Orders of the Day — Housing and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:05 pm on 4th February 1986.

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Photo of Mr John Powley Mr John Powley , Norwich South 9:05 pm, 4th February 1986

As there is a very short time left at my disposal, I will have to skate over the surface of the Bill. I apologise straight away if I oversimplify matters.

I give a warm welcome to all the provisions in the Bill. I believe that the Bill is only one small step along the way to a much better housing philosophy. I believe, and I have written to the Minister expressing my view, that there are yet further measures which need to be taken to bring better housing stock and tenure back into operation. The amendment, which I hope the House will not support, is nothing more than a rehash of old sentiments put out by the Opposition. The Opposition do not have much to offer. I first worked on a local authority housing committee in 1967. In those days it was said that there was a housing crisis. They said there was a housing crisis between 1970 and 1974, another between 1974 and 1979 and they are saying the same thing again, that today there is a housing crisis dating back to 1979.

When I worked in a local authority it seemed to be the idea of local authority councillors that more and more council houses should be built to resolve the housing problem. I did not see that as a basis for a solution. I found that the more council house building there was, the more the waiting lists increased. Local authorities were chasing a never ending tail which they could never possibly catch. When I was elevated to the position of chairman of the housing committee, I reversed the whole procedure. While I accept that I am over-simplifying the case, by building fewer council houses in my local authority and working in other areas, we reduced the waiting lists. We rehoused the people who needed rehousing far quicker by that method than had ever been done before. That was a compassionate way to behave. I saw people on the waiting lists in my local authority who badly needed accommodation, who had not previously been housed. These people were housed quicker through our housing policy than ever before.

I would like to make two important points. The first relates to local authority waiting lists, on which many local authorities base their HIP allocation, and the second relates to empty properties. The figures given by Shelter in the research document show that there are 1,217,000 people on local authority waiting lists. The local authority in my constituency has a waiting list, so they say, of 4,764 people. I beg everybody to look more closely at those figures. I suggest that those waiting lists are patently not an accurate reflection of the housing need. I discovered that through a personal examination of the lists when I was chairman of the local authority.

In Norwich, the city which I have the honour to represent, the waiting list of 4,764 is split up between those people in shared accommodation, which form 75 per cent. of the waiting list, and those in self-contained accommodation, representing 25 per cent. of the list. Of those in shared accommodation, 80 per cent. are single people. That does not represent housing need. The criterion for entry on to the waiting list is so wide that virtually anybody who is single could put their name down and become part of the statistics. My son could become part of those statistics. There are single people living with their parents on the waiting list who do not have a housing need. They are perfectly adequately housed, their housing standards are up to scratch and so on. Quoting such statistics does not give an accurate reflection of the criteria for what must be spent on housing.

According to the figures cited by the Department of the Environment, there are about 116,500 empty properties, 26,000 of which have been empty for more than one year. In my local authority area, there are 652 empty properties, 170 of which have been empty for more than six months and 300 of which have been empty for more than three months. That is a disgrace. Because of the number of empty properties, I believe that, instead of waiting for an indeterminate period before properties can be included in the housing stock, we should seriously consider the options. Some of the properties could be sold for owner-occupation, and the purchaser could do up the property. Some could be offered to people on council waiting lists, and they could do up the property. Empty properties could be brought back on to the market. That would be better than letting them stand empty for long periods while apparently nothing is done. People who badly want rehousing come to my surgeries. Something must be done about the length of the waiting lists and about the empty properties. Many local authorities do little or nothing about those properties.

I support the Bill. I hope that I catch the eye of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection so that I can give my hon. Friend the Minister support in Committee.