Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance (Supplementary Credit Approvals) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 17th June 1997.

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Photo of Mike Hall Mike Hall Labour, Weaver Vale 4:33 pm, 17th June 1997

My hon. Friend rightly reminds me that I am talking about the previous Government. In 1992, they promised to increase the resources available to housing associations, yet between 1992 and when they left office on 1 May, they cut the allocation to the Housing Corporation by £1.3 billion. It is no wonder that there is a crisis in housing.

On Saturday, my constituent Mr. Moss came to see me. He had to apologise for not having got his arguments together, because his wife had died two days before. His housing association had put up his rent by £9, from £35 to £44 a week—a 25 per cent. increase. He wanted to know what I as a Member of Parliament could do to help. I had to refer him to a fair rent tribunal, and tell him that he would have to appeal quickly if anything was to be done. That emphasises the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon). The housing benefit bill has escalated from £3 billion to £13 billion. That is another reason why we need to tackle the crisis.

Part of Halton borough council was in my previous constituency of Warrington, South, and has come with me into Weaver Vale. There are 2,500 families on its waiting list. The situation in the Runcorn part of my constituency is peculiar because it is predominantly a new town development. My second and third generation constituents there find it almost impossible to get family accommodation. My constituents in Runcorn confront daily the problem of overcrowding. Demand for social and rented housing is high. Housing in Runcorn new town suffers from poor design, construction and layout. Again, the local authority faces escalating waiting lists, and the housing associations have to deal with severe problems.

Two hundred houses in Halton lack basic amenities—they are private houses—and 800 dwellings are unfit for habitation. If the local authority wanted to upgrade and modernise its 8,000 dwellings, it would need to spend £36 million on repairs alone. With the notional allocation of housing capital receipts, £12.4 million is available to it.

The Bill is intended to allow supplementary credit approvals to go to authorities such as Halton borough council so that they can plan their future and deal with their current crisis, and that will be very helpful. Halton has already begun to plan. It would like, for instance, to complete what it calls its "affordable warmth" scheme to improve heating and insulation, and, under the Bill, it could apply that scheme to 1,300 houses. That would mean a major improvement in the quality of a number of my constituents' houses.

Three hundred houses in Halton were built before 1939. The council wants to complete its investment programme to renovate those houses and bring them up to modern standards. Only 90 of its dwellings are maisonettes, which, as hon. Members will know, are very unpopular with families. With the supplementary credit approval that may result from the Bill, my local authority will be able to convert those maisonettes into the modern houses for which there is such a demand. It will also be able to build 100 new houses for rent, which will improve care in the community. All that will be possible when the Bill reaches the statute book, as it is bound to do. It contrasts starkly with the £1.6 million that the last Government allocated to housing investment. I look forward to working with Halton borough council in the years to come, so that it can begin to deal with its housing crisis in partnership with the Government.

Vale Royal borough council is new to my constituency. I am very impressed by the quality of its officers and members, and its modern, forward-looking approach to tackling the problems of its community. It has two housing lists: 1,641 families are deemed to be in housing need, with a similar number on the general local authority housing waiting list. It has 3,500 houses without central heating and 3,200 post-war houses that remain unmodernised. Given the current rate of investment permitted by the last Government, it will take the authority until the year 2010 to provide central heating in all its houses and until 2050 to modernise its existing stock. Its ability to improve its unsatisfactory housing and environmental conditions has been severely constrained by the last Government's reduction in capital spending.

The last Government's single regeneration budget failed to target scarce resources on housing projects in Vale Royal. Non-traditionally designed housing has been a particular problem: hon. Members with such houses in their constituencies will know of the difficulties associated with them. The Over estate is not in my constituency, but in that of the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad); however, I know it well. With the £9 million invested in the estate action programme, it was renovated and transformed. The programme was started on the Greenfields Park estate in 1994, but has not been completed, again because of Government cuts: £750,000 is still needed to turn its housing into modern, decent accommodation. Glebe Green is another non-traditionally designed estate, and £4.5 million is needed to make its housing fit for habitation.

Vale Royal borough council looks forward to being able to deal with its problems with the supplementary credit approval that the Bill will provide. It has £10 million in capital receipts: it is another authority that has money to invest in meeting the dire housing needs in my constituency.

Vale Royal and Halton have adopted the partnership idea, working with the private and voluntary sectors to secure the very best for their areas. They are keen to ensure that they obtain the best value for whatever money is available, working in partnership with anyone who is prepared to work with them. They are also keen to ensure that their capital receipts, or the credit approvals that will result from them, are put to the best use. Most important of all, they are determined to spend their money on improving homes for rent.

The Bill signals a new era in the provision of high-quality homes for rent. It is another measure that will remove the misplaced party-political dogma from government and the determination of how we run our affairs. It will return building workers to employment and stimulate the building supply industry. It will boost the local economy; and, most important, it will allow my local authorities to get on with the job that they were elected to do, in partnership with their private and public sector communities, and provide houses for rent. I commend it to the House.