Affordable Housing (Cumbria)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 27th October 2005.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families) 2:36 pm, 27th October 2005

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Perhaps I was being a little too generous, and gentle, to the Government in the hope of coaxing something out of them.

I suggest that, if the Government are seeking to stimulate saving and investment, they might instead offer tax credits for investment in affordable housing developments. The benefits of such a move would be many and, importantly, they would be shared. Such a scheme would provide a return for investors, a boost to the supply of affordable homes, and a contribution to the achievement of Government policy—which would be no bad thing, I am sure.

While I am in the mood for making suggestions, may I say that I would be grateful if the Government actively encouraged the sustainable development of affordable homes for local people within the national parks? The Yorkshire Dales national park, for example, has won plaudits for its work in ensuring the development of affordable homes for local people and in flexibly interpreting its planning and conservation roles, employing much-needed common sense in response to local needs. Such good practice should be spread to other national parks, with the Government's proactive support.

My neighbours and fellow residents in Westmorland and Lonsdale face average house prices that are 13 times higher than the average annual wage. This is not untypical for rural areas such as ours, as my hon. Friends have pointed out. The Government's support for the development of new affordable housing, for purchase as well as for rent, is welcome, as is their support for shared ownership schemes and for the provision of local occupancy clauses in affordable housing developments.

However, I have two concerns in that respect. The first is that the term "affordable" seems to have been stretched beyond all credibility. New properties on sale for upwards of £120,000 are being presented as affordable housing, but I can assure the House that, for most of my constituents, that amount is definitely not affordable. Secondly, local occupancy clauses are far too easily abused and thwarted. I have come across many examples in Grasmere, Windermere, Coniston and Ambleside of buyers who, technically, meet the criteria for local occupancy, but who have purchased property and let it for commercial purposes, rather than for the provision of affordable housing to local families. I hope that the Minister will take notice of my early-day motion calling for more effective enforcement of local occupancy clauses.

In closing, I observe that the term "affordable housing" has now fully entered the Government's lexicon, and I am grateful for that. However, the problem is that too much housing in Cumbria is unaffordable, and too much of it is unoccupied. That situation is not inevitable, however, and it is certainly not irretrievable. It is within the grasp of society to affect this situation, and to remove the appalling pressure on local families. The Lake district and the Yorkshire dales, which I represent, are often described as the lungs of England. I call on the Government to take action that will benefit the communities that populate those lungs, to allow them to breathe more easily.