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Housing and Homes

Part of Rating (Property in Common Occupation) and Council Tax (Empty Dwellings) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:40 pm on 15th May 2018.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 5:40 pm, 15th May 2018

I am grateful for this brief opportunity to contribute to this debate, and I am pleased to follow the thoughtful contribution from Sir Robert Syms. I want to raise three quick points on the percentage of social housing in developments, the role of housing associations and registered social landlords, and leasehold issues and reform post-Grenfell.

Housing is the biggest issue in Poplar and Limehouse and Tower Hamlets in east London. Many of the problems the hon. Gentleman mentioned about voids and empty properties over shops do not exist in east London. Everything that empties is taken up almost immediately. We have 25,000 people on the waiting list, so there is huge pressure to use everything available.

On social homes, in the London mayoral election before last, Labour fought on a policy of 50% of new developments being social housing; the Conservatives fought on a policy of the market deciding. The 50% was probably not affordable for developers, but zero is a complete abdication of responsibility. There has been a collapse in social renting in London since 2011-12. We now have affordable rents, but in my constituency, around Canary Wharf, affordable rents of 80% are just not tenable for local people: 700-square-foot one-bedroom flats at £400,000 and 900-square-foot two-bedroom flats at £500,000 is certainly not affordable for local people and key workers, as described by my right hon. Friend John Healey, the shadow Secretary of State.

In response to the point the hon. Member for Poole made about managing stock, when Labour came to power in 1997, 2 million homes in the social sector were below the decency threshold. We spent billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money bringing them up to standard, with new kitchens, bathrooms, double glazing, central heating and security. The method of delivery was mostly through housing associations. In the past 10 years in particular, we have seen changes to housing associations, with more mergers and acquisitions and bigger units. That is probably unavoidable, because the sharing of back-office functions makes them more efficient, but it is changing their ethos and attitude and taking them further away.

There are a lot of great registered social landlords in my constituency—Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association, Tower Hamlets Community Housing, Swan, EastendHomes and others—doing fantastic regeneration work, looking after local people and bringing private property for sale and rent to market. I would like to know, however, how the Government assess the success and failure of RSLs, because there are some bad ones out there. Is it just the housing ombudsman that can proclaim an RSL a bad organisation, or can the Government issue sanctions?

On leasehold, I accept a lot of the points that my hon. Friend Maria Eagle made about gaps in leasehold reform, but I give the Government great credit for their progress on leasehold reform: more staff in the section in the Ministry, more senior positions, positive statements from the Prime Minister, Secretaries of State and Ministers and others, clear promises on ground rents, the consultation on commonhold, the Law Commission reporting, examination of property management companies and their failures, representation of residents, first-tier tribunal working and more. I give the Government great credit. A Conservative Government in 1993 tried to reform leasehold and made some progress but failed. Labour tried to do it in 2002 and failed. This time the Government must get it right, and we on the all-party group on leasehold and commonhold reform will do everything we can to help.

One area of extreme concern on which the Government are not making any progress concerns the bills faced by leaseholders for the removal and replacement of cladding, and waking watches and temporary fire alarms in those bocks where the cladding is demonstrated to be unsafe. Social landlords and councils have said that they will foot the bill, but private freeholders and developers are saying that leaseholders must foot the bill. Some of these leaseholders are facing bills of tens of thousands of pounds. The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership is doing everything it can to advise them, but they do not have protection under the law. I know the Government are saying that they want freeholders and developers to pick up the tab, but we need to hear from the Government how much progress they are making, because people are at the end of their tether out there right across the country.

My constituency contains the second highest number of leasehold properties in the country, and the highest number of leasehold sales took place there in 2016. The failures identified at Grenfell are not just social housing failures; they involve private blocks as well. This goes across the piece, which is why the public inquiry and Dame Judith Hackitt’s review are so important.