Housing

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:25 pm on 23rd May 1988.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth , Knowsley North 5:25 pm, 23rd May 1988

I could not disagree with that.

The Minister and his colleagues have made great play of the use of housing action trusts, of which it is proposed that there will be 10. The Minister will be aware that I have the forerunner of a HAT in my constituency—the Stockbridge village trust. I have taken a great deal of care not to criticise the trust. I hope that it will work, because for many people the prospect of decent housing depends upon it. However, as Ministers may be aware, it has not been a great success. Part of the reasoning behind the building of Stockbridge village and the setting up of HATs is that they will uplift areas and ensure a greater mix. For example, if some spare land is left over, private developers can build houses for owner-occupation. However, Barratt built some houses three or four years ago in Blackthorne crescent in Stockbridge village, with a purchase price of £22,500. I understand that a developer is now offering the Abbey National building society, which owns them, £5,000 a unit, so that cannot be said to be a great success.

The Stockbridge village trust has not succeeded in making owner-occupation attractive. I suspect that if areas of the greatest deprivation are chosen for HATs, that will ensure they are not a success. We are dealing with a phenomenon that is not entirely the responsibility of councils or to do with rented houses—it is to do with the local economy.

In the Committee that considered the Housing Bill, I tried to promote a consensus of support, from hon. Members on both sides of Committee, for housing co-operatives. One product of the Bill is the use of private finance in a system of flexible housing association grants. I know that the intention is to increase the supply of houses in the housing association sector, but when that is applied in an area with low values and high costs—and one or both of those problems applies in most areas—the net effect is that the housing co-operatives and housing associations will have to do package deals with construction companies, cutting out the architect. Those package deals lead to system building, a problem on many housing estates. It is ironic that housing co-operatives, which the Minister and others support, may be killed off by the application of private finance.

The Housing Bill will not work, and the Minister knows it. He knows too that the Government's housing policies are not working. The civil servants know it, the academics and housing experts know it. I suspect that the Secretary of State does not know it, and that the Minister, who is a nice chap who tries to build up his role as the acceptable face of the Department of the Environment, will not escape criticism, because there is a housing crisis. It is an intellectual crisis for the Secretary of State, but a human crisis for thousands of people.