Orders of the Day — Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:39 pm on 25th November 1980.

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Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Edge Hill 6:39 pm, 25th November 1980

Had the hon. Gentleman bothered to be present for the earlier part of the debate, and had he been here at the beginning of my speech, he would have heard me refer to the scandal of empty properties in the public sector. I agree that something should be done about that problem. Indeed, the number of empty properties in Liverpool has doubled since I was chairman of the housing committee. I do not think that that is the fault of the local authority, be it Labour or Liberal-controlled—it has rotated between the two for the last 10 years. It has far more to do with the reduction in funds that are made available to the local authority. As a result of the Government's policies, Liverpool is at present overspent by £2·5 million due to the reduction in funds to the housing investment programme. The number of vacant dwellings are increasing at the rate of 30 a month. Rents are to go up by £2·85 this year, plus the increase that will have to be added as a result of the Secretary of State's announcement.

The how Gentleman's party has nothing to write home about. He would do far better to question his own Ministers about the reduction in funds which enable local authorities to turn over vacant properties at a faster rate. One must also accept that the community itself should do more to try to detect those who are committing crimes of vandalism, and it should ensure that the police are made aware of who are the culprits.

I want to refer to the question of housing co-operatives. The hon. Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley) referred to the lack of help that housing co-operatives receive. II is a great shame that there are no recommendations in the Gracious Speech to enable tenants on council estates to take over the management and control of their properties. If such management co-operatives did exist, I am sure that many of the problems referred to by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) would be removed, because tenants would have a greater responsibility and involvement in the running of their own affairs. That will not be achieved by the sale of a house here or there. We must go far deeper into the problem, and that means initially the establishment of management cooperatives.

I turn next to the question of sheltered accommodation. In Liverpool at present, one-third of the people are over the retirement age. There is a massive shortage of sheltered accommodation. That inevitably means that many houses are under-occupied—houses that could be used for people and families in need who are now on the waiting list. While there is a shortage of sheltered accommodation, it is impossible to rehouse those elderly people. It means that people are remaining in under-occupied property, and that is something to which the Government should turn their attention.

Then there are the problems of the North-West in general. The cuts in housing association budgets will exaggerate the region's growing housing crisis. Local authority building has been cut back to the core. Private building for sale and rent is in serious decline. The Select Committee on the Environment has looked at the output from the private housing sector over the next few years and has concluded that The private housing sector will at most make only a small contribution to offset the reduction in public sector investment. Furthermore, in 1979 more than 25 per cent.—600,000 out of 2·4 million, the highest proportion of any English region—of all the homes in the North-West were unfit for human habitation, lacked basic amenities or needed major renovation. A total of one-third of the region's housing stock was built before 1914. The Department of the Environment's quality of life indicators show that the North-West is below the national average in respect of 21 out of the 26 factors selected. Unlike some parts of the country, there is an absolute shortage of homes in the North-West.

Local authorities have estimated that there is a need for 223,000 additional dwellings by 1984. Homelessness is on the increase. Waiting lists are swelling. More than 150,000 families are on local authority waiting lists in the North-West alone, and more than 400 families are in bedand-breakfast or hostel accommodation. The elderly, single parents, those who are already in substandard housing and the poorest in our community will be the hardest hit as a result of these housing cuts.

One of the groups that has done most to try to tackle the problems of bad housing is the voluntary housing movement—the housing associations. Housing associations have produced 235,000 homes through new building and property rehabilitation. In the 10 years 1970 to 1979, 135,675 new homes were created as a result of new building and 99,857 as a result of property rehabilitation. In the last four years of that period, completions averaged 36,000 each year, including an average of just over 1,000 in Wales. This year, however, North-West approvals are down from 8,429 to 3,450, and the total stock of the voluntary housing movement was approximately 410,000 homes at the beginning of 1980. It will be interesting to see what the effects of the cuts will be on the voluntary housing movement.

In the years 1977–78, 1978–79 and 1979–80, loan approvals to housing associations in England through the Housing Corporation provided for an average of about 33,500 homes each year. There were 34,579, 32,455 and 34,494 in those three years successively. About half were in schemes of new build and half in schemes of rehabilitation. In 1980–81 the housing association movement had to shoulder a heavy share of the public spending cuts. The level of Housing Corporation loan approvals for the year was cut by 35 per cent. this year, to 21,700 homes in England. However, because it became clear that the cost of the new programme, when added to the cost of schemes coming through the pipeline, would exceed the cash targets set by the Government, the moratorium announced by the Minister on 12 September was suddenly called. For a month no schemes proceeded. Now, a much-reduced programme has been resumed, with loan approvals down to 14,900, and building work on a large number of sites and properties has been postponed until next year or, in some cases, indefinitely.

That is not the whole story, because housing associations have also borrowed money for their work from local authorities. Loan approvals for about 8,000 homes were given by local authorities to housing associations in 1979–80. Because of the need to cut their spending, many local authorities have stopped lending for further schemes and are cutting money for schemes already approved. The effect of that loan approval in 1980–81 will probably come down below 3,500 homes for the year. The picture for 1980–81 is of a probable level of loan approvals for about 18,000 homes, compared with 42,500 last year. That represents a cut in the programme of nearly 60 per cent.