Housing Waiting Lists

Part of Opposition Day — [5th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:19 pm on 11th February 2009.

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Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:19 pm, 11th February 2009

I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Syms, and I shall keep my comments short so that Bob Russell can contribute.

I shall speak about rural housing. Over the past five years alone, the proportion of rural households that form part of the national homelessness figure has more than doubled from 16 per cent. to 37 per cent. of the total. There are more than 700,000 people joining rural housing waiting lists. The rural housing time bomb is not ticking; it has gone off.

In Herefordshire, numbers on housing waiting lists have risen from 3,218 in October 2002 to 5,507 today, including 164 homeless households. There are just 10 to 15 housing association properties available each week. Young families are not only priced out of buying houses, but see themselves as just a number on a list. Without a gold band from Home Point, they have no chance of getting a house in my constituency.

I have heard appalling stories, the worst of which concerned a child molester who had been released from prison on early release. He had come back to the property in which he had lived before, which happened to be on the other side of the garden fence from his victim. To get that family out of that house took a considerable effort. I have no criticism of excellent local housing associations such as Marches, but when we see what such people are going through, our heart goes out to them. They face a very tough situation.

The targets being set do not contribute to solving those problems; in fact, they distort the communities that they are meant to help. Targets overwhelmingly dominate local planning. The wonderful section 106 solutions that could have been used to provide local housing for local people are put to one side, and we see people coming from outside my constituency who, in some cases, are even more desperate for housing. They are parachuted in, so all those well thought out ideas do not deliver the housing that we need.

In Bargates in Leominster, an old Army base that became a turkey factory now has planning permission for 440 new homes. That is a significant number in a town the size of Leominster, which has only 10,000 people. My fear is that not only have those building plans been put on hold, a point that the Liberal Democrats raised earlier, but there is no way in which those houses will be built in the current economic climate. Because it is a large scale development, nobody will be able to build the one or two houses that are urgently needed, so nothing is happening.

On top of that, Bargates in Leominster already has such a significant traffic problem that I suspect that even rural Herefordshire will fail to meet the European emissions standards for traffic fumes. That is equally relevant to the debate, because without the necessary infrastructure it will be impossible for people to live in the houses that are planned.

Hereford city contains the Edgar street grid, and we need to be far cleverer about the houses that we are building. The city desperately needs its inner core rebuilt, and the houses that are built must not be for just one sector of society. Mr. Raynsford was right when he said that we must not have segregated societies. We need some housing of each type. We cannot expect a business to relocate to Hereford, for example, if the only person who can find a house is the managing director. Different types of housing are needed for different types of people, according to the money that they have to spend and according to the incomes that they expect to receive. We need a far broader and more localised solution to the problems facing us.

When I talk about local planning, I cannot help but mention the Reves hill wind farm that is being foisted upon us in probably the most beautiful part of the most beautiful county in the whole of England. I have no objection at all to renewable energy—indeed, I believe passionately in it, but it must be appropriately sited. I hear hon. Members on the Government Benches laughing, thinking that areas of outstanding natural beauty where there are severe restrictions on what can be built should immediately be turned into wind farms.

There are good places where wind farms are appropriate, but when one sees the number of objections, one realises that the Reves hill project is entirely inappropriate and does immense damage to all those who believe in renewable energy. How on earth will we persuade people that that is good technology that is needed if we dump it in places where it is wholly inappropriate and ruins a community? We must get this right. The balance is totally out of kilter and it is wrong. I hope the Government will listen to the letters that I have written to them and call in that decision, which is wholly against the wishes of the local people.

Those local people want housing. They want to see their villages grow to accommodate people who were born and brought up in the area, but, oh no, they are not allowed that. We must stop the centralised planning system that dumps huge scale housing in certain areas that does not get built, does not allow small scale development in small villages, which is desperately needed, and allows the mass desecration of exceptional countryside—I am sorry that Government Members laughed when I spoke about the wind farm—in a way that I do not believe the Government ever intended. I believe that their intentions were good when they considered ways of encouraging renewable energy, which, as I said, I support, but in this instance it is wholly and utterly wrong.

If we are to address the needs of people who live in the countryside, who want to live in their communities, and who have different needs according to their ages, we must have a far more intelligent approach to planning and to the way we build houses. I regret that of all the speeches that I heard from the Labour Benches, not one Member said that the £12 billion that was spent on a VAT cut should have been spent on housing. I listened to Mr. Slaughter talking about Hammersmith and Fulham—I did not intervene on him because I did not want him to last any longer. He used to run that council, which kicked him out so severely that it is not surprising that his speech contained so many sour grapes. On an issue as important as planning, we must get it right for people who live in the countryside.

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