Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1978.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Brent East 12:00 am, 21st June 1978

There has not been an increase in empty properties. On the contrary. I shall list some of the projects that have been undertaken in widening tenure choice and the management systems which have contributed to that.

There has been an increase in short-life property licensing arrangements. A series of community leasehold housing associations has been sponsored. Some of the associations are now converting themselves into co-operatives. There has been a range of measures, and we have been encouraged by the fact that 40 local authorities have agreed to undertake leasing schemes from private owners for short terms, or in some instances running up to 21-year leases on a review basis. There was only one local authority undertaking such arrangements when we came into office.

There has been a series of initiatives. We issued a report on these matters a few months ago. We collated all the different methods being applied throughout the country and issued the report to local authorities.

Where there is real, hard evidence of properties being unnecessarily empty, it behoves all public representatives, including Members of Parliament—I am now speaking as much as a Member as a Minister—to have direct contact with their town halls and to encourage actions that could be taken, either by purchase or by negotiating leasing arrangements of the sort to which I have briefly referred. Some properties will stand empty for various reasons. Some are on the market for certain periods. Others are subject to repairs. There are others that are unnecessarily empty. We must talk to the authorities and bring our influence to hear.

There have been the various initiatives to which I have referred. They have all been directed to widening the choice of tenure that is essential in housing. More than that, the schemes that I have outlined, and to which we have been giving a great deal of time in the past few years, introduce a community dimension to housing that has been missing for far too long. That is to be coupled closely with the kind of estate management and neighbourhood management experiments which we are sponsoring with a number of local authorities. Various authorities which are not directly associated with the projects which we are sponsoring are being advised about these matters. Many things are being done. We are widening choice and introducing the social dimension in housing at neighbourhood level.

I stress that one of the most important factors in widening choice is to be found in Housing Corporation and housing association work. Here I quote action, not rhetoric. For years Opposition Members, when in Government, spoke grandiosely about the third arm of housing, referring to the housing association movement. At most they produced about 9,000 or 10,000 dwellings a year. That was the figure which was operating in 1973. For most of the earlier period the figure had been about 6,000. In the course of four years housing association work has expanded to nearly 40,000 dwellings a year.