British House Building Industry

Part of Uk Shared Prosperity Fund – in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 4:24 pm, 5th September 2019

We are in the grip of a major housing crisis. You will not remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I can just remember “Cathy Come Home”, and the determination of our predecessors in the 1960s—this picks up on some of the points made by my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh in her excellent opening speech—that the lives of families should not be destroyed by housing misery. Today, lives are being destroyed again. One day—sooner, I hope, rather than later—we will again need a major national programme of council house building to give those families a chance.

Last month I had the privilege of hosting a visit to my constituency by members of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community. We had “Faith in the City” in the 1980s, “Unemployment and the Future of Work” in the 1990s, and both those Church reports caught the mood of the times and profoundly influenced the policies of Governments. I hope that the Archbishop’s housing commission report will do the same when it is published. We visited a family in my constituency—mum, dad, and a young son—who are essentially living in one room in a ramshackle property above East Ham High Street. There is serious damp and a rat infestation. They have been there for five years, and both of the couple have been employed and were working in the NHS. Recently, a second child was born and, tragically, very soon died, probably because of the conditions in the home. That is how it is for thousands of people. After the visit, one commission member emailed me and commented, quite rightly, that our society should not tolerate people having to live in such conditions.

I was delighted to take the commission members to the Didsbury site, where Newham Council’s own developer, Red Door Ventures, which was set up in 2014, is building new homes on council land that was previously occupied by a community centre. It is committed to building 50% of its homes for social rent, and 50% at market rent, and it plans to build hundreds of homes over the next few years—thousands, I hope, before too long.

As my hon. Friend reminded the House, after world war two, social housing was built at a rate of well over 100,000 homes a year. The crisis today is just as bad as it was then, and we need that scale of ambition to deliver such a programme again. There is no time to lose.