Housing and Regeneration Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:01 pm on 27th November 2007.

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Photo of Richard Younger-Ross Richard Younger-Ross Shadow Minister, Culture, Media & Sport 7:01 pm, 27th November 2007

When we debate housing, I often think about the two great leaders whose statues stand outside the Chamber—Churchill and Lloyd George, who stood at the Dispatch Box, arguing and debating the housing crisis of 100 years ago.

We had homes fit for heroes. In the 1930s, we had new, innovative garden cities. During the 1940s and 1950s, we built vast council estates. During the 1960s, we had new ideas so we knocked down a lot of perfectly good housing to build more new estates and tower blocks. Parliament debated housing issues then and we are still debating them today. We still have a housing crisis: we still do not have enough homes fit for our constituents.

In 1990, when I first started on my passage to become Member of Parliament for Teignbridge, there were just over 1,000 people on the council's waiting list. Today, there are about 4,000 families on the list. During that time, under the right to buy, Teignbridge council sold off more than 3,000 council homes, but because of financial restrictions and other constraints it has been able to build only 1,300, so it is no wonder that the waiting list in Teignbridge has grown: there is clearly a shortfall of 1,700 houses—homes that are lost to the public sector.

I want to raise two key issues about healthy housing. First, I shall draw together a few threads from what has already been said about good design. Earlier I mentioned tower blocks. Much of the housing built in the 1950s and 1960s has already been knocked down—in some cases because it was poorly constructed, but often because it was badly designed. The houses were not fit for purpose; they were not a humane environment in which people were happy to live.

In an intervention on Anne Main, I said that high density is not bad density. High-density design can be good. While I am in London, I live in Dolphin square, which is a high-density block built in the 1930s. It is well designed and perfectly good for people's needs. Other properties, such as Georgian houses, are high density, but they work because space was created in them; the room sizes work for families. They are large enough for families to breathe.

Parker Morris standards, which were referred to earlier, guaranteed a minimum amount of storage, but they have been abolished. When I was a young architectural technician, I remember working out the amount of storage that had to be included in the design. When the standards were abolished, room sizes were the same but houses were slightly smaller because no storage was provided. What used to be part of the design of the house became part of the room fitments, so when we abolished Parker Morris we reduced the size of many houses.

People are being squeezed into more compressed spaces, yet the material needs of society are expanding. We provide much more for our children in their rooms. When I was a teenager I did not have a television in my room. I had a record player, but nowadays in most children's bedrooms there is a computer, a television and a record player.

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