New Towns

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:17 pm on 27th February 2003.

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Photo of Philip Hammond Philip Hammond Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 4:17 pm, 27th February 2003

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is certainly not just a north-south issue, as hotspots exist all around the country. It is incontrovertible, however, that in the south-east, where the pressure for more affordable housing is greatest, the new towns—perhaps including some of their more depressed parts—provide more potential for redevelopment as higher density communities. That could prove a solution to the affordable housing crisis from which London and the south-east suffer.

All the new towns are affected by problems such as poor sustainability, car dependence, and inadequate infrastructure and housing stock—often as a result of building methods. Another problem that new towns often share is coming into obsolescence at the same time. It is the coincidence of obsolescence that underpins many of the issues raised by new town Members here today.

I should like to focus on the report and the Government's response, and put some specific points to the Minister. Recommendation (a) deals with the licensing of landlords, which the Select Committee clearly linked to the receipt of housing benefit. It is unclear from their response, however, whether the Government make that link. They refer to making it a criminal offence for a private landlord who is not licensed to let a property, yet in the next sentence talk about no housing benefit being payable.

It is wholly appropriate and legitimate for the Government to consider introducing a system of licensing landlords who are to be beneficiaries of housing benefit. However, it is equally clear that requiring landlords to have a licence to let—with the corollary that if they do not have a licence they will be committing a criminal offence by letting, not necessarily to someone in receipt of housing benefit but to anyone—represents a significant erosion of the rights of private property, with potentially significant implications for human rights. I shall be grateful if the Minister will clarify the Government's intentions on that point.