Orders of the Day — Housing (Burnley)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:08 pm on 7th May 1986.

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Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley 9:08 pm, 7th May 1986

I welcome this rare opportunity for a second Adjournment debate because it does not happen often. I appreciate that, in view of the shortness of notice, the Minister will have some difficulty in replying to some of the specific points I raise. I shall not criticise him for that, but I hope that he will try to respond to some of my general comments and I hope that he will take on board the more specific points and come back to me with some of the answers. I think that that is the normal method for a second Adjournment debate, because they are always arranged at short notice and it puts the Minister, whoever it is, in some difficulty. I recognise that, although the Minister is from the Department of the Environment, this matter is not within his area of responsibility.

The subject of housing, especially in Burnley, is important and it is right that I should take this opportunity to draw it to the attention of the House. This is certainly not the first occasion on which I have had an Adjournment debate on the subject and it is far from the first occasion on which I have spoken about the housing problems in my constituency of Burnley.

I think that it is true to say that housing in Burnley is the second most serious problem after unemployment. It is a matter of grave concern to the people of the town, in both the private and public housing sectors. One of the great differences between the two main political parties is on housing policy. We believe that the Government should make available many more resources to deal with housing in places such as Burnley. Not only would that deal with the housing problem, which is a common feature in Burnley and many other areas, but it would enable people to be put back to work.

My main criticism hinges on the provision of resources. It is apparent that the present housing investment programme allocations to local authorities are inadequate. The second aspect connected with cash and the ability of local authorities to deal with their housing problems relates to the use of capital receipts from the sale of council houses. It seems wrong to me and to many people in local government that local authorities are restricted to using 20 per cent. of capital receipts. The Government should look again at that policy. I hope that they will do so with a view to increasing the percentage that can be spent, if not making it possible to spend all the capital receipts.

A housing crisis is rapidly dawning in the constituency that I represent. There is a problem in many areas. First, we still have a large number of pre-war council houses—864, which is about 10 per cent. of our housing stock awaiting improvement. Those houses urgently need modernisation. The council estimates that it will take about eight and a half years at the present rate of progress to modernise them. The present cost is £15,000 to £16,000 per dwelling, and there is no subsidy for the improvement of council houses in the main.

The total cost to the council at 1986 prices is about £14 million. If the Government turned round and said tomorrow that they would give Burnley an extra allocation of £14 million, and if one assumed that the labour was available to deal with that programme, there would be implications for the housing revenue account, which would have to be met by an increase in either rent or rates.

That burden would be unacceptable. I have long been of the view that we should look differently at the way in which we subsidise improvements. It is time that we considered subsidising improvements to council houses in the same way as we subsidise improvements to houses in the private sector.

As I said, at the present rate of progress we shall have completed those improvements in eight and a half years' time. If one takes the pessimistic view that that cannot be improved on, at that time the council will also be faced with the problem of having to improve houses built immediately after the war. At the stage, those houses will be 50 years old. Improvements such as central heating are missing from houses built in the immediate post-war years. We have several estates in that category. But the immediate priority is to deal with the pre-war council houses.