Housing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:59 pm on 18th July 2007.

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Photo of Paul Holmes Paul Holmes Chair of the Parliamentary Party, Cross-Portfolio and Non-Portfolio Responsibilities, Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government 3:59 pm, 18th July 2007

Thank you, Mr. Cummings. I congratulate Philip Davies on securing an important debate. Given the respect that I have for things that I have heard him say previously, regrettably, I cannot congratulate him on his analysis of the solutions to the housing problems facing this country. Family breakdown is an issue, but his party's proposals for a tax break for married couples, irrespective of whether or not they have children, will hardly solve the problem, just as it did not in the 1970s. I was sad to hear him raise an immigration scare as being the answer to the housing problem.

Dr. Starkey talked about the Select Committee report and gave the example of 80,000 people from London moving out to the south and the same number of immigrants moving in. The 80,000 people moving into London would not constitute 80,000 households, because many of them are young, single, eastern Europeans coming to work temporarily, for two or three years, before going home with their savings, and they are living in rented flats in multiple occupation. I can think of a small number of Polish workers who are doing the same thing even in Chesterfield, which has a small immigrant population.

In my constituency, immigration accounts for 3 per cent. or less of the population, and many of those people are second or third-generation English people. A huge housing problem exists even there. The waiting list for social housing in Chesterfield has trebled in the past 10 years, and that has nothing to do with immigration.

There is a housing crisis, so, like Mr. Smith, I am pleased that this debate is taking place. Like him, I have been raising the issue since I entered Parliament—that was six years ago. The hon. Member for Shipley rightly said that there was a need for more private house building. The home ownership figure in this country is 71 per cent.—the highest in Europe—and it is difficult to see how much higher that can be pushed. The private housing market is overheated and under-supplied; first-time buyers and key workers cannot buy. Last week, in response to a statement by the Prime Minister, one hon. Member gave the example of an affordable flat in London that went on the market at £300,000. That makes a nonsense of much of the talk about providing affordable housing for people to buy.

Unless we do something about the housing market, we are in danger of entering another negative equity slump such as the one that we experienced in the 1980s and early 1990s. Mortgage debt has increased by 150 per cent.; lending is at three to three-and-a-half times people's income; interest rates have increased and are still climbing; the number of people in debt has doubled, and the number of repossessions has trebled this year compared with last year; and the fixed rates for the mortgages of 2 million people will end in the next 18 months. Therefore, the problem will get much worse in the near future.

Where will the new build come from to help us start to tackle the issue of the supply of houses for people to buy? The situation is not as bad as some people paint it: builders have a land bank for about 200,000 houses, which is a year's supply; identified brownfield sites will provide about 1 million houses; and there is scope for 1 million new housing premises over shops and commercial premises in cities and towns across the country. If we were to let councils have more flexibility and control, instead of having to respond to diktat from regional government offices and from London, they, too, would be able to bring more land on stream.

My constituency contains brownfield sites that are waiting to be developed. It is doing a good job on brownfield sites. It also contains greenfield sites—not green belt sites—that were identified for housing nearly 30 years ago, but they are rightly not being brought into housing use until all the brownfield areas have been redeveloped.

The greatest gap in the speech made by the hon. Member for Shipley was on the need for social housing—I believe that he allocated just six words to that. The waiting list for social housing has increased from 1 million to 1.6 million in the 10 years of this Government, which is a disgrace. Some 1 million children live in overcrowded accommodation, and 130,000 children live in unsuitable, temporary accommodation. Councils have been forced to privatise their housing stock, and are starved of funds if they do not. Only 4,000 council houses were built in the past 10 years, compared with 400,000 in the first 10 years of even Mrs. Thatcher's Government. We are told that housing associations are the answer, but they have not even built enough houses every year in the past 10 years to replace the right-to-buy losses.