Housing (Hampshire)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:20 am on 25th October 2005.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Minister (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) 10:20 am, 25th October 2005

I, too, congratulate Mr. Hoban on securing the debate. It has been very interesting, and there has been a surprising amount of cross-party agreement, despite a bit of cross-party bickering.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the need to ensure that building development does not run ahead of infrastructure development, and about the need to upskill the local economy, rather than just relying on drawing people in from outside. Mrs. Miller spoke about the pressures on transport when many people come into an area without making sure that infrastructure is in place. My hon. Friend Chris Huhne spoke about pressures on housing in his constituency, the good record of Eastleigh borough council on developing new homes on brownfield sites, and the need to build around existing urban centres. My hon. Friend Sandra Gidley pointed out that there have been long-term problems in the area as a result of development lacking the infrastructure that goes with it.

Few of us who went home by tube last night can have failed to notice Shelter's powerful advert when walking on to the escalator. It points out the terrible problem of overcrowding in this country, particularly in the south of the United Kingdom. It showed a striking image of an overcrowded family in the Chamber of the House of Commons. As one goes into the tube station, there is a whole set of images and adverts reminding us what a lack of housing means for real people's lives.

All of us here are signed up to the need for more homes; the questions about that are how, what sort, when and where. That is what the debate has really been about. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh spoke about pressures in his constituency, and the need for much more affordable housing. What has happened in the area is a classic example of what happens when there is a top-down approach, and when local people have very little discretion in deciding what should be built where and in what order. That adds to the real sense of frustration with the fact that no one is really accountable.

Who do local people get in touch with when they are unhappy about how development happens? It is not clear who is responsible, because people are overruled by higher levels of authority, going all the way up to the ODPM. My hon. Friend spoke with great frustration about a battle that was going on for a new town, and the fact that the ODPM overruled the decision taken locally, although there had been a great deal of support for that local decision.

Why do people oppose the development of new homes? There are two reasons: because they cannot see the benefit to themselves and because they can see the cost. If we are to put new homes in place and deal with the housing crisis, we have to tackle both those problems. People in Hampshire know very well that their young people cannot afford to buy a property, and they know that many people live in appalling housing conditions and that something needs to be done. But they see many new developments of four-bedroomed executive homes that are targeted at people coming in from outside the area, not at local people who need affordable housing, particularly in the social rented sector.

As all hon. Members have said, the real reason why people fear new development is lack of infrastructure. They have already seen that, without infrastructure being put in place, new development creates pressure on existing services. New communities cannot be developed simply by building new housing. In fact, just putting in new housing without all the other things that communities need is the way to destroy communities, not build them. We need roads and transport links. We need doctors' surgeries, schools and community centres. Are the Government proposing to fund that infrastructure, and if so, how? As other hon. Members have said, there is also a need to boost the economy locally. South Hampshire, in particular, is economically underperforming. What are the Government doing to upskill local people, to ensure that its economy is developed internally.

We have seen what happens when new towns are plonked into an area: they are among the 50 per cent. of the most deprived of local authorities and all but two of them are more deprived than the counties in which they reside. That is the reason why Eastleigh borough council has argued that the development needs to happen around existing urban centres. Building on greenfield sites always causes great controversy and concern.

The Government are still not taking the issue of empty homes seriously and they still have not responded to the consultation on empty property management orders. They have dragged their feet on producing that kind of secondary legislation. There are 83,000 empty properties in the south-east—an estimated 11,000 in Hampshire. Such action will obviously not solve the whole problem, but it would make some impact on the problem in Hampshire.

About 1 million residential units could be created in empty commercial space above shops in the UK. Many of those would also be in the south-east. The Government still have a kind of perverse incentive to build on greenfield sites, rather than brownfield ones, given the tax system. When will they consider harmonising VAT to deal with that issue? It would make so much difference in terms of bringing empty properties back into use.

I have been asked to keep my remarks relatively brief, so I shall leave considerable time for the Minister to reply. People in Hampshire, as in many areas, feel that the Government are not taking their concerns seriously. People do not want development to run ahead of infrastructure. They want homes that will meet local need for local people, because that is where the real pressure is.