Housing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:02 pm on 18th July 2007.

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Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East 3:02 pm, 18th July 2007

Housing is vital to my constituents, as it is to the whole country. I am pleased that it is now at the top of the political agenda, for which I have argued for some time. I congratulate Philip Davies on securing the debate, although I disagree with some of his more provocative remarks on immigration and the green belt, which I will come back to later. I, too, would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment and to welcome the innovation that the Minister for Housing now attends Cabinet.

I am particularly pleased about the strong emphasis on building new housing, particularly new social housing, in the draft legislative programme. Given the legacy of neglect that we inherited, the Government have a good record on investing in the refurbishment of social housing. Progress towards the decent homes standard is important, but not nearly enough has been done to increase supply, both of social housing and affordable housing to buy. That means that in my constituency and many others, thousands of people endure the misery of inadequate and over-crowded housing conditions, which has an appalling effect on their quality of life and on their life chances.

As the drive for more housing gathers pace and with the Green Paper in mind, I am particularly concerned that nothing in that Green Paper or in the language used to describe our housing approach closes off the option of development on appropriate green belt land near Oxford. In the circumstances confronting our area, we must have an urban extension to Oxford if we are to meet housing need, and there is nowhere else for that to go but on present green belt land because green belt boundaries are drawn so close to the built-up area of the city.

Housing provision is a key local concern to those in housing need and to the many people who have grown up in the city and who cannot now afford to live there. The impact of housing provision on the labour market, public services and business activity is raised with me all the time, whether I am meeting the chamber of commerce, the CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, universities, hospitals, or the trade unions. Just about everybody with an interest in housing provision and the economic vitality of Oxford, which is at the cutting edge of regional and national growth and could contribute still more given room to grow, accepts that we have to modify the green belt. I and local councillors have campaigned hard on this issue. Readiness to go ahead with an urban extension is synonymous locally with being serious about tackling the housing crisis.

There is an overwhelmingly strong case for building more housing in the south-east, particularly in central Oxfordshire. The city's housing needs survey, which was conducted by Fordhams, identified a need for 1,700 to 1,800 new affordable properties a year. I would like to press the case for agreeing with the "Barker Review of Land Use Planning", which states that the green belt policy

"has...in some parts of Southern England...had some unsatisfactory consequences".

Barker's interim report notes that there are now some 27,000 more jobs than residents in Oxford, which has led to large numbers of commuters "jumping"—to use the phrase that she used—the green belt every day. Of course, in practice, people are not so much jumping the green belt as crawling through it in the polluting traffic jams that creep in and out of the city each day.

Recommendation 9 of the Barker review states:

"Regional planning bodies and local planning authorities should review green belt boundaries as part of their regional spatial strategy/local development framework processes to ensure that they remain relevant and appropriate, given the need to ensure that any planned development takes place in the most sustainable location".