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Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 24 March 1993.

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Photo of Mr Stephen Milligan Mr Stephen Milligan , Eastleigh 12:00, 24 March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many houses will be provided in Hampshire as a result of the measures announced in the autumn statement.

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

Housing associations will purchase some 18,000 additional homes in England using the £577 million allocated for that purpose in the autumn statement. That is a very great achievement, exceeding by 2,000 the target of 16,000 homes set in November. I congratulate heartily the Housing Corporation and the 80 associations involved. Purchases have been widely spread across the country, with acquisitions in some 97 per cent. of local authority areas. More than 800 of those new homes will be in Hampshire. We hope that grants to local authority and housing association tenants will enable some 3,500 to become owner-occupiers, freeing their current homes for those in need. Latest estimates suggest that more than 200 may be in Hampshire. Overall, well over 20,000 families in England will benefit from permanent new homes.

Photo of Mr Stephen Milligan Mr Stephen Milligan , Eastleigh

Is my hon. Friend aware that Swaythling housing association believes that his measures will house 2,500 people in Hampshire this year? In my constituency, the number of people in temporary accommodation has halved in the past three months as a direct result of my hon. Friend's measures. In addition, extra Government aid has enabled my council to increase by one fifth the money spent on housing development, and proposed rent rises have been halved as a result of Government aid. Is not that proof positive that, despite the Opposition's claims, the Government are implementing practical measures to help the homeless and those in council accommodation?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

The House will take heart from the encouraging news from my hon. Friend's constituency, which is replicated throughout the country. The number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has fallen 38 per cent. over the past 12 months and that is a substantial achievement. In Hampshire, the Housing Corporation has approved allocations for projects next year totalling almost £29 million. We are determined to maintain the momentum and to continue to make progress on all housing fronts.

Photo of John Denham John Denham , Southampton, Itchen

Does the Minister accept that short-term measures, however welcome—and I welcome every additional home for rent—will not tackle the fundamental housing problem? Does he accept that the Government were responsible for a fall in the number of new homes to rent in Hampshire from 1,000 in 1988 to 462 in 1991? In the most recent year, well over 3,000 households in Hampshire became homeless. Existing measures must be expanded and sustained at a much higher level if homelessness is to be eradicated. What assurances can the Minister give the House that the type of measures taken will not be a flash in the pan, but will be expanded and sustained in future years?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

On the question of expansion, the output of housing associations is forecast to rise from 27,000 units in 1991–92 to more than 65,000 this year. That is a substantial improvement. As for homelessness, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take comfort from the fact that, over the past 12 months, the number of people accepted as homeless by local authorities has fallen by 2 per cent. It is the first time in 17 years that we have seen a reduction in homeless acceptances.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are good signs on the horizon and that the rather gloomy picture that he has painted does not represent what is really happening.

Photo of Mr Gerald Malone Mr Gerald Malone , Winchester

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the measures that his Department announced today about Hampshire's structure plans should be viewed along with the measures announced in the autumn statement, as they will have an equally significant effect on housing in Hampshire? Will he note that there is great relief in Hampshire following the news that no new settlement is to be imposed as a means of creating additional housing in the county and will he accept the thanks of the county council?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

I can confirm that the announcement made today by my right hon. and learned Friend, announcing regional guidance for Hampshire, makes it clear that a new settlement will not be required during the plan period to 2001. I note that that news has been accepted with relief by my hon. Friend's constituents.

Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West

Is the Minister aware that, as a result of the Government's proposed reduction in housing association grant rates to 55 per cent.—announced in the autumn statement and since—rents are set to rise to more than 39 per cent. of tenants' incomes? Is he aware that the number of housing association tenants on housing benefit will rise to 89 per cent. by 1996? According to UBS Phillips and Drew, pensioners in Hampshire, Shropshire and Hereford will find that they have to spend 61 per cent. of their incomes on rent. Will not that totally undermine any common-sense understanding of the Government's declared intention of providing affordable housing through the housing associations—or will the Minister reassure us that those huge rent increases will be met by massive housing benefit increases?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

I reject the alarmist propaganda that the hon. Gentleman has just revealed to the House. He knows perfectly well that no decisions on grant rates for 1994–95 have been made; when they are made, we shall bear in mind the important question of affordability.

Grant rates for the coming year have indeed been reduced, from 72 to 67 per cent., but, because of falling interest rates, lower land values and more competitive tenders, that will have no significant impact on rents. It will enable us to produce 3,300 more units, which is precisely what the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) advocated.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

How many more homes might have been provided in Hampshire if the Budget had done more to assist the private rented sector? If my constituency is anything to go by, there are about 10,000 empty dwellings in the county. I acknowledge the importance of building new houses, both for owner-occupation and to rent, but is not it equally important to make use of the private rented sector when so many dwellings are empty?

Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those 10,000 empty units represent a resource which must be returned to use. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are examining proposals to revive the private rented sector further and to restore incentives for property owners to make their accommodation available for rent, so that we can make more progress in tackling the housing problems in my hon. Friend's constituency.