Housing (Scotland)

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 10:14 am on 20th March 1996.

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Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm , Edinburgh Leith 10:14 am, 20th March 1996

I con-gratulate the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) on obtaining this debate and on being able to find a copy of the Edinburgh Evening News down here before 9.30 am—something that I have not managed to do.

I shall concentrate on the housing revenue account capital budget, which is the key budget for the modernisation, central heating and window replacement programmes that are so desperately needed by many of my constituents. It is also the budget for the building of new council houses, although precious few are being built nowadays.

The figure this year for the HRA capital budget in Edinburgh is £32 million. Three possible figures have been given for next year under the resource planning assumptions. Edinburgh has been told that it will get £26 million, £24 million or £22 million. Figures have been given three years in advance; if we take the central figure, Edinburgh will suffer a cut of £30 million, not taking account of inflation, in its council housing capital budget over the next three years. The Greater Pilton area in north Edinburgh, which is part of my constituency, will lose £11 million of desperately needed housing investment over the same period. I shall describe the effect that that will have on my constituency.

If we have the same amount next year as we have had this year, we could have some new council houses in the West Granton area of my constituency. As a result of the cut, even if we get the highest figure, there will be no new council houses there. The Minister will say, "Okay, let the private sector do it." However, attracting private sector money for houses for rent in that area is a problem. Even if we are successful in attracting private sector money, there will be fewer houses for rent than there would have been, and the rents will be higher.

We have a serious problem in Edinburgh. Only 16 per cent. of the stock is council housing. I know that the Minister wants to continue to increase home ownership, but the reality is that many people cannot afford to buy their houses and, because of increasing job insecurity, that situation is becoming more common. We shall have a serious problem in terms of the number of houses available for rent and the change in the budget figure means that the problem will get worse.

The Muirhouse area is in much need of housing modernisation and new build. On the top figure that the Government have suggested—£26 million—some modernisation work can be carried out in Muirhouse. There will be no modernisation work anywhere else in Edinburgh, but there will at least be some in Muirhouse. The council has taken the view that to attract private finance into the area, it must keep up its commitment to public housing. Obviously £26 million is not enough, but I tell the Minister that if he must pick one of the three figures, the top figure is the least that Edinburgh needs. Some modernisation work can then go ahead in Muirhouse and that may have knock-on effects on other developments in. the area. Many of the houses have already been vacated, ready for modernisation. The tenants have been devastated by the news that the programme may not go ahead and I have had many representations on the issue. I make this plea to the Minister. If he cannot go beyond £26 million, he must at least give us that amount.

The other area of my constituency that has been affected is the Granton-Royston area. Some 311 houses in Royston were expecting modernisation in the next three or four years, but that modernisation scheme has been taken out of the housing programme. Granton Medway, a street in Granton, has been the subject of two housing studies in the past few months, by Edinburgh university and by the home energy advice team. The information was sent to the Minister.

Much information has been available from those studies about the state of houses in that not untypical street. It was found that 58 per cent. of people complained of dampness, 78 per cent. of condensation and 45 per cent. of mould. Two thirds of the bedrooms surveyed were below the official tolerable standard, which means that they were so cold that they were a risk to health. Many of the health problems, especially children's respiratory problems, were described in that report. Another fact that emerged was that tenants in that street were paying between 10 and 15 per cent. of their income on heating bills—twice the national average—because of poor insulation and the poor condition of windows.

That street is not unique. Recently, I visited houses in Crewe road gardens, quite nearby, and saw many similar problems. Much work therefore needs to be done. We need far more than £26 million, but at least, if we are given that top figure suggested by the Government, some window replacement and central heating work might go ahead in the Granton and Royston areas.

If the Minister cannot go beyond £26 million, I make a plea to him that at least we may have that figure. It is still a massive cut of about 20 per cent. on the £32 million that we had this year. I know that the Minister will say that the council must sell its stock and make money in that way. There are plenty of arguments about that, which I do not have time to make. Even if the council met the target that the Government have set for next year of 1.25 million through selling stock—that is, in blocks rather than in individual sales—that would represent, even at the top figure, a massive cut for next year's budget in Edinburgh.

The Government will also say, "We are putting money into housing associations and so on and new houses can be built by them instead of by councils." We know that, as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan said, Scottish Homes has had a massive cut in its budget and its development programme is down by £40 million next year. We know that the number of new starts by housing associations next year will be half what was planned, and that depends on Scottish Homes transferring £50 million of its stock, which may not happen, so we may have even fewer new starts than the 650 throughout Scotland about which Scottish Homes is now talking.

We have a massive housing crisis in Scotland. At the last count, there were 42,000 names on council housing waiting lists. The Scottish Office estimates that, because of demographic changes, 150,000 extra households will be required in the next 10 years.

We know from the Scottish home condition survey about the condition of Scottish houses. One in 20 is below the official tolerable standard and one in four suffers from dampness, condensation and mould. The Government's response is to slash housing expenditure, especially council housing expenditure. There is also a problem, which I do not have time to go into, with the budget for private housing, which must now compete with education and everything else for a share of a much diminished capital cake. We know that one in eight tenements in Edinburgh needs repair, and that cannot be done on present resources.

It is not only a housing problem. Investing in housing makes sense in economic and employment terms because of the direct jobs that are created and the indirect employment spin-offs. There are also health effects. Cold homes affect people's health and lead to additional national health service expenditure, they affect people's income because they must spend more on fuel and they affect the environment because people must use more fuel.

Low housing expenditure creates a vicious spiral of social and economic decline, whereas additional housing expenditure can create a virtuous circle of increased employment and better housing conditions. I make a plea to the Minister today at least to award the top figure to Edinburgh, although it must be said in conclusion that that in itself will be woefully inadequate.