New Clause 14 — Duty to give financial assistance in respect of certain disposals

Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 31st March 2008.

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'(1) The HCA must exercise its powers under section 22 to give financial assistance by way of grant to a relevant provider of social housing in respect of any discount given by the provider—

(a) to a person exercising the right to acquire conferred by section (Right to acquire), or

(b) on a disposal of a dwelling in England by the provider to a qualifying tenant otherwise than in pursuance of the right conferred by that section.

(2) In subsection (1)(b) "qualifying tenant" means a tenant who was entitled to exercise the right to acquire conferred by section (Right to acquire) or by section 16 of the Housing Act 1996 (c. 52) in relation to a dwelling of the relevant provider of social housing other than the dwelling being disposed of by the provider.

(3) The amount of the grant given by virtue of subsection (1)(a) to a relevant provider of social housing for any year is to be the aggregate value of the discounts given by that provider in that year.

(4) The amount of the grant given by virtue of subsection (1)(b) to a relevant provider of social housing must not exceed the amount of the discount to which the tenant would have been entitled in respect of the other dwelling.

(5) The HCA must specify—

(a) the procedure to be followed in relation to applications for a grant by virtue of this section,

(b) in the case of a grant by virtue of subsection (1)(b), the method for calculating, and any other limitations on, the amount of the grant,

(c) the manner in which, and time or times at which, a grant by virtue of this section is to be paid,

(d) any other terms or conditions on which such a grant is given.

(6) In this section—

"dwelling" has the same meaning as in Part 2,

"registered provider of social housing" includes a person falling within section (Right to acquire)(3),

"registered social landlord" has the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Housing Act 1996 (c. 52),

"relevant provider of social housing" means—

(a) a registered provider of social housing, or(b) a registered social landlord,

"tenant" has the same meaning as in Part 2.'.— [Mr. Iain Wright.]

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Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 32— Definition of 'community land trust'—

'"Community land trust" means a non-profit organisation which is an industrial and provident society, a company limited by guarantee or other incorporated body whose governing instrument contains provisions to the following effect—

(a) the primary purpose of the organisation is to hold land and other assets in order to promote the social, economic and environmental sustainability of a specified local geographic community by providing or facilitating the provision of affordable or other sub-market housing or other community-based facilities and services,

(b) the organisation will not dispose of its land and other assets save in the furtherance of its objectives as set out in paragraph (a),

(c) the membership of the organisation is open to organisations which are located in or persons whose principal place of residence, work or business is located in the specified community the organisation is established to serve (although the organisation may have different classes of membership),

(d) over 50 per cent. of the governing body is elected by the members of the organisation,

(e) the organisation is accountable to the local community through annual reporting or otherwise, and is responsive to the local community's needs and to representations made on its behalf, and

(f) it is an organisation established to help enable the community and those who live or work there to benefit from the land or other assets it holds.'.

New clause 33— Duty to monitor and promote re-use of brownfield land—

'(1) The HCA must identify, collate and publish up-to-date information on the availability, including type and location, of brownfield land in England at district, regional and national level.

(2) The HCA must keep this data under review and publish its findings annually.

(3) The HCA must promote the re-use and reclamation of brownfield land by acting as the Government's statutory adviser on brownfield land, by providing advice and grants and by commissioning, undertaking or supporting research and other projects to further best practice.

(4) In this section "brownfield land" means land which has previously been developed.'.

Government amendments Nos. 16 and 17.

Amendment No. 151, page 2, line 4, in clause 2, at end insert—

'(d) to facilitate the provision and supply of home ownership including, in particular, low cost home ownership through community land trusts.'.

Government amendments Nos. 18 to 24.

Amendment No. 1, page 11, line 38, in clause 22, at end insert—

'(1A) Local authorities shall be eligible for financial assistance under subsection (1).'.

Government amendment No. 60.

Government amendment No. 25.

Amendment No. 229, page 15, line 17, in clause 34, leave out from 'HCA' to end of line 18 and insert

'must exercise its functions with the objective of contributing to sustainable development.

(3) The Secretary of State may issue guidance to the HCA for the purposes of this section and the HCA must have regard to any guidance so issued.'.

Amendment No. 207, line 22, in clause 35, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 208, line 23, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 209, line 27, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 210, line 29, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 211, line 33, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 212, line 35, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

No. 213, page 15, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 214, line 40, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 215, page 16, line 1, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 216, line 3, leave out 'low cost rental accommodation' and insert 'social housing'.

Amendment No. 217, page 16, leave out line 9 and insert

'social housing has the meaning given by section 69.'.

Government amendments Nos. 135 and 136.

Amendment No. 137, page 21, line 11, in clause 48, at end insert—

'(1A) The Secretary of State may give guidance to the HCA to ensure that, in exercising its powers, the HCA does not expose any person to any risk to their health arising from exposure to electric and magnetic fields with a frequency of between 30 and 300 Hertz.'.

Amendment No. 138, line 28, in clause 49, at end insert—

'(1A) The Secretary of State may give a direction to the HCA to ensure that, in exercising its powers, the HCA does not expose any person to any risk to their health arising from exposure to electric and magnetic fields with a frequency of between 30 and 300 Hertz.'.

Government amendment No. 26.

Amendment No. 139, page 39, line 6, in clause 88, at end insert—

'(3A) Pursuit of Objective 2 includes, but is not limited to, protection from the risks to health arising from exposure to electric and magnetic fields with a frequency of between 30 and 300 Hertz.'.

Amendment No. 140, line 29, at end insert—

'(15) The Secretary of State may add to or amend the regulator's fundamental objectives as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate.'.

Amendment No. 141, page 40, line 32, at end insert '; and

(c) specify the proportion of housing built within 60 metres, measured in any direction, of an overhead transmission line.'.

Amendment No. 142, page 72, line 41, in clause 180, leave out ', and'.

Amendment No. 143, line 42, at end insert ';

(m) the distance of housing from any overhead transmission line; and

(n) the levels of electric and magnetic fields with a frequency of between 30 and 300 Hertz permitted in housing.'.

Amendment No. 144, page 101, line 15, in clause 261, at end insert—

'"overhead transmission line" means any electric line above ground which carries or is capable of carrying electricity at or more than 275 kiloVolts,'.

Amendment No. 233, page 138, line 13, in schedule 1, after 'year', insert

', including how it has contributed to the achievement of sustainable development,'.

Government amendments Nos. 27 and 28.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I should like to speak in support of new clauses 32 and 33, amendments Nos. 175, 229 and 233 and any other measures to increase the value of democracy and sustainability in the Bill.

The Minister appeared to argue in Committee against limits on the powers of the Homes and Communities Agency, which seems to have extremely sweeping powers. Clause 3 is an extraordinary clause and defines the "Principal powers" of the HCA as the power to do

"anything it considers appropriate for the purposes of its objects or for purposes incidental to those purposes."

That must be the most broadly drawn principal power ever seen in the House. The HCA also has powers to facilitate the development of land, to "acquire land compulsorily" and to

"dispose of land held by it in any way it considers appropriate."

Those are major powers.

However, the Minister said in Committee that restrictions were unnecessary, because

"Any development would have to be in accordance with the development plan." ——[Official Report, Housing and Regeneration Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2008; c. 269.]

He said just now that local councils should still have a major role in place shaping, yet I fear that in having a national agency with such powers, as opposed to a local development agency, we may see local authorities' place-shaping and other powers being degraded. The question is: what kind of development plan will have to be conformed with? The Minister might be talking about the new local development frameworks, but I would not fancy putting one of those in the ring against the Homes and Communities Agency. He might also be talking about regional spatial strategies, which are now coming forward with a great deal of detail in local planning from unelected regional assemblies.

In the south-west, we are in the latest stage of an almost endless consultation, with the examination in public panel report, which has blithely dismissed some strongly held local views and is an example of how unelected quangos and Government-appointed inspectors can run away with their own sense of self-importance at the expense of local people's views. The examination in public panel report for the south-west describes land at

"the foot of Leckhampton Hill," next to my constituency,

"which marks part of the western extent of the Cotswolds and is a local beauty spot of some historical interest. There are panoramic views both to and from the hill which include views across part of the Leckhampton/Shurdington land and of Cheltenham itself. A large number of draft RSS representations relate to this land and the Panel is left in no doubt that the Hill and the views from it are an amenity much appreciated by local people."

Yet four paragraphs later all those concerns and all that respect for the local area are blithely dismissed. The panel simply says:

"We are also content, from our own inspection of the area, that there is scope for sustainable development here without harm to the AONB, the outlook from Leckhampton Hill or to the local environment. Regional Flood Risk appraisal has cleared the way for any flooding issue to be addressed through later strategic flood risk appraisal."

Presumably the panel did not see the area when it was all under water last July.

Strongly held local views are being dismissed by such quangos after years of earlier consultation in which local elected and community representatives were more or less of one mind—strongly in favour of more social housing, more urban regeneration and more appropriate small developments around villages, whose shops, post offices and schools are dying through a lack of people, and in general opposed to urban extensions around already affluent towns such as Cheltenham. What do we get in draft after draft of the regional spatial strategy? We get urban extensions around already affluent towns, where, historically, large quantities of land have already been released over decades, with no discernable impact on relative house prices.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I apologise for taking up the hon. Gentleman's time. I am listening to his arguments closely and I am sure that you would rule him out of order if he strayed too much into a Second Reading-type speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but is he opposed to the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency?

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My principal concern is about powers that are exactly analogous to those held by other quangos—powers to consult but never to change the decisions being consulted on. For instance, 8,100 houses in Cheltenham have been accepted by everybody locally for development in the urban area, but that has been pushed up to 13,800 houses, which will therefore overflow into urban sprawl, over miles and miles of green land and green-belt areas. Inevitably, we now have a growing cross-party campaign called "Save the Countryside". When we have bodies that trust the people, new housing will be accepted. That is the gist of many of the amendments that we discussed earlier.

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Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

To respond to what the Minister said, I see that my hon. Friend has assiduously read the reports of the Public Bill Committee. He is citing the exact point that I made, which is that the HCA has incredible powers—indeed, almost unfettered powers. He is expressing concern that the HCA has such a wide remit that it can walk into just about any other quango's activities without having to check with anybody else. I agree about that concern, and I said so in Committee.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support; that is exactly the point that I am making. If we fail to trust the people and empower such organisations simply to walk into other areas and bully and threaten people, the barriers will go up and people's nimby instincts will come out. Voices ignored so far in local areas mean that local people will become determined to shout louder.

The numbers that the HCA and others will be involved in handing down from the Department are not locally determined and are based on models about which many questions that were asked two years ago by the then Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, of which I was a member, need to be answered. The truth is that some of those models might all be for nothing—that is, we need only change a few parameters in them and they might not even deliver the affordability at the macro level that they are designed to support. Indeed, one parameter has spectacularly changed, namely the growth assumptions behind such large numbers of new houses.

The growth assumptions behind the numbers in the south-west are based on an annual economic growth rate of between 2.8 and 3.2 per cent. sustained consistently over 20 years. However, those are the kind of growth rates that the Chancellor can now only dream of, so I would be interested to hear the Minister's response on that. According to the Treasury's own projections, those numbers are now simply wrong. However, as a result of new growth point status initiatives, to which I hope Cheltenham's Conservative administration will not sign up—although the signs are not good—greenfield sites may well be developed first and not last, because the growth points focus on greenfield development. I hope that the Minister can spare the time to respond to that point. If we are not careful, when the economic crisis bites, greenfield sites may well end up being the only land that is developed. That is why the amendments that refer to sustainability and the prioritisation of greenfield sites over brownfield sites are so important.

The measures have implications for quality of life and for the environment, in terms of climate change and flooding. The Foresight report from a few years ago identified urbanisation as a key factor in the increased likelihood of flooding—a factor high up the priority list for many of my constituents, as 600 properties in Cheltenham flooded last year. The South West of England Development Agency responded in its regional spatial strategy by increasing the number of houses in the Cheltenham and Tewkesbury area by 3,700, and now yet another unaccountable, unelected quango is being created under the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill that persuades me that the Homes and Communities Agency would ever side with local people who have local knowledge, or with local elected representatives.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 8:30 pm, 31st March 2008

I am not entirely certain whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House when I mentioned the issue in debate on the first group of amendments, but Sir Bob Kerslake, the chief executive designate of the Homes and Communities Agency, recently said in a letter, with regard to the transitional arrangements, that he sees the agency as the best local delivery partner for local authorities. The measures will only improve housing supply and regenerate infrastructure and communities if there is a close link between the agency and local authorities. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree?

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister has put his finger on one of the key problems with the Bill. In trying to reassure the House that the Bill provides enough safeguards, democratic measures and provisions on the sustainability of the new agency, he refers us to a letter from its designated chair and not to any provision in the Bill. If we are simply to rely on the good will of an appointed official, that is not good enough.

As I say, I do not have any confidence that the Homes and Communities Agency will ever side with local people who have local knowledge, or with local elected representatives, against the faceless bureaucrats and Government inspectors who are simply doing the Government's bidding and ignoring important democratic and environmental factors. Amendments Nos. 175, 229 and 233 and new clauses 32 and 33 would go some small way towards addressing that imbalance and I strongly support them.

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

I should like to sing the praises of new clause 32, which I think will have some backing in all parts of the House. It is all about community land trusts. The Minister will remember that in Committee we had a bit of discussion about CLTs and whether they could prosper if they were legally defined as an entity. As he knows, the purpose of CLTs is to ensure that affordable and other sub-market housing is available to people at below market rents or costs—something of which I think he would approve. That would make a great deal of sense in an environment where we are trying to do everything possible to provide low-value and affordable housing. In some areas of the country, local people are effectively priced out of the housing market because house prices are not at the national average, which is eight or 10 times salary, but are 20 times the local average salary. Community land trusts can do a great deal to assist in that regard, and new clause 32 seeks legally to define the CLTs once again.

The Minister told us in Committee that it was not necessary to define CLTs, as that would not be of any great advantage to them; he said that legislation already provides for them and that they are already being created, and that that proved that the Bill did not need to address the issue of definition in any greater detail. However, I have since discovered that he is wrong. I recently visited a good CLT in Cornwall, where a group of residents have got together and have managed to purchase some land. It is called a self-built community land trust. I commend it to him; it is in the village of Rock. The Minister will be interested to hear that when I say self-built, that is what I mean. At 5.30 pm when the residents have finished work, and at the weekend, they go and build the community themselves, literally.

The residents spent a full year trying to get funding for that very sound project. There was no real reason why they should not get funding; it was nothing to do with the more recent credit crunch. The reason they could not get the funding was that no commercial organisation understood what a CLT was, despite the fact that the residents had the backing of their local housing association, which was trying to explain the situation. When lending societies looked at the plan they could not get their heads around it, because community land trusts are not defined anywhere in law. Along with amendment No. 151, new clause 32 would solve that problem.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

The hon. Gentleman is right about the Labour support for community land trusts. As someone who has worked with one for five years, I could wax lyrical about them.

I approve of the intention of the new clause, and hope that the Government are listening carefully. What worries me, however, is what worried me in Committee. I am not sure that the wording is as inclusive as it needs to be. The implication is that the new clause is about low-cost home ownership rather than what I want to see, which is a mixture of ownership and renting. Will the hon. Gentleman specify exactly what he thinks the new clause will do?

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

The hon. Gentleman has made an excellent point. It should be possible for community land trusts to cover both low-cost renting and home ownership. I am very willing to work on the wording of the definition, and if the Minister will join me in doing so I shall be very pleased. However, although he has shown good will over other parts of the Bill, it seems to me that, for no good reason, he is sticking to the view that CLTs should not be included in it. I have given him on-the-ground evidence about a CLT that went through the trauma of trying to obtain funds when the only obstacle was the absence of a legal definition.

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Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Labour, Luton South

I am a little confused. Could the hon. Gentleman be a little more explicit about the obstacle in that case? When I was chair of housing in Lewisham, we sponsored some of the first self-build projects in the country. They were based on the co-op model and experienced no difficulty in securing funds, through commercial sponsors, through the Housing Corporation or, indeed, through our own local authority.

May I also echo the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Drew? For many of us, community land trusts—which were created by the Co-operative Development Society, to which all praise is due—were very much about affordable rented housing rather than home ownership.

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

I accept that entirely. They also enable people to shape their communities as they wish. The CLT that I mentioned wanted to ensure that local people could be housed locally. It was able to define tenants or buyers on the basis of their local roots, which I think makes a great deal of sense.

As for the obstacle in that case, the members of the CLT spent a considerable amount of time approaching a large number of lending institutions. They were asked to explain exactly what a community land trust was. When they had explained, in plain English, they were asked "Can you tell us where, in law, we can find out about this mechanism?" As we all know, it is not defined anywhere in law, and as a result—and I am not making this up—the CLT was unable to obtain funding. I am pleased to hear that elsewhere in the country and in earlier times, perhaps under a slightly different guise—the hon. Lady mentioned co-operatives—others have been funded, but CLTs are very much at the beginning of their journey. We know that the Minister has arranged trials to establish how they could be made to work elsewhere.

If the commitment is there and both sides of the House agree, it is reasonable to try to proceed slightly more quickly. If we can learn from practical experience of the problems experienced by those on the ground, there is every reason to include this provision in the Bill. I cannot think of any way in which it would damage the Government's other objectives.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

The hon. Gentleman will know that, along with friends, I have supported his proposal. We are keen for there to be a definition, but it is important for us to get it right. It seems to me that a new clause and an amendment that would widen the aims of the Homes and Communities Agency, whatever its deficits, are worth considering. They should include both ownership and renting, and perhaps shared ownership as well. I think that we should allow the proposal to be taken away after the debate, but should ensure that there is consensus before it reaches the House of Lords.

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments. I have to let the Minister know that I am keen to strip this out and divide on new clause 32, although I will listen with great interest to find out whether he believes that, in the interest of trying to provide affordable housing to local communities in an all-round beneficial way, the provisions could form part of the Bill.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

A number of interventions have drawn attention to the very good principle behind housing co-operatives, co-operative ownership, co-operative development and management of co-operatives. I have many such organisations in my constituency and they work extremely well. What would be the effect of the new clause on the development of housing co-ops?

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

There would be no direct impact one way or the other, but I pay tribute to the work of co-operatives in creating affordable housing. There are one or two in my patch and I see many others around the country. I believe they contribute greatly to a form of housing that is both decent and affordable.

Let me repeat that if the Minister reflects at greater length on the new clause and perhaps undertakes to introduce a similar provision in the other place, I would be happy not to press it to the vote, but as things stand, I am afraid that I would want it pressed to a Division.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I had not intended to speak to this group of amendments, as I wanted right hon. and hon. Members to be able to contribute to the debate. If I may, however, I would like to make a few points. I am genuinely excited by this part of the Bill and I really believe that the Homes and Communities Agency will be the vehicle to help us to build 3 million homes by 2020, playing a key role in the regeneration of our infrastructure and our communities. Indeed, the agency's ability to hit—or should that be "break"?—the ground and deliver is absolutely key to our housing policy. I stress, however, that it is not just about improving the supply and quality of housing in England, as clause 2 reinforces the importance of the regeneration or development of land, infrastructure and communities, which was touched on by Martin Horwood.

I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend Dr. Blackman-Woods, who argued in Committee that we needed to go further in respect of the agency's responsibilities for sustainable development. I undertook to consider the matter in more detail, including whether it would be appropriate to include sustainable development in the objects of the HCA, and I have now concluded that it would. Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are designed to add to the agency's objects the need

"to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development", thus placing sustainability at the heart of what the agency does, and demonstrating and reinforcing the importance of sustainability not just to the agency, but to the Government.

Amendment No. 25 would delete clause 34, but I think it is no longer necessary. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and for St. Ives (Andrew George) will not press their amendment No. 229, which is also unnecessary. May I say that through sheer tenacity and expertise in and command of the argument, my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham has moved Government policy on these matters quite considerably? She has placed sustainable development right at the heart of the agency's objects. I pay sincere tribute to her and am happy to give way to her.

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Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods PPS (Rt Hon Des Browne, Secretary of State), Ministry of Defence

I thank the Minister for accepting my amendment in Committee. It is indeed important to align housing policy with planning policy, particularly in respect of planning policy statements 1 and 3. It is also essential that the new agency looks at the infrastructure, so that the necessary schools, health centres, roads and so forth are in place to support these new communities.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Although the rhetoric has been about 3 million new homes, I have said time and again that this is not just about more homes, important though that is to address the housing needs of this country; it is about better homes and greener homes. That is what the Bill will do for design, with the Academy for Sustainable Communities being placed in the agency and with the requirements in the code for sustainable homes. It is vital that homes, if they are to be truly sustainable, are not just plonked in a field; we need the related infrastructure, such as health facilities and schools. I hope that the HCA will build on the work done by English Partnerships in creating 11 new schools to provide the confidence to the market to ensure that development takes place. This is not just about more homes, important though they are; it is about better designed, greener homes in an appropriate setting, with excellent community infrastructure.

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Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 8:45 pm, 31st March 2008

I certainly agree that homes should not be just plonked in fields, but I warn the Minister that that is exactly what the implications of his policy are in my constituency. He keeps on mentioning the figure of 3 million. Will he answer my specific point about the economic growth assumptions behind the model that produced that number now being inappropriate in the light of the Government's own growth forecasts?

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I am happy to be ruled out of order—that sounds like a speech on Second Reading—but we have not been building the homes that we require in this country for a generation. Since the 1970s—for 35 years—housing supply, as opposed to housing demand, has been woefully inadequate. We need to do something about that. We need to take into account the rising aspirations of the people of this country and the social changes. We are all living longer and need appropriate homes. More of us live on our own, perhaps as a result of marital breakdown. We need to do something about that. We need the homes that this country wants and deserves. To do that, under the evidence-based policy that we have put in place, we need to build 240,000 homes a year, and I hope that the whole House will provide consensus on that.

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Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

That would mean an increase of 239,840 a year on what is being built at the moment. Hon. Members should not worry; we have not got the time to have that argument at the moment. The Minister mentioned amendment No. 229. Under normal circumstances, I would have pressed it to a vote because, as he knows, I feel strongly that even though the Government talk strongly about the environment, the amendment would have given the HCA a formal responsibility to respond to the insightful position of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about enshrining the HCA's environmental responsibilities. Is he willing to discuss how we might ensure that the spirit of that amendment is included in the Bill, even if we do not press it to a vote?

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

Placing sustainable development at the heart of what the agency does by including that in its objects under clause 2 gives a clear signal about how important we think that is.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, I shall rise to the bait: the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire suggests that we are not building enough homes. Last year, 199,000 homes were built in this country. That is more than have been built for quite some considerable time. I admit that, in the economic climate we face at the moment, the challenge is that we must literally build on that, and I am keen to work on that. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, who is sitting on the Front Bench tonight, is absolutely assiduous in ensuring that we provide lender confidence to help to do that. We need to build on the increase in what we are doing to address the housing needs of this country.

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Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister has been passionate about the sustainability requirements on the HCA. May I press him to clarify what requirements the Government are prepared to place on the HCA and the regulator in relation to the protection of public health? He will know that, in the back of my mind, I am thinking about the association—I put it no stronger than that—between the increased risk of leukaemia in children and the location of dwellings near high-voltage power lines. We discussed that thoroughly in Committee, when I tabled some amendments. What is the Government's attitude towards placing requirements on the HCA in that context?

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the sensitive manner in which he advanced his case in Committee. I pledged that I would meet him and stakeholders regularly to discuss the points he raised, because I am very concerned about them not only as a Minister but as a father. I told him that, before the Easter recess, I would be provided with advice on how best to move forward, and that is in the pipeline. I pledge to ensure that he is made fully aware of the matter throughout, and that we will work together constructively to make sure that any concern he has is addressed.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

On the sustainability of sites, which the Minister has referred to a number of times, I am concerned about the rigid obsession with greenfield versus brownfield sites. Quite often, brownfield sites obviously present an opportunity in some inner urban areas not only for housing but for improving living conditions and everyone's quality of life by creating a new open space in an area that does not have any. Will the agency be flexible enough to recognise the possibility of improving people's lives in densely built-up urban areas by not necessarily developing every last inch of a brownfield site?

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

That is an important point. The presumption is always to have brownfield development, and we have been very successful in that regard over the past 10 years: some 75 per cent. of development is now brownfield. However, my hon. Friend makes the point that we must not accept the myth that brownfield is essentially factories and that greenfield is the rolling, beautiful hills of the English countryside. That is not the case, and the agency needs to have the flexibility to be able to allow an area that is designated as greenfield to be classed as just "shrubbery" if it can be built on without any loss to the bio-environment. With regard to planning and sustainability, we could in many respects go further and faster to make sure we attract better biodiversity. I therefore agree with my hon. Friend on this matter.

The Government have tabled amendments Nos. 18, 27 and 28 to take account of the importance of London in the national housing market, and its particular governance arrangements. The amendments place the agency under a duty to have regard to the Mayor's recommendations contained in the London housing strategy. They will enable the Mayor to recommend to the Secretary of State how much money should be allocated to the HCA in respect of housing in Greater London. They will also enable the Mayor to recommend to the agency how it should exercise its functions of giving housing financial assistance in Greater London, including such matters as the amounts that should be given for different purposes and the number, type, tenure and location of houses that should be provided through housing financial assistance. We are providing the Mayor with more scope to shape the nature of housing and regeneration in London—that will be a key priority for Ken Livingstone as he secures a third term as Mayor in the next few weeks. All this is also consistent with our recent announcement of the proposal that the agency is to establish a London sub-committee to be chaired by the Mayor, with the chief executive of the agency, Sir Bob Kerslake, as its vice-chair.

On that basis, London's interests are appropriately served, which is why I cannot accept the Liberal Democrat amendment No. 230, proposing a seat on the national HCA board for a representative from London local authorities. I am keen to avoid narrow sectional interests at board level. An approach such as that which the amendment proposes would prevent full representation from other interest groups; all might be perfectly reasonable and have a perfectly valid case, but be impossible to accommodate. Such a move would make the board unwieldy and hinder its ability to deliver the necessary improvements in housing supply and quality, and in regeneration, investment and infrastructure. On that basis, I hope the amendment will be withdrawn.

I was interested in a point made by Grant Shapps, who does not appear to be listening at present. Community land trusts are very important. I have a vested interest, as I have one in my constituency. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Drew for the assiduous work he has been doing to ensure that CLTs are an essential part of the housing offer for the 21st century. However, nothing that was said on this matter changed the opinion I formed in Committee, which is that we do not want to prescribe too overtly with regard to the various mechanisms by which the agency might help to deliver housing. CLTs are an important part of the new environment. There are real benefits in retaining land in order to ensure that we have affordable housing and renting in perpetuity, but we must be aware of the future-proofing issue.

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Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and I would ask him to bear something in mind if it is possible to get an agreed legal definition. I am interested in leasehold enfranchisement, because we must ensure that we have a range of different forms of ownership. Will he at least keep an open-mind, as there is a need for some recognition in statute of this now very important potential form of home provision?

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I reiterate what I said about my respect for my hon. Friend on this matter. I am keen to see CLTs work incredibly well in the next few months and years. I have one in my constituency, and it is important.

A concern that I had in Committee and when I met CLT representatives in February was the need to avoid future-proofing in terms of the agency. I stand by my statement in Committee that I am a big fan of local housing companies, whereby local authorities provide the land and private developers provide the construction skills in a joint venture, but I would not want to include that provision in the Bill either. I am interested in the experiences that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield has had with regard to Cornwall, and I am keen to invite him to a meeting to discuss those.

One of the key things that we must do relates to a slightly wider and perhaps more fundamental point. Given the economic difficulties across the Atlantic and the relatively risk-averse nature of financial institutions, how can we still inspire confidence in the financial markets in order to help to build the housing that we need? My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing will play a key role in inspiring lender confidence through the meetings that she has. We need to address that risk-averse nature; it is important that we do that. I am keen to work with all those available to help that to happen. I am keen to discuss a way forward on the particular circumstances mentioned by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield, and I hope he would agree with me on that basis. If he wishes to intervene, I would be happy to give way, but I now want to bring my hon. Friend Margaret Moran into the discussion.

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Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Labour, Luton South

My hon. Friend's passion for and commitment to community land trusts is in no doubt. Will he undertake to report back to us on the pilot, which has had difficulties—Cooperative Development Services has been involved in that—so that we can all learn from that experience? Will he re-examine the issue of value for community rather than pure value for money when the disposal of public sector land is being considered? We debated that issue at length in Committee.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I am happy to give that pledge, because I am passionate about ensuring that CLTs work. I do not think that this is about just one option; a range of options, such as joint ventures and local housing companies, could be involved. I do not think that we should be prescribing. Let me return to a theme of the Committee—the list principle. I am looking at Sir George Young when I say that. I am keen to avoid being too prescriptive and including that list in the Bill.

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Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I was hoping to make a speech, but it seems that time is against us this evening. The situation in my constituency has been mentioned. I have met Cornwall Rural Housing Association to examine this issue. It has attempted to make progress on other schemes, but the Housing Corporation has given it the message that it would like to be able to give the CRHA money but does not think it is able to do so because it is not sure how community land trusts work and how it can make that approach happen. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response on this. I hope that he will meet me and other hon. Members to ensure that we can take this forward.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I am keen to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about that, because I want these things to work. My concern is not that what is in the Bill is bothering lenders, but rather that after all that has happened across the Atlantic, where financial institutions have had their fingers burned over the past few months, institutions are becoming more risk-averse. This House must stop downplaying the fundamental health of the British economy—we should not talk ourselves into a recession, especially when the fundamentals are sound. Also, we must work with lenders to ensure that they have confidence, but we do not necessarily need to prescribe this in the Bill.

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Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

I appreciate the Minister's consensual approach to the Bill—we had the same approach in Committee—but I am not convinced by his argument. He is arguing that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the market, but he is failing to do the one thing in the Bill that would create certainty. He is failing to include in it a provision about what a community land trust is. We describe all sorts of things in law, and many things are described in this Bill. He has no problems tabling 147 amendments to the Bill today. The one new clause that I am discussing could do a great deal of good for CLTs, and I would have thought that he welcomed it. I am not convinced that I should seek to withdraw it.

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Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

I reiterate the need to future-proof the Bill to ensure that innovative products that will be introduced in the next few years are available without being prescribed. I am happy to work with hon. Members from all parties to ensure that we can make community land trusts and other vehicles, such as local housing companies, work, and work incredibly well. There is a wider point about financial institutions and their attitude to risk, but I am keen to ensure that we make those bodies work.

I want to suggest, particularly as regards this group of amendments and part 1 of the Bill, that the Homes and Communities Agency will have a key role and the financial muscle to provide good investment in infrastructure—

It being Nine o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker , pursuant to Order [27 November], proceeded to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

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