feb 2003 : Column 214

House some indication of how that is to be carried out? I also remind the House that that is a part of the country where a new airport is proposed.

I am bound to say that there is enormous concern about continuing development on the green belt. I am sure that the Minister will have seen the comments of the Council for the Protection of Rural England on the amount of land that could be subsumed under these plans. It is estimated that land amounting to the size of several major cities could be lost. If that is correct and large swathes of land are concreted over, it will matter not one jot when the Government point out that they created the green belt.

The Statement also extols the virtues of communities and recounts the problems of those wishing to work in the South East, particularly key workers who cannot find housing. However, it omits to tell us how the Government foresee communities being formed in vast areas of new housing even if all the infrastructure is in place. I can tell the Minister from experience that it is a very difficult proposition to place together a vast number of people who do not know each other and have no connection with each other and expect them to live in harmony and form a sustainable community. What will be done to help with that task? Who will have responsibility for seeking those who wish to live in these new areas, particularly those entitled to social housing? How will the serious consequences of social alienation be prevented? It is instructive that—despite all this new housing and accompanying social problems and the need to build sustainable communities—the Statement contains not one word about local government.

I particularly want to ask the Minister about the empty homes initiative and compulsory leasing by local authorities. The possibilities boggle the mind. Thousands of homes, particularly in London, are owned by companies or those resident or living abroad who must be perfectly entitled to keep their property empty if they so wish. The homes have all been bought privately and are owned privately. Do the Government intend to give local authorities powers to lease them compulsorily? On what basis can such action be justified? Will it depend on whether the premises are furnished? How is an assessment to be made of whether they are abandoned or just temporarily idle? There are, of course, empty homes within the statutory sector, but they would not require compulsory leasing; it is for local authorities to ensure that they are properly let. Even if the Statement explains nothing else—Statements sometimes fail to explain—I should be very grateful if the Minister would explain that matter.

Time prevents a more detailed look at this extremely important document. The Statement barely covers all of the points, although we have been promised nine supplementary documents to cover them. I note that most of the strategy relies on regional housing boards—yet another of the regional bodies that will ride roughshod over local authorities. How many of the proposals require primary legislation? How many of these matters will come back to the House for proper debate? If the proposals require legislation, will

5 Feb 2003 : Column 215

they be included in the numerous Bills that we will consider, but most of which have started in another place?

3.44 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement from another place on sustainable communities. Most noble Lords will disagree with very little in the opening sections, which outline the Government's vision and give a very good description of past failures and the sums that the Government are talking about investing in affordable housing. My first question, therefore, is how much of that sum can the Minister guarantee will be new money?

The Statement raises other questions, particularly on deliverability and sustainability. In the lifetime of this Government, there have been White Papers, Green Papers, task forces, Statements, strategies and reviews covering the many areas that will help deliver sustainable communities. How can we be sure that this is not just another Statement and another booklet and that the actual implementation will not be far too slow?

I turn first to the concentration on the South East. I agree that there is an urgent need to tackle the real problem of the lack of affordable housing in an overheating economy. However, what are the Government doing to "warm up" the economies of the other regions? I am acquainted particularly with the problems of the North East. The South East is set to receive eight times the cash that the five northern regions will receive. How will that help this overheated economy to cool down? Unless we are serious about helping some of the other regions, is there not a danger of reinforcing the overheating and the North-South divide?

Secondly, we welcome the recognition that infrastructure—schools, hospitals and transport—must come before the new homes and not after them. However, can the Minister tell us what step changes will ensure a reversal of a story that has been quite the opposite over many years of development in this country? Perhaps that is in the document, which I regret I have not yet had time to read. What I have picked up is that, in the important area of the Thames Gateway, the Government appear to have reneged on their support for the CrossRail development which is key to enabling people living in the Thames Gateway to reach the jobs to the west of London.

Thirdly, how can we be assured that brownfield development can continue and empty homes can be refurbished and brought back into use at the rate that the Government hope? The Government have not even tackled the old problem of equalising VAT between new build and refurbishments. Doing that really would be a step change.

We welcome the prospect of local authorities being able compulsorily to lease genuinely empty homes. However, how does the Minister square that proposal with the fact that, although local authorities will be

5 Feb 2003 : Column 216

able to change the council tax regime and receive more money from empty homes, it does not appear that they will be able to benefit from that revenue?

I turn to sustainability, and first to environmental sustainability. Can the Minister tell us what mechanisms the Government will put in place to ensure higher standards of energy efficiency and alternative energy use in these new buildings? What steps will they take to integrate sustainable urban drainage systems? If nothing changes in all these new homes, we will create enormous demands for water and enormous drainage problems in these areas. Has the Minister seen that, despite the fact that the Government have put in place regulations stating that new homes should display their energy efficiency details in a prominent place, few builders are complying and sales staff on sites are very badly informed about that type of information? There appears to have been no step change there.

As for economic sustainability, how can we all benefit from the proposed developments? Some see this as a bonanza for developers, especially those who already have land which will increase in value. Should not the Government use future land values to raise finance for public investment by acquiring land for public purposes, rather than simply enabling local landowners to become what some are describing as "instant millionaires". People are genuinely worried about that.

As the Minister said in another place, we have completed far fewer homes than at any time in the past 77 years. Many people believe that that is because developers currently make more money by developing the land banks they already have. As I think has already been pointed out, that is particularly important in terms of money for social housing. Although the Government have doubled spending on social housing since they came to power, most of it has been swallowed up by increasing house prices.

Finally, how sustainable are these proposals if they are to be quango led rather than community led? I do not understand why the Government are so focused on the undemocratic Conservative model of urban corporations which the Deputy Prime Minister himself opposed when he was in opposition. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that this vision is sustainable and deliverable and that it really will be a step change.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I welcome the welcomes given to the Statement, variable in extent as they often are in your Lordships' House. But I am grateful for them nevertheless. I appreciate that they were genuine.

Many important questions were rightly asked. The Statement is important and significant. It is probably one of the most significant statements relating to housing and sustainable development that this Government, or any government, have had the opportunity—perhaps even the privilege—to make.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked a number of important questions. She mentioned leaks. We are not responsible for leaks. People speculate

5 Feb 2003 : Column 217

about the contents of a Statement. She questioned our approach to home ownership and right to buy. I make it plain from the outset that we continue to support right to buy. We have sought to iron out the wrinkles that have led to some abuse. We are committed, and continue to be committed, to ensuring the widest possible opportunities for home ownership. The Statement makes clear that we shall set up a home ownership task force to consider ways in which we can extend home ownership other than through the mechanism of right to buy. Although right to buy has been successful, it has absorbed a massive public resource—some 40 billion, as I said.

We are deeply committed to partnership. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, questioned our commitment to local authorities. I do not share her interpretation of the Statement. We believe that local authorities are absolutely central to the plan. That becomes clear when one studies the plan. I am aware that noble Lords will not have had the opportunity to study the details of the plan. A Local Government Bill currently proceeding through Parliament contains measures to ensure that decisions on these issues are taken locally, that bureaucracy is reduced and that there will be a much greater focus on improving people's quality of life. For example, the legislation will enable councils to fund major improvements through borrowing without government consent under a new prudential borrowing system and will enable councils and businesses to work together much better to solve local problems. Those provisions will make a significant difference.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked how much legislation would be needed. We are taking steps to enable a legislative programme to be put in place to allow key partners, especially local authorities, to deliver the action programme effectively. The report states on page 58:


    "We have three major Bills already in Parliament and will be publishing a fourth shortly".

All of those Bills relate to the role of local authorities. They will have a major and important role to play, as they have in the past.

I do not take overly kindly to criticism of our programme from the Benches opposite. The Conservative government made a major contribution to the present housing situation and our ability to develop sustainable communities. As a former chair of a housing committee and leader of a council I recall the year-on-year cutback in funding to invest in social housing, carry out repairs, cut the backlog, put new investment in place and deal with many of the problems that arise in the private sector. It is worth repeating that we inherited a 19 billion backlog of repairs in the affordable housing sector. Since 1997 we have taken steps to put that right. We are on target to achieve many of our objectives in that regard.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hanham and Lady Maddock, mentioned green belt land and the need to ensure that we made best use of brownfield sites. We have stuck to our promise to ensure that development is focused on brownfield sites. We set a target of 60 per

5 Feb 2003 : Column 218

cent in that regard. We have stuck to that target and we are on course to attain it. We have put important measures in place to ensure that the green belt is not just protected but is expanded. I knock on the head the myth that we intend to relax planning controls for green belt land. That is not the case. We are determined to stick to PPG2 which states that protecting the countryside from encroachment is one of the main purposes of including land in the green belt. That is precisely what we have done.

As the Statement made clear, we are committed to new parks. After all, a Labour government introduced the system of national parks. We are creating a national park in the South Downs. I believe that many of us are proud of that and are pleased to be associated with it. There is a presumption against inappropriate development within green belt land. That is a significant assurance. Since May 1997 there has been a net addition of some 30,000 hectares to green belt land which has been widely welcomed. By increasing density of build in the South East, as the Statement indicated, we can achieve our targets. I should have thought that that would be widely welcomed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, asked whether the proposals would be funded by new money. The relevant announcement was made last July. The allocation of money is set out clearly. I refer to the breakdown of figures in the document. We shall allocate 22 billion for housing, planning and regeneration. The plan indicates our priorities in considerable detail. I believe that the proposals are sustainable. I understand and recognise some of the issues that have been raised, particularly with regard to overheating. We shall obviously have to be very careful in that regard. However, we are faced with the awkward conundrum of high demand in the South—a desirable part of the country that is economically successful vis-a-vis the regions of Europe—and the need to have a more than adequate supply of affordable housing, especially for key public service workers. Our strategy must comply with our desire to drive up standards in the public services and to have an adequate labour supply in that sector.

I look forward to further questions. I recognise that I have not responded to all of the points that were raised and I hope that I shall be able to pick up some of them.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I refer to the two areas that the Minister mentioned that are situated near to communities in Essex. I am leader of Essex County Council. I welcome his remarks about the Thames Gateway but perhaps he will go into the detail of the infrastructure that is required. We all believe that that area contains brownfield sites which should be developed. We can do that provided we receive funding for infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals. Considerably more investment is required to achieve those objectives than has been mentioned today. Will the Minister comment more fully on the

5 Feb 2003 : Column 219

Thames Gateway? We all accept that that area has much to offer in terms of providing housing and employment in the South East.

The area that particularly concerns me, and on which I would like the noble Lord to comment further, is that now described as "London—Stansted—Cambridge". The paper is about sustainable communities. We already have communities in Epping, Harlow, Stortford and Stansted, and I read in the evening papers last night that Bishop Stortford might get 40,000 new houses. That sort of conjecture and discussion needs to come to an end.

As my noble friend Lady Hanham said earlier, we already have the prospect of the largest airport in the world at Stansted, one twice the size of Heathrow. Communities are under extreme threat because of that. The conjecture is an added burden on everyone along the M11, from Epping to Cambridge and onwards. We are talking about sustainable communities, but that is destroying communities. We need to know what the Government plan for the area.

The Minister referred to using local government. We would like to be more involved. At the moment, we feel bypassed. The Government keep making Statements such as this, but we feel that we do not know what is happening. For the benefit of those excellent communities, we must have some more answers now, because they are being destroyed at the moment. Perhaps the Minister will give me a few more answers on that.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page