Housing

Part of Statutory Instruments, &C. – in the House of Commons at 8:32 pm on 3rd July 1990.

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Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr 8:32 pm, 3rd July 1990

I found the Minister's speech profoundly depressing. That is especially sad as this is the first housing debate that I have attended since he has been in post. There were several crucial issues regarding the housing crisis on which he did not see fit to touch. I shall come to some of them in a moment. I do not want to speak for too long as this is a short debate, but I want to make a couple of constituency points and a couple of policy points.

The housing crisis is not evenly spread throughout the country. Everyone realises that. In the north, the condition of the stock is the overwhelming contributor to the crisis, whereas in the south it is the sheer shortage of stock. In the midlands, we are piggy in the middle. We suffer from poor quality housing and a shortage of stock, but not to the extremes that are experienced in the north and south. That means that we are left out; we do not make the headlines. Nevertheless, the extent and nature of the housing crisis in the midlands is such that, were we talking about London, it would merit headline space. That point is not made clear in our general housing policy. It is not made clear in the media and it is ignored by those with London-centred attitudes.

I shall refer in a moment to the Housing Corporation, but I want first to refer to Birmingham, part of which I represent. In recent years, we have lost out badly in the housing allocation. We have a massive amount of system-built housing to replace. That housing needs to be cleared; it cannot be renovated. The Boswell houses and the 900 Boot houses in my constituency cannot be salvaged. They will have to be replaced with a variety of mixed tenure housing of varying density and with different financial arrangements. That was par for the course to the Labour party when I was on the Front Bench, and it remains par for the course now. We do not have the financial wherewithal to provide the public money to pull in the private capital that we need to make those changes. That is why I think that the Government have gone too far.

Let me give an example. In the housing needs index and stress area review undertaken by the Housing Corporation, Birmingham lost out more than any other city or district in England. By 1992–93, the Housing Corporation's programme will be worth £1.7 billion—double what it was two or three years ago. By then, Birmingham will be losing out to the tune of £20 million a year because of the changes in the housing needs index and the stress area factors: the city will have lost 1.3 percentage points in that index. The Minister frowns, but he can check those figures and he will find that they are accurate. We shall lose £20 million a year after taking the stress area factors into account.

We must bear in mind the fact that that loss is on top of Birmingham's ever-declining housing investment programme allocation. The Minister talks for all the world as though the housing investment allocations and the housing investment programme are public subsidy. They are not. They merely give the city permission to borrow money, on which the council will have to pay market interest rates. The housing investment allocation is not money doled out to Birmingham city council by the Department of the Environment.