Local Housing Programmes

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 13th March 1986.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 6:31 pm, 13th March 1986

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) on raising this important matter, and I congratulate him also on his excellent speech, in which he set out the problems caused to so many families by the Government's savage cuts in local housing programmes.

On the day that the House adjourned for Christmas, I raised the problem of the housing crisis in my constituency of Leyton and Leytonstone. I drew attention to the growing problem of homelessness and the increasing inability of the local authority to cope properly with that problem. Such inability had an effect on the people on the waiting lists who were desperately trying to get a move. More and more were told that they had no chance of getting the move that they wanted. The new building programme had been effectively curtailed. Repairs were harder to obtain and estates which desperately needed environmental improvements were denied them and were pushed further back in the queue awaiting such improvements.

Subsequent to that debate I asked a parliamentary question about housing investment in Waltham Forest. I asked what the investment in real terms was in 1979, and what it was at present. The answer was that in 1979 housing investment was worth £17 million, but that it was worth £4·5 million in real terms in 1985. That was the result of the Government's savage cutback in the housing programme. The Minister who replied to my question said that I had not given enough emphasis to the private sector. However, the private sector cannot possibly fill the gap caused in Waltham Forest, or anywhere else in the country, by the Government's savage cuts.

I have referred to the housing problems in the private sector. Home improvement grants for owner-occupiers in my borough have been blocked since August 1984. The opportunity for low-income owner-occupiers to repair and improve their homes has been effectively extinguished by that blocking policy. Private tenants are afforded little protection. I contributed to the debate on this matter recently, and I feel that there should be an effective charter of rights for private tenants. The Labour party takes into account private as well as public sector housing.

I referred briefly at Christmas to the Sinnott road development site in my borough. It is a site of scarce housing land which will be needed to rehouse families displaced by the Mll link road proposals as they affect my constituency. The Waltham Forest council—it is jointly controlled by the Liberals and the Tories—is in the process of selling off that site. It is a scandal.

I received a letter from the leader of the Labour group on the council, Councillor Bill Pearmine, about that site. Bill Pearmine draws attention to the recommendations of the council's housing committee on 28 January which were accepted by the full council—Liberal and Tory-controlled—on 20 February. The housing committee recommended: Members are asked to endorse the current proposals. This would include a formal submission to the DOE in order to dispose of the land at nil cost or at cost below market value. Councillor Pearmine asked:

How anyone can talk of disposing at 'nil value' land on which 148 homes can be built is beyond me; as the developer will retain nearly 100 properties. This is putting in the hands of a private developer an asset that when built will be worth over £3·5 million assuming a unit price of £35,000 and that may indeed be on the low side … You will notice that if the DOE requires repayment of the outstanding loan debt on the land, then the nomination rights would only apply to 16 properties. That is all that the council would get out of the sale. However, the total cost would be £1,806,000. That is the amount of the give away by the council to private developers for scarce housing land in my borough. Privatisation is represented by that type of handout. The Conservatives and Liberals are forcing a massive handout to private developers, regardless of the need for public sector houses.

It is a deplorable situation. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) should get on his feet and deplore that handout. Unless he does so, in any future elections the Liberals' part in that deplorable give away of housing land must be made clear.