Tonight in Bradford, families have gone to bed in 32,000 homes that are in need of major renovation. There are about 8,000 men, women and children on the council's waiting list. In 5,000 so-called homes without running water, an inside toilet or a bathroom, people wonder how much longer they will have to endure such conditions. Hundreds of tenants with children have been rehoused after being moved from homes that were structurally defective.
There are thousands of council tenants whose homes are in urgent need of modernisation and repair, and there are tenants anxiously awaiting a transfer. The homeless are being shunted around poor bed and breakfast hotels, hostels and other poor accommodation. Thousands of low-income owner occupiers desperately want improvement grants to provide their homes with basic amenities. Elderly people, single people and families and private tenants in multi-occupation accommodation are living in conditions which are often dangerous, and those people often face harassment and extremely poor living conditions.
These stark and simple facts spell out the gravity of Bradford's housing crisis. About 7,000 council homes in Bradford have been sold, and building programmes come nowhere near replacing the homes that have been sold. The local newspaper, the Telegraph and Argus, in a dramatic series of articles last December, printed the figures for new house starts and completions in Bradford, and they clearly show the decline in building in the city.
In 1977–78 there were 975 starts in local authority building, and in each year since then the number has fallen. The figures are: 998, 297, 290 and in 1981–82 there were no starts whatever. In 1982–83 there were 42, in 1983–84 there were 59, in 1984–85 there were 45 and in 1985–86 there were just 50. For most of that period, certainly since the beginning of this decade, the local authority was under the control of a Conservative, SDP-Liberal alliance. The city's population is increasing dramatically and authoritative forecasts say that by 1996 we shall need to provide homes for an extra 11,000 people.
The latest estimates are that we need to build 1,400 houses a year in addition to the normal building level.
Bradford needs more money from the Government to build more new homes and to make more improvement grants available to improve and renovate older homes. We need agreement from the Government to spend more of the money received from the sale of council homes and land so that Bradford can spend more of its money on better housing provision in the city. Bradford needs permission to use private finance, for example from building societies, to finance the building of new homes and the renovation of older homes, many of which are well-built and large. They represent desirable accommodation for larger families and could help to regeneate the inner city and persuade more people to stay in the city.
I much regret that the Prime Minister recently refused my request to meet a broadly based deputation, which consisted of the city council, the chamber of commerce, the trades council, the university and the ethnic minority organisations, to discuss the full range of the city's problems, including our housing crisis. Had the Prime Minister agreed to the meeting, she would have heard that, in parts of Bradford, it now costs more to build a new home than the price at which that new property may be sold. A three-bedroomed semi-detached house in Manningham would now cost at least £10,000 more to build than the price at which it could be sold. That is the major deterrent to any developer—public or private—building new homes in inner-city Bradford.
When I wrote to the Prime Minister to request the meeting I explained the difficulties that Bradford faced in providing homes for its people. On 23 February the Prime Minister replied:
As in 1986/87, Bradford's initial HIP allocation may be supplemented by additional allocations for schemes on rundown council estates drawn up in conjunction with the Department of the Environment's Estate Action team. In 1986/87 Bradford has received additional approvals for Estate Act schemes amounting to £2·4 million and I would expect the Council to look to this opportunity to supplement is housing allocation again in 1987/88.
That is welcome, but it is wholly insufficient to meet the problems that we face.
The total dependence in Bradford on free market forces creates monstrous obstacles to our people's ability to live in the inner cities in either council or private homes that they can afford to rent or in homes that they can afford to buy.
The verdict of the market place on property values reflects many factors—levels of employment, levels of economic activity and levels of economic prosperity. Bradford and many of its people are extremely poor. One in five of my constituents are unemployed, and in parts of the district unemployment soars to 50 or 60 per cent. A third of the population are in receipt of benefit. Workers in west Yorkshire receive the lowest pay of any region in the United Kingdom.
Hence, on a day when we hear that property prices have increased by record amounts in London and the south-east, and Conservative Members in the south are protesting about property development in their plush and prosperous areas, I must come to the House to tell the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction that in inner-city Bradford houses now cost more to build than the price at which they can be sold. So much for the north-south divide. It is in housing that that divide is most grotesque.
A sensible, caring, compassionate Government with genuine concern about our people's quality of life would recognise that they must intervene in the market if families in Bradford will be able to live and hopefully work in the inner city. If all our people are to be properly housed, the Government must be forced out of their uncaring complacency.
At Question Time today a visitor from Mars, having listened to Ministers, might be forgiven for thinking that our housing crisis could be solved if only councils let every empty house, rent controls were swept away and hundreds of hostels were provided for the homeless. We desperately need new thinking, new ideas and new approaches. Above all, we need homes for the homeless and good homes for all those living in desperate housing need. We must urgently devise new ways of funding inner-city housing. Local councils should no longer be in the straitjacket of annual housing programmes with the 60-year loans and conventional interest rates.
Why cannot there be some new machinery such as a revamped Public Works Loan Board, offering finance at preferential interest rates for new building and renovation? It would require a dynamic and flexible approach, working in full partnership and co-operation with local councils. A decent home, at a rent or price that can be afforded, is surely a modern right, as central to any civilised society as the right to work, to food and warmth, to free health and to universal education. Far too many of my constituents and other citizens of Bradford are living in rotten housing conditions and have no work. Because they are forced to stay in a lot, their electricity and gas bills are extremely high. Many have their fuel supplies disconnected because of arrears that they are unable to pay. Their children go to schools that are crumbling and in some cases literally falling down. Illness, nervous stress and marriage break-ups are becoming of increasing concern.
Many of these people hear the chairman of the Conservative party tell them to get on their bikes and go to where the work is. Those who do find work away usually cannot find anywhere in which they can afford to live. Today, the Secretary of State for the Environment, in his laid-back way, advised the homeless in London to move north, to where there are plenty of empty homes available. My constituents want to live and work in Bradford. They want a decent home and a decent pay packet. Far too many of them, alas, now have neither.
Everybody but the Government sees that spending much more on investing in building new homes and improving older homes makes good sense. It gives people better homes and it provides work directly for builders, plumbers and electricians, and for others indirectly—for example, all those who work in providing building supplies and materials. Already, in Bradford there is concern that when the building programme starts, there will be serious skill shortages, which will hold back progress.
Tonight, as thousands of my constituents spend another night in overcrowded, cold, damp and dingy homes, I hope that the Minister will give those people some hope. I hope that he will engage in a genuine debate and seriously address the issues that I have raised regarding the housing crisis now gripping Bradford.
I began by referring to an excellent series of articles in the Telegraph and Argus. The editorial coming at the end of that series said :
If Bradford makes about £8 million in a year by selling council houses, land and other assets, it should be allowed to spend the lot building new houses—not restricted to just 20 per cent. of it per year.
Surely this would be one way of injecting the local economy with funds, creating much-needed work for the construction industry. Bradford urgently requires new houses, and the updating of several thousand pre-1919 properties.
Lastly, thousands of houses in the private sector need to be improved and modernised. Unless they are, they will quickly be degenerating into slums. If that happens Bradford's crisis will be even worse, requiring vastly much more money than is the case at present.
Surely, cutting improvement grants back to the bone is false economy: whatever short-term savings on the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement are made now will only cause much greater long-term expense in the future.
That is the authentic voice of concern about the housing crisis in Bradford.
I ask the Minister, rather than giving a litany of the shortcomings of the last Labour Government, which is the predeliction of so many Conservative Ministers when replying to debates such as this, to address himself to the problems of the past and the challenge of the future. I hope that he will have something positive to say, and will be able to give my constituents and the other citizens of Bradford who are now worried and desperately anxious about their housing conditions, some hope of better things to come.