Sustainable Communities

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:31 pm on 5th February 2003.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Spokesperson (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister), Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) 12:31 pm, 5th February 2003

Unlike David Davis, who speaks for part of the Conservative party, I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his important statement. I welcome the fact that housing, especially affordable housing, is at last getting the attention that it deserves. The proposed new build on brownfield sites in the Thames gateway is long overdue.

In proposing measures that go beyond tackling the problem of affordable housing in the south-east, is not there a danger of going too far and fuelling the flames of economic overheating in the south-east that caused the difficulties? Does the Deputy Prime Minister realise that many other parts of the country, including rural England, have similar affordable housing crises? Is he convinced that he has got the regional balance right, with the south set to receive more than four times the housing cash of England's five northern regions? Where is the strong regional policy that is rightly beloved by the Deputy Prime Minister? Why is he taking the slow train to regional devolution when that could help rebalance growth? Does not the statement show that the Government have given in to the north-south divide?

Although some development will be on brownfield land, much of the proposed new housing is on greenfield land. Why have the Government maintained the Conservative Administration's perverse VAT system, which penalises the repair and renovation of old housing stock and encourages greenfield development? How many more acres of countryside must be concreted over before the incentive for environmental vandalism is removed? Why does not the Deputy Prime Minister increase the target of 60 per cent. new build on brownfield land?

We agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that any new house-building programme must take account of the mistakes of the past. We must build communities and involve all Departments. Why is there so little evidence of joined-up government in the statement? Where is the related transport infrastructure around London and for the regions to support our communities? Why has the decision on Crossrail been shelved when it is central to the viability of development in the Thames gateway? Will the new Cabinet Committee, which the Prime Minister chairs and reports by May, specifically consider funding Crossrail and the Olympic bid?

Will the Deputy Prime Minister guarantee that the social infrastructure, for example, schools and hospitals, for proposed developments in other places such as Milton Keynes will be there in time to serve the new communities? Will he enter into a contract with the people of Milton Keynes, Ashford and south Essex so that they will not have to accept the homes unless the Government provide the cash for schools, hospitals and public transport?

The Deputy Prime Minister called his proposals "the communities plan". Will he assure us that it will be community led, not quango driven? Why are the Government so focused on the undemocratic Conservative model of urban development corporations, which the right hon. Gentleman rejected when in opposition?

The Deputy Prime Minister mentioned empty homes. Surely far more urgent action is needed. There are empty homes and homeless people in every region of the country. Why did not he announce the largest campaign ever to end the scandal of empty homes? Would not we make an impact more quickly on the affordable housing crisis, with much smaller environmental costs, by using the homes that already exist? Why does not the Local Government Bill allow local councils to keep the cash from ending council tax discounts on empty homes? [Interruption.]