[john cummings in the Chair] — Affordable Housing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 17th January 2007.

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Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East 9:30 am, 17th January 2007

I recognise that the problems that I am outlining for Bolton are replicated across the northern arch of authorities. That is why I urgently called for this debate.

Bolton At Home has an arm's length management organisation that has a very distinguished record. It refurbishes not only homes in the public sector, but homes in the private sector and it will meet the Government's decent homes target. We are asking the Government to allow us to securitise the assets of the Bolton ALMO, so that we can not only complete the refurbishment of the public sector stock but, more especially, build new stock to meet the housing waiting list requirements that I have explained.

I have three final points. First, community land trusts are catching on throughout Britain as a new way forward, and I am all in favour of them. Those organisations buy land and capture its value indefinitely for the benefit of local communities. Buyers of houses built on that land pay only for the cost of the building, not for the land. In some areas, such as Cornwall, that is halving the cost of purchasing a property, so I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider seriously the idea of community land trusts. Perhaps northern authorities can adopt the idea as well.

Secondly, I want to comment briefly on buy to let. There is a belief in some quarters that buy-to-let speculators are fuelling house price rises. In London, they are purchasing two thirds of the new homes. Investing in property is obviously much more attractive today than investing in other areas, such as the stock market. Buy to let is acceptable provided that the let part of the deal is honoured by the speculators. However, there is growing evidence that this phenomenon is significant in the north-west and, unfortunately, not all the homes are let. Many are kept empty, awaiting a quick sale should the market dip suddenly. The charity Crisis believes that those speculators are unbalancing the housing market at a time of severe housing shortage. In Leeds, for example, 50 per cent. of new flats are being left empty. In Salford, the figure is 40 per cent.

Finally, let me comment on shared ownership. The Government are putting a lot of weight on that area of policy, but although the price of a home can be controlled when it is first sold under shared ownership, the problem is that the price of the house soon reaches the market value. Then, unfortunately, the idea of shared ownership is lost.

There is an emerging, or even emerged, housing crisis in most parts of the north and midlands. Each region is different, of course, but selling off much-needed public sector homes at a time when they are very much in demand and the obscene land prices that we are seeing currently are two of the main drivers for the current housing crisis. I look forward to listening to contributions from my parliamentary colleagues.