Housing (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:00 pm on 6th February 2002.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Olympics and London), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) 12:00 pm, 6th February 2002

I congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on securing the debate. He initiated a debate on housing in London last July and I agree with him that we should keep bringing the issue to the House until we get a solution. We have to keep arguing and must convince Ministers that the matter is urgent. Those of us who represent inner-city and outer-London constituencies hear about it in our surgeries every week. I am sure that others feel as I do after their surgeries: frustrated, angry and impatient—and lots of other things for which I would be called to order if I said them—about our inability to deal with some of the problems that are brought to us, not least overcrowding. A lot of my constituents have many points on the housing list, representing their need, but that need is unmet.

The misery out there is beyond words and it is getting worse. That is happening for a series of reasons that are well known and have been mentioned. Consider the history of housing policy in London. After the second world war there was plenty of land on which to build and large amounts of money did make an impact on the housing crisis in those years. Now we have population growth not seen for decades but land is scarce, so prices are high. The problem is possibly at its most acute in London's history. Despite some of the proposals and policies that have been mentioned, the Government have yet to meet the challenge. It is a major challenge and they should recognise that.

Ms King gave a moving example from her constituency. My example is from a report produced by Fordham Research for Kingston council on the housing needs in the borough. That estimates, after detailed research, that every year for the next five years there will be a shortfall of 1,365 dwellings for affordable rent in Kingston. That is an indication of the need in one area. If we multiply that across London, we shall get an idea of the problem.

The Government have introduced a few welcome measures. At least the starter home initiative recognises the problem despite not meeting it by any means. However, the Metropolitan police and the national health service are selling off homes, so we are taking one step forward and two back. It is questionable whether the way in which the starter home initiative is set up deals with the problem for key public workers. I ask the Government to consider whether shared equity is a better way—it might produce more money per buck.

Rent restructuring has been mentioned. That is incredibly worrying on affordability grounds and because of what it says about the Government's underlying attitude to public subsidy for housing in London. It seems to suggest that there will not be much subsidy—that will have to come from the tenants. Is that really the way forward? Does it solve the problems that we see in our advice sessions? It is also creating uncertainty for the future of the registered social landlord sector in that it is unclear what will happen because the Government have made such a mess of it so far. With that uncertainty, landlords will not conclude the deals that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow talked about. We shall not see the advances that have been made in other parts of the country. The Government must act quickly. They must get it right and they must understand the problems of affordability as they affect London.

There are other solutions that the Government should seriously consider. The GLA has been good at promoting use of the planning system to tackle some of the problems. That is a medium-term solution, as hon. Members have said. We need to consider the 50 per cent. affordable housing proposal for new developments, and we should apply it to sites of smaller numbers. The floor needs to come down.