Housing (London)

– in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 23rd April 2008.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 2:30 pm, 23rd April 2008

I appreciate enormously the opportunity to discuss housing need in London once again. The Minister and the Department for Communities and Local Government will be aware that this debate is another instalment in a long-running campaign about numerous housing needs issues. In recent years, that campaign has not gone wholly unrewarded as colleagues and I have pressed for more resources for affordable homes to buy and rent in London.

I am conscious of many issues relating to low-cost home ownership, and I shall make a few comments about them as I proceed, but for the moment I merely note that we are in a curious position in relation to home ownership. We are simultaneously anxious about falling house prices in the context of the wider economy and relieved that house prices, particularly for first-time buyers, will decrease a little—certainly across the country, and potentially in London—and grant the access that has, sadly, been constrained for decades.

I am sure that the Minister will not be surprised to know that I shall talk mostly about the supply of affordable housing to rent. I welcome the progress made in recent years by the Mayor of London, and the Government's additional investment in the supply of affordable homes. The supply of affordable homes to rent has more than doubled in the past eight years—from 6,623 in 1999-2000 to 13,500 last year. Last year's figures reflect the best performance on affordable housing in the capital for 30 years. With a Labour Mayor committed to driving that policy forward and backed by Government investment, and despite fierce opposition from many Conservative-controlled local authorities—I am sure that colleagues will make some points about that later—we are at last poised to make serious inroads into unmet housing need. Such progress would be seriously undermined by a prospective Conservative Mayor committed to scrapping the 50 per cent. affordable housing target and raising the threshold for low-cost home ownership. His housing manifesto does not even mention the 1.9 million Londoners who live in housing association and local authority homes for rent. The interests of a quarter of the population go completely unmentioned.

I welcome the Government's acknowledgement of the issue of overcrowding, which has been dear to my heart for many years, in their recent discussion papers and the announcement in December of additional resources. However, the Minister will not be surprised to know that I shall concentrate my remarks on some of the questions that remain unanswered, some of which have even been complicated slightly by the recent announcements.

My first point is one that I have made many times over the years. Families in overcrowded accommodation in the capital are in crisis, and that crisis is getting worse. Overcrowding and the number of families on the waiting list continue to increase, particularly in London, partly as a result of the continuing shortage of supply, partly as a result of the pressure of the 50 per cent. target for reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation and partly because few councils and relatively few other key bodies, including the Housing Corporation, show any proper signs at a strategic level of recognising the scale of the problem that they must tackle.

Currently, 330,000 households are on housing waiting lists in London. The number has risen by 20 per cent. in four years. Most of them, of course, require family-sized accommodation. There are 200,000 overcrowded households in London—a figure that has grown by 12 per cent. in the past four years alone. We need the Mayor of London's house-building programme, and we need a greater emphasis within it and across Government and agencies on family-sized accommodation. We need a willingness to invest in family homes in all parts of London, not just the east, if we are to avoid hollowing out the inner city and all the attendant social and economic problems that that would cause. We also need a greater strategic awareness of the issue from Government, the boroughs and the corporation.

In 2006-07, years after the need for family-sized accommodation became an imperative, only 2,500 socially rented homes with three bedrooms or more were built in the capital. That is only 25 per cent. of the total built. I ask the Minister to address this question: how on earth can the Housing Corporation's target that 42 per cent. of all new build social homes be three-bedroomed or larger be achieved when we are trailing so badly?

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown PPS (Rt Hon John Denham, Secretary of State), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

In Newham, only 132 of 950 homes developed last year were for rented social housing. Only 6 per cent. of the homes developed in my borough, which is in east London, had three bedrooms or more. Given that we have 6,000 families in temporary accommodation and 30,000 families on the housing waiting list, that is not sustainable if we are to do anything to combat child poverty, to mention just one of our targets.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. That has been acknowledged in recent years, yet the solution has not been delivered. The Mayor, who assumed greater housing responsibilities only this year, has committed himself to tackling the problem. I believe him because he has a track record of doing so, but I think that it is a departmental responsibility, and no co-ordinated demand has been placed on the corporation, social landlords or the boroughs to deliver. As a consequence, a problem is increasing that has massive implications for child well-being, educational achievement, health and poverty.

I spend a fair amount of time criticising my local authority, particularly Westminster city council, and I stand by those criticisms, but I am glad to say that this year, it has acceded to the pressure I have placed on it and made changes in its housing allocation process that recognise the reality of severe overcrowding. However—I have raised this issue with Ministers, and I believe it to be true—the council, like other local authorities, whether they are committed to doing something about overcrowding or simply forced to respond to the pressures, is handicapped by the pursuit of the 50 per cent. target for reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation. That is not because the target is in any way a bad thing. Quite the reverse; homelessness is an appalling experience for families who go through it.

Temporary accommodation is an unsettling, frequently deeply unsatisfactory experience. I have dealt with families, some of whom I have brought to the Department's notice, who have had nine different temporary addresses in 10 years. I have brought to the Department cases of families living in such substandard temporary accommodation that, although we subsidise landlords by £400 and more a week, roofs fall in, boilers have not worked for years and paint is falling off the walls. Such properties are dangerous, let alone unsanitary and unpleasant.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My hon. Friend is making a very valuable point. Does she share my concern that there sometimes seems to be an unhealthily close relationship between local housing authorities and the placing of homeless people in private rented accommodation, often on excessive rent, with very poor levels of inspection and advocacy available to the tenants, who, after all, are the victims of a system costing the public a vast amount of money?

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

I agree totally. I would be perfectly content to devote all my time in this debate to the subject of temporary accommodation. Indeed, I have had such debates, because we have experienced many problems with it. A few weeks ago, the chief executive of a major London housing association told me that properties in his temporary accommodation portfolio are inspected every month. Given the condition of properties that I have visited—I have seen black fungus growing down the walls and holes in walls that I could put my hand through—I wonder what those inspectors were doing. Of course, in truth, such inspections never took place. A pressing need remains to improve standards.

Having said all that, if we could ensure, as we should be able to do, reasonable quality and stability for households in temporary accommodation, and if we could crack the long-standing problem of disincentives to work for families in temporary accommodation—an issue about which colleagues have expressed concerns—we could ensure that we balance the needs of homeless families with those of families in chronically overcrowded accommodation. But we do not do that. In the past, I have used the analogy of a table with three legs. We consider home ownership, the quality of housing delivered through the decent homes initiative, and homelessness; but we have consistently failed seriously to address overcrowded accommodation and tenant transfer. We do so at our peril.

If we look at the figures for families bidding under choice-based systems, we see exactly what that means: 200 to 300 families bidding for one home each week. Those families are devastated by a process that goes on for years. Every week, they build up their hopes and pray that the conditions in which they live will be relieved, but every week—for 52 weeks, followed by the next 52 weeks, and so on—those prayers are not answered. I cannot tell the Minister strongly enough how dangerous and corrosive that experience is. It is even worse because most of those households were probably—in fact, we kind of know—homeless themselves, so they have gone through all this twice.

In the mid-1990s, Westminster council deliberately placed families who had entered social housing through the homelessness route in properties that were too small for them, on the ground that they should be grateful for anything. That policy has come back to bite the council in the leg, as it were. I suspect that it was not alone in doing that, and anyway, I am not entirely sure that that gets us off the hook regarding where we are now.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter PPS (Lord Jones of Birmingham Kt, Minister of State), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, PPS (Rt Hon Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, PPS (Lord Jones of Birmingham Kt, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I am sure that my hon. Friend's story is the same as mine. For my local authority, the given waiting times for the lower bands of the choice-based letting scheme, in which more than 90 per cent. of people are based, are 12 years for a four-bedroomed property and eight and a half years for a three-bedroomed property. As she will know, those are the properties most in demand. In reality, that might as well be 120 years and 85 years. There is no opportunity at all for those on the waiting list to get family-size accommodation in inner-London boroughs.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

I thank my hon. Friend for that illustration; he is absolutely right. We could all add to those figures. I shall repeat my tradition of quoting from some of the correspondents with whom I have been dealing recently. Obviously, I shall not give names, but I am always happy to pass on such cases:

"Yet again I have no one to turn to. Only you. I had a very bad time for over 8 months. My wife had twins prematurely but one of them passed away too weak to survive and the other had many operations and is still under medical treatment, but thank God we have brought her home... but the state of my house now is like an animal cage now with damp and cold, with cracks and the overcrowding that we are in".

Another one was from someone whom I shall call Marianne:

"I wrote to you before when I was eight"—

I have the letter in my file—

"but my situation has not changed. We are still living in a one bedroom flat, me and my mum and my little brother. I have been living in this flat all my life and I am sick and tired of it, having to share a room with whole family is upsetting and depressing. I have no privacy whatsoever...please...my mum has tried everything, bidding is useless with no hope. I feel like I'm never going to have my own room or any space to play or dance."

We need an urgent commitment to making progress on overcrowding. I do not believe that we will do so, despite the additional money that has been invested—welcome though that it is—and the Mayor's commitment, if we do not reconsider the implications of the 50 per cent. target for reducing temporary accommodation. We cannot have a table with three legs. That commitment to housing need is absent from local area agreements and, therefore, from local authorities' targets and most people's consciousness, and yet that need is gripping almost 250,000 households in London.

In addition to driving forward the supply of family-sized accommodation and the broader supply question, we could consider those welcome but modest measures that the Government announced before Christmas. What is happening to the remainder of the £10 million allocated to dealing with overcrowding? Why did all London local authorities receive the same allocation of £100,000 when—to put it gently to colleagues from all parties—Bromley, as far as I am aware, does not have an overcrowding crisis, but Newham, Hackney, Westminster and Islington do? Given that all the evidence confirms that this is a highly concentrated problem, in 15 or 20 boroughs, what is the logic of regarding all local authorities as being in the same situation? Why is there no specific capital funding from the housing pot to tackle overcrowding? It would be relatively easy to do that. Why are we not driving forward a substantial programme on extensions to and de-conversions of existing properties? Last year, that policy, which can be very helpful, delivered only 126 units, but it should be capable of delivering thousands.

The Department is very conscious of my concerns about definitions and measurements. Dry and technical though that sounds, it is absolutely clear that if we do not adopt a consistent approach to assessing housing need, we will not be able to define the scale of the problem or set our priorities properly. At the moment, we do not have that. I shall provide an example of what that means. Two weeks ago, a mum and dad and their three children came to see me. They were sharing a studio flat in the private rented sector. Environmental health services inspected that property and found that it constituted a category 1, band A hazard under the housing health and safety rating system—the most serious hazard that they can find. The family applied as homeless on the ground that the property was not suitable for occupation. The letter came back from the homelessness section of the council stating:

"I have had regard to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System...it is opined that this is due to overcrowding...however, overcrowding does not equate to homelessness...according to the Statutory size standards"— which legally must be taken into consideration—

"the accommodation is a reasonable size for you and your household".

A reasonable size! A studio flat for five people! That illustrates—we have many other illustrations—what happens within and between local authorities when they operate on an overlapping jigsaw of different standards.

The old overcrowding standard—statutory overcrowding —was the enforcement tool that was used by environmental health departments and, as my example shows, is used to help determine whether a family is homeless or homeless at home. Meanwhile, we also have a bedroom standard that has been used since 1993 to estimate the numbers in overcrowded accommodation, although the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said in 2004 that the bedroom standard was on the margins of acceptability. The Housing Act 2004 introduced three ways to prevent overcrowding, including the crowding and space standard of the housing health and safety rating system. Finally the 2006 and 2007 discussion papers on overcrowding accepted that statutory overcrowding was out of date, and proposed to move to the bedroom standard, but they did not even mention the use of the HHSRS. However, the bedroom standard is not an enforcement tool, as my standard illustrates.

We really need to sort out this matter. Without making a decision on legally enforceable, consistent sets of measurement, we cannot determine a robust figure for levels of overcrowding and other housing need and give local authorities the tools to enable them to respond to the problem. I ask the Minister to meet me to discuss this matter, as I have asked previous Ministers to do. I want to ensure that officials work with the leading environmental health officer in Westminster. I will criticise Westminster when I have to—and that is frequently—but I will also give credit where it is due. I have to say that the environmental health services department in that local authority is without doubt the best in the country. It is outstanding in its ability to respond to the issues and in its understanding of how the system works and should work. To use that resource would be very helpful indeed.

The temporary accommodation target that I have discussed in relation to the overall issue of housing need has been successful across the country. It has, however, been less successful in London in bearing down on families in temporary accommodation. The numbers in temporary accommodation in London have dropped by only 8 per cent. compared with 2004, while they have fallen considerably elsewhere. However, meeting the target may lead to further perverse consequences, which will make life harder for families in such accommodation. That is partly to do with out-of- borough nominations to accommodation, and partly to do with the tough discharge of duty decisions. I have raised my concern with Ministers about how out-of-borough nominations to temporary accommodation break up the support networks on which families rely. I received confirmation in writing and in parliamentary questions that local authorities should take into account those important support networks.

Last Friday, a heavily pregnant 18-year-old girl attended my surgery. She has spent her entire life in Westminster. Her severely disabled mother, for whom she provides support, came with her to discuss her housing needs. That young woman was accepted as homeless and has been housed in Barking. She is two hours away from her family, her mother, for whom she cares, and her brother. That is despite the assurance that Ministers have given me about what should be done in respect of out-of-borough nominations.

Another woman, currently in a hotel in Hackney, wrote to me last week. She said:

"My partner and I opened a joint application for housing in November 2007...as I was heavily pregnant. My partner's mother explained that she would not be able to cope with the stresses of having a young baby, as she has a history of illness and heart problems...In January we became homeless...we were told by the council that we would be placed in Temporary Accommodation in East London...The plea to stay in Westminster was ignored although I was told that I would be put on a waiting list...Consequently, we were moved to the Leabridge Road Hotel on the understanding that we would be there for six weeks. At the end of the fifth week, we were told to move rooms to a room that was equipped with a kitchenette and that was en suite. I have been employed within Westminster" for the last two years

"and was hoping to return to work...It has now been more than three months and I am under an immense amount of stress...I have become more and more isolated from family and friends."

The Department says that that kind of thing should not be happening. Westminster says that it is under no legal obligation to do anything else, so we continue to have this inconsistency and harshness.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

I am looking at the problem from the perspective of one of the boroughs that receives people from central London. Often those people are abandoned in such boroughs for many years. They set up local connections, family and friends. When they are offered full-time permanent accommodation back in the borough it is too late for them, and they are left in limbo in the receiving authority.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

That is absolutely right. Many families who have been housed in Barking, Dagenham and Walthamstow have to commute into Westminster because their children still go to school there. They do not have the slightest idea how long they are going to be in temporary accommodation and will do anything to avoid that constant disruption to their children's education.

I have a few other issues that I want to raise, including the question of helping home owners. The Mayor's housing plan spells out very clearly that London's economy and society depend on access to affordable homes to buy, as well as to rent, and one can help the other. The 50 per cent. affordable target has helped to ensure that the Mayor has delivered record numbers of shared ownership homes. Yet the average income required for a London mortgage was £85,000 in 2006, while average incomes were only £24,000, and I suspect that the credit squeeze has made the situation worse. That reinforces the importance of subsidy and tough guidance on boroughs to maintain the flow of homes in this category. The Government could do more by supporting the 50:50 rent-free ownership proposal that the London councils have been lobbying for, and by developing a London-wide landlord saving scheme.

Having said that, Tory boroughs are showing what they think of the affordable housing priority and what life would be like in the event of a Tory Mayor. Last year, Wandsworth council delivered only 11 per cent. of affordable homes in the borough, Barnet 10 per cent., and Westminster 11 per cent., including only 16 shared ownership homes. Redbridge council chose to reduce its target for affordable house building to 25 per cent. The Conservative mayoral candidate's housing policy is aimed at households with an income of £60,000, which is only one in five Londoners. We can see very clearly what needs to be done, and what many councils on the ground are doing to undermine it.

Low-cost home owners also include social leaseholders. My hon. Friend the Minister has promised to meet me and other MPs to discuss the plight of those families who may be suffering declining equity, but face bills of up to £60,000 for major works. That need is pressing for a small number of people. We do not want to return to the days of the 1980s and 1990s when low-income home owners were forced into homelessness and into abandoning their homes because they could not afford those major works bills.

London is also the only part of the country that has not met the original target to cut rough sleeping by two thirds. There has been success across the country as a whole and 19,000 rough sleepers have been taken off the streets of London. However, 3,000 people still slept rough last year, and real issues must be addressed regarding cross-boundary work, local connection rules and Home Office liaison over recourse to public funds if we are to bring London in line with the rest of the country.

In conclusion, we have seen impressive achievements in recent years thanks to the Mayor's strategy and Government support. Nevertheless, London's needs remain unmet. In some cases, such as overcrowding, it is a deteriorating situation. We need to review the strategy and to take a fresh look at the temporary accommodation target, priority for overcrowding and transfers—including by the Housing Corporation and housing associations—sorting out the overcrowding measurement, and helping existing tenants and other first-time buyers into affordable home ownership that meets their needs and reflects their incomes. What we do not want is a housing policy that ignores 2 million tenants, tears up affordable housing targets and targets help on the better off.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 2:59 pm, 23rd April 2008

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing this timely debate.

In Barnet, as of the end of March, we had 13,803 families in need on the waiting list. That figure is the fourth highest in London, and it includes 2,492 families in temporary accommodation, of whom 884 are on our regeneration estates, to which I shall refer later, and 177 have been placed outside the borough. We also have 2,562 families awaiting transfers, primarily because of overcrowding. I am pleased that the London Mayor has pledged to halve the number of people in temporary accommodation during his next term in office, if he is re-elected. I do not propose to discuss in detail the plight of people in temporary accommodation, as my hon. Friend has done that more than adequately. However, we must reflect on the appalling conditions in which some people have been placed.

My hon. Friend made the important point that housing investment should be spread throughout London, not just concentrated in the east end. We must invest in housing where the jobs and transport links are and where people want to live—places such as my constituency and that of my hon. Friend. My concerns about the platform that has been advanced by the Conservative mayoral candidate is that his policies—removing the 50 per cent. rule, and his rather barmy first steps scheme, which requires an enormous income—will lead to economic apartheid in our capital city, with less well-off people being concentrated in the east end and excluded, for economic reasons, from the north and west of London. That is no recipe for a successful city, as we have seen in some cities in the north.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

Does not the hon. Gentleman feel that ghettoisation is happening anyway? I agree with his concerns, but how do we de-ghettoise the city, given that Britain as a whole has accepted a culture that stratifies population according to wealth?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

That is an important point, and the 50 per cent. rule is part of the answer. I shall give some examples from developments in my constituency regarding the consequences of having and not having the 50 per cent. rule.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about the fact that when developers are told that they have to provide either a proportion of social housing or a section 106 payment, they often opt for the payment to evade their social responsibility, thus exporting social housing to some other place? As a result, we end up with more serious ghettoisation. Does he think that that practice should be stopped?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

My hon. Friend makes an important point and I agree with his comments.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown PPS (Rt Hon John Denham, Secretary of State), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

I am concerned about sustainable communities and ensuring that people from all strata of society are able to live together. That is illustrated by the dilemma that exists in Newham. The east end of London is a desirable place to live and has fantastic neighbours—I should not like anyone to make suggestions to the contrary or decry that point—but it is cheaper to buy there than in the rest of London, and there is a problem in that that is attracting a buy-to-let market. Even with the houses being built in my constituency, more than 50 per cent. of private homes go to not private home owners, but the poorest in our society who are paying private rents to private landlords in the buy-to-let market. Some of those people are paying more than £1,000 a calendar month for properties over shops that are in awful condition.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Order. I shall have to call a halt there, because a lot of people want to speak and that was a long intervention.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

My hon. Friend makes two points, the second being an important one about buy-to-let properties. The current situation not only creates the difficulties that she mentions, but leads to a lack of community cohesion, because those properties are inevitably let on short tenancies and people move around all the time. That does not create a sense of community or cohesion.

My hon. Friend's first point was a plug for living in the east end. People will live where they want to live. I am happy with my place in my constituency, and I am sure that she is very happy with hers. The bald point that I want to make is that people should be able to live where they want to live—where the transport links and jobs are—but we will not achieve that if we are not careful about investment.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

That means you are not moving to Newham.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

My hon. Friend Lyn Brown will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to become one of her electors in the near future.

According to the figures, there were 666 new homes in Barnet last year. Despite the 50 per cent. rule, however, only eight were for intermediate sale and only 58 were for rent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North said, that amounts to 10 per cent. of the total, which is the worst record in the whole of the capital, apart from in the City, which is, of course, a special case. Even Westminster managed 11 per cent. If we were to include properties that have been brought back into use, such as hostels and student accommodation, the total would be 1,010, of which only 8 per cent. were affordable. Again, even Westminster managed 12 per cent. New developments have been mainly below the threshold of 10 properties, and we have seen street corners being turned into flats. There has not been insistence on the 50 per cent. rule and a serious problem has developed. The difficulty is that in-fill sites and smaller-scale developments are outside the Mayor's powers, but they have a huge impact on the community.

When we were considering the unitary development plan, Conservative-controlled Barnet did not want to adopt the 50 per cent. rule, but was required to accept it by both the London Mayor and the Planning Inspectorate. Of that 50 per cent., 70 per cent. of the properties should be for rent and 30 per cent. for sale. There is also, of course, a requirement for 42 per cent. family-sized properties with three-plus bedrooms. The council was also forced, against its wishes, to accept the 10-unit threshold. It wanted the threshold to be much higher to enable more rich people to move to the borough, rather than meeting the genuine housing needs of the nearly 14,000 families in the borough.

The planning department tells me that part of the difficulty is that the new planning rules and the 50 per cent. rule have not filtered through into planning applications because some sites were bought years ago, at then market prices, before the rule was introduced. To make a profit, developers have had to squeeze the schemes as much as they can. It says that the 50 per cent. rule is important because it will start to filter back into residual land values, and that 50 per cent. schemes will increasingly become more affordable for developers than they have been in recent years.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

What would be the implication of doing away with the 50 per cent. rule for affordable housing in Barnet?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

If my hon. Friend is a little patient, he will find out, because I shall give clear examples of what I think would happen. However, first, let me make another point about the economics of this issue. As the 50 per cent. rule filters through into land sales, it will become a much more practical proposition. The problems that arise out of the 10-unit threshold will be addressed. The threshold has had one beneficial effect: reducing the number of shoebox studio conversions whereby big family houses are turned into a dozen studios. However, it has led to a lot of nine-unit applications. There have been fewer middle market—10 to 50—applications, but there has been much more of a trend for large developments in the 50 to 100 scale. Those large developments tend to involve buying several family-sized houses in a row, often with the developers winkling out the people who do not want to sell with threats and promises, and then knocking down half a street and developing those blocks. It is vital that the 50 per cent. rule is maintained to keep some control over that practice.

My hon. Friend Mr. Love asked what the impact on Barnet would be of getting rid of the 50 per cent. rule. We have some major development schemes in my constituency and we are seen as a growth borough. Those schemes are private, but the 50 per cent. rule is essential. In Mill Hill East, a draft area action plan has been approved to build 2,660 properties on an old Ministry of Defence site. The plan is for a split of 40 per cent. houses and 60 per cent. flats, with 50 per cent. of the properties be affordable, along the 70:30 split that I have mentioned.

The Colindale area action plan, which is out to consultation, also covers my constituency. That is an opportunity area of the London plan, and we have been told that there is the capacity to deliver 10,000 new homes between 2001 and 2016. The Beaufort Park development is well on the way and will have 2,990 properties, and a planning application for 7,500 new properties at Brent Cross Cricklewood has just been submitted. If we were to add all those properties up and apply the 50 per cent. rule properly and vigorously, it would pretty well ensure that the 14,000 families on the waiting list in Barnet would have a real chance of finding somewhere to live and having a decent home at last. If the rule is abandoned, however, they will have no prospect whatever of doing so.

I have no doubt that Tory Barnet will not enforce the 50 per cent. rule if it is not required to do so; it will ensure that more and more wealthy people move in, so we will have more and more buy-to-let and far fewer properties for those in desperate housing need. The drive for family-sized homes is also vital, so I am pleased that London councils have confirmed in their briefing for today's debate that there is a desperate need for large homes in the capital, including in my constituency and borough.

I mentioned the other major schemes in my constituency—the regeneration estates. At Spur Road and Stonegrove, 937 properties will replace 603 properties. There will be 417 affordable properties—the proposal is with the Mayor for approval— but they will only replace existing affordable accommodation. At West Hendon, 2,171 properties will replace 530 properties for rent and 150 that are owned—there are 680 properties there now. Of those to be built, 1,491 will be for private open-market sale, 132 will be for part-shared ownership, 548 will be for rent, and only a tiny additional number will be affordable homes. At Grahame Park, 2,977 properties will replace the 1,314 that are there now. Of those, 835 will be for tenants and 165 will be for sale or affordable. That means that there will be 1,000 affordable homes, which is even fewer than we have on the estate as it stands.

That is the reality of what Tory Barnet is trying to do in my constituency. It is important that regeneration on these three estates is done effectively, because it will provide new homes for people who are generally living in pretty appalling conditions, but the council is missing the opportunity of a generation to do something about housing need in my borough. The Government need to see what can be done using all the levers available to them to ensure that more money is put into these schemes, or that more pressure is put on those involved to increase the amount of affordable accommodation.

As I said, there are 884 temporary tenants on these estates. The schemes housing them were first thought of eight or so years ago, when Labour ran the council. The idea was to put temporary people in because it was thought that the schemes would develop rapidly, that they would not be there long, and that there would not be a large number of them. However, as properties have become vacant on these estates, more temporary people have been moved in, and some have been in temporary accommodation for many years. They are given an absolute guarantee that they will not get one of the new homes on these estates and no guarantee about where they will be relocated to. They have no stake whatever in the community as it stands, or as it will develop under the new schemes, so it is vital that the issue is seriously addressed. To return to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North, people in temporary accommodation must have a future, but they see none in the way in which Barnet council is running its housing policies, although they could see one if the 50 per cent. rule was vigorously applied.

Another issue relating to regeneration estates is design, and there is growing concern that design will simply replicate the failures of the past. There is also the question of the impact on local services to existing communities and growth communities. Most people who look independently and objectively at the issue are concerned that the borough has not really got to grips with issues such as roads, utilities, the health service and education.

The other issue on which I want to touch briefly relates not so much to housing supply as to the quality of housing, and this is where I think that the decent homes initiative has been such a boon. In Barnet, the Government are investing £88.5 million in new kitchens, bathrooms and windows from Burnt Oak to Belle Vue estate and from Broadfields to Fosters estate in my constituency. That investment is vital, but few people know that the Government are making it. It is outrageous that the Conservative council is claiming the credit for that investment on big signs all over the place, because that does not reflect where the money has actually come from. The Government should do far more to brand the decent homes initiative so that people are aware that it is not the Conservative council that is putting its hand in its pocket—[Interruption.] Or the Liberals. Such a move by the Government would be a good start. They should make clear who is actually investing in decent homes in the borough.

I am concerned that regeneration estates have missed out. The issue has been left on the back burner because there is no point investing in these estates while they are coming down. The problem, however, is that as the years go by, the quality of the accommodation goes down because basic maintenance is not done. At Grahame Park, which I mentioned earlier, it will take 17 years from now for the regeneration scheme to be completed, assuming that all goes to plan, and we all know the risks in that respect. The scheme will take 25 years from start to finish, and no major works will have been done. People's accommodation is getting worse, with leaking windows and roofs, and generally poor common parts.

I am pleased to say that Labour councillors and I have been able to persuade Tory Barnet at long last to invest in new windows on the West Hendon estate—some were so rotten that they were starting to fall out. The council has been able to do that because of the decent homes initiative money, and investment in other housing stock has meant that the council has had to spend rather less on routine maintenance, which has freed up the money that it needs for capital investment to do something about the West Hendon windows. Again, that is a product of the Government's strong investment in improving the housing stock in the borough.

Next week, when they vote, Londoners, including Barnet and Hendon residents, will face a choice on housing policy. I am disappointed that Mr. Johnson is not here to defend his housing policy, because it does not stand up to much scrutiny. For that matter, there is nobody from the Conservative party here to defend its housing policy, apart from its Front-Bench spokesman—

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Indeed. Interventions to allow us to point out the gross failings, inadequacies, bad arithmetic and internal contradictions in the Conservative party's housing policy would have been very welcome.

The choice is between 50 per cent. enforced or 50 per cent. abandoned, and making the right choice is people in London's best hope of getting a decent home. I hope that they vote accordingly next week.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 3:17 pm, 23rd April 2008

I thank my hon. Friend Ms Buck for securing the debate, for what she said and for all the fantastic work that she has done on housing policy in London over a very long time. That work has made an enormous difference and probably given the Minister a lot of grey hairs, although he has yet to show them. [Interruption.] I said that the Minister is yet to show his grey hairs; it was meant to be a compliment, but it was obviously a total failure. When I pay the Government compliments, they do not understand them.

We are debating the most serious issue that faces anyone in London. We could all say again and again everything that my hon. Friends the Members for Regent's Park and Kensington, North and for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) have said. Growing up in overcrowded accommodation is sheer misery. Sharing a bedroom with three or four siblings and being unable to do anything at home, to bring friends home, to study or to socialise in any way becomes an embarrassment. If we talk to teenaged children in secondary schools, we hear that they immediately divide into those who have a nice home to go back to—one where friends can come and stay over for the weekend—and those who just feel embarrassed about where they live. Such children feel a sense of failure, including towards their parents, and their parents feel a sense of failure, too. The whole experience becomes utterly miserable. These ought to be the best years of a young person's life, but they are often blighted by the horror of being ashamed of where they live and of the conditions there, as well as by a sense of failure. Of course, the parents are not failures; it is public policy that has failed them, and we must be able to do something about that.

I have been the MP for Islington, North since 1983. I was there in the early 1980s, when we had a very effective house building programme under a Labour council. It was a pleasure regularly to go to the opening of new council developments, but how many colleagues go to one of those now? Sometimes I was critical of the designs, and sometimes I was not, but at least things were happening. There was building, and things were going ahead. That was an interesting period.

We then went through the sale of council homes promoted by the Conservative Government, and the period of the Labour Government from 1997 onwards, to whom I pay tribute for really rapid, fantastic improvements in the quality of estates—new roofs, windows, bathrooms and kitchens, and things of that kind. All that made a difference to the lives of many people on estates, which are much better managed as a result of what was done and much better respected.

The downside, however, is that we have been far too slow in getting around to the problem of the development of new properties—places for affordable rent. That is what I want to talk about, because the effect has been to push housing authorities into the only solution that they can find, which is to shove homeless people away from hostels and bed and breakfast into leased properties. A fantastic scam—that is the only way to describe it—is going on, by which letting agencies all over London have an over-close and over-cosy relationship with their housing authorities, which accept a dozen, two or three dozen, or 100 homeless families, and plonk them in flats in constituencies, such as Edmonton, that are usually near an outer London ring. Those places are often disgusting, and we, the public, pay for that through housing benefit. I have been to places where I would not be prepared to stay the night, let alone live, and for which the public pay £300 a week in rent—places that no one can be bothered to inspect or repair and that are infested with vermin. In 21st century London that is simply wrong.

My council in Islington is Liberal Democrat-controlled and is consulting on a housing strategy. In the past five years, on council figures, the proportion of owner-occupiers in Islington has decreased by 4 per cent; that of council tenants by 6 per cent., and that of housing association tenants by 1 per cent. The proportion of private renters has increased by 9 per cent. The lowest cost of a one-bedroomed property has increased from £160,000 to £228,000. The lowest rent for a one-bedroomed home in the private sector has increased from £700 a month to £900 a month, and the annual need for affordable housing has increased from 1,800 to 4,400 units. The proportion of households in Islington living in overcrowded conditions has increased from 6.7 per cent. to 6.9 per cent. In council housing that figure has increased from 9.8 per cent. to 11.5 per cent. Those statistics are very interesting. They show the reality for my borough—which has an image of expensive restaurants, chic metropolitan living and all that goes with that—as one in which a minority of the population live in owner-occupied accommodation. The largest sector is council/housing association homes and there is a rapidly increasing private rented sector. The problems are that we are not able to offer places to people in Islington who are in desperate housing need. That leads to community break-up and other problems.

Another downside to the private rented, uncertain-future accommodation is that people do not know how long they will be there. It might be a week, a month, a year or two years. They have no stake or interest in the local community and are frightened to get involved in a community association, school governing body or anything else because they do not know what their future will be. That has a debilitating effect on community life as a whole. We need permanent housing to be built, urgently.

I have a couple more quick points to make, but I will be very brief. The current crisis in the housing market over mortgages and the rest may well lead to a slight reduction in house prices, if not to a rapid fall in some parts of the country. I suspect that it will also have the result that some of the developers who are now building private sector developments, such as flats, will suddenly be unable to sell them. That is a crisis for them; I understand that. It is also an opportunity for councils and housing associations to move in quickly, buy the developments and help to solve the current housing problem. I should be very interested to know whether the Minister can give us any help on that issue. I have asked representatives of several of the larger housing associations that operate in my area, "If something came up, could you get it quickly; could you deal with it?" Most of them say that, provided they had the capital available, they could process that quickly.

My last point is about London as a whole. We have a housing crisis in London. We have a crisis of homelessness and of need; housing is in crisis in many ways. It will not be solved by letting a free market rip in London. It will be addressed only by investing in new council housing. I tell local authorities that are still selling off assets, Islington included, that it is a disgrace to be selling them now when they could be converted to social housing.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

The hon. Gentleman and I have very similar views on this; does he agree that if, as I should wish, considerably more council housing were to be built in London, we should avoid letting it be susceptible to the right to buy, so that it would disappear after councils had invested in it? It should be possible to ring-fence it and keep it in local authority control, and hand it on so that it remained social housing.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Absolutely. I could not agree more. There are many ways to deal with that, such as forming co-operatives; we need to keep those places in the social sector. However, we need overall housing administration in London that requires at least half of all new developments to be housing for people in need, and at least a third, although I should prefer half, to be for affordable, controlled rent—social rented. We also need to end the scam, which I mentioned when I intervened on my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore, of developers buying out their obligations by putting money and development somewhere else. We need mixed and balanced communities.

I am proud to represent my constituents and to do my best for them, but I am ashamed when I talk to people and I know that they will bid week after week and get nothing as a result. One can see the depression in the family and the potential for family break-up. Youngsters hang around the streets; there is nothing wrong in that, but it is wrong for it to be someone's only option because they are frightened to be at home at night. I thank the Minister for what he has done in trying to improve conditions on estates, and for his understanding of the issue, but we need an urgent action programme to deal with the housing crisis in London.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter PPS (Lord Jones of Birmingham Kt, Minister of State), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, PPS (Rt Hon Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, PPS (Lord Jones of Birmingham Kt, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 3:27 pm, 23rd April 2008

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn for leaving me a little time, and particularly to my hon. Friend Ms Buck for yet another housing debate. She must occasionally feel that she is banging her head against a brick wall, but nevertheless she keeps going and keeps raising the issues. Of course not many brick walls are being built in London, but that will change with the election of Ken Livingstone next week.

The bottom end of the housing market—social rented and shared ownership—is virtually sclerotic in central London now. There is at least a 25 per cent. population turnover in my constituency every year, but there is very little movement, except among the properties that have been sold and are now buy-to-let, on housing estates. Whole families grow up and children finally move out in appallingly crowded conditions, without any of the movement that used to take place even 20 years ago in that market. We know, historically, that that is for reasons of lack of supply as well as of depletion of stock through the right to buy and other means, and it results in figures such as those I quoted in my intervention earlier, which show that there is effectively no opportunity for families living in Hammersmith and Fulham or Ealing to be rehoused within the social rented market. There are appalling levels of overcrowding, and people have come to my surgeries who have five children in a one-bedroomed flat or six children in a two-bedroomed flat; those are not untypical examples.

The need for policy is clear, and the policy is clear, certainly as far as the Mayor is concerned: it is for 35 per cent. social rented housing, 15 per cent. shared ownership and 50 per cent. market target. The mayoral candidates attended a debate conducted by London Citizens the week before last, and they were introduced to the concept of the housing affordability standard. I think that that is a very good piece of research. It showed that someone on the minimum wage in London has £86 a week available for housing, and that someone on the London living wage, which the mayor has promoted, of £7.20 an hour, would have £135 a week. That, in reality, means living in registered social landlord or council rented accommodation—not even in shared ownership accommodation—and that is the essential reason for requiring not only the 50 per cent. target but the 35 per cent. target. That is why the intention of Mr. Johnson to abandon the target if elected is criminality, rather than folly.

In the brief time that I have, I want to focus on what is already happening with registered social landlords and Conservative and Liberal councils. Either they find meeting housing need too difficult or do not want to do so for political reasons, but they are not even seeking to meet such need. In fact, they are going the other way and reducing the amount of affordable housing available.

I give an example from my surgery last Friday. Hammersmith and Fulham council boasts about its direct letting scheme. If a mother with two children goes to the council, she will be put in touch with a private landlord—usually big private landlords who own many properties—who will house her somewhere. In this case, a family with two children—a two-year-old and a six-month-old—were put into a flat directly on the A40. It is in appalling condition. There is infestation, and the lifts do not work. The mother is undergoing treatment for a brain tumour. She is unable to get to the shops or to get a buggy downstairs, and she has no prospect of ever being rehoused by the council. She is in an infested block run by Ealing council, and has a private landlord who does not care.

That is the new face of rehousing in London. It is almost impossible for my office or anybody else who wishes to assist people to untangle the network that has been created. Previously, such people would have been put in a hostel. Under the previous Labour council in Hammersmith, all the hostels were modernised and made self-contained. The current Conservative council is selling them off on the open market. They emptied them using the Government's target to reduce temporary accommodation by 50 per cent. as a cynical excuse. Estates Gazette reported last month that a very desirable property in Waldemar avenue had been sold for £905,000. Formerly, it had been five flats for homeless families. It is now being converted with planning consent from the Conservative council into a single property for sale on the open market.

I believe that you wish me to conclude, Mr. Chope. I end simply with this point: unless there is a reversal of policy, and unless the Government are prepared to follow their money with implementation, the housing market in London will not change. I would like to hear the response of the Minister and the Opposition to that.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government 3:31 pm, 23rd April 2008

I have become very engaged by this debate and by the fact that the bottom line is that everyone in this room agrees that the biggest single determinant of the quality of life of a family in the long term is the quality of their accommodation. I do not need to repeat that point, and I see that the Minister is agreeing. I am encouraged by the fact that we all agree that the fundamental requirement in a first-world country is to ensure that individuals have a quality of accommodation that is commensurate with the wealth of the nation as a whole.

The fact that the rate of ownership is lower in London than anywhere else in the UK is hardly surprising. There are historical and financial reasons for that. That in itself is not the issue. In other countries, there is generally a lower level of ownership. It is a quirk of British society that we equate property ownership with achievement.

Nevertheless, what really concerns me are the 91,000 empty homes and the 200,000 or so overcrowded houses, which have already been mentioned by Ms Buck and others. It is also a matter of great concern to me—and, I am sure, to the Minister—that 330,000 households are on waiting lists. The number has risen by about one fifth in the past four years. We have also heard from various contributors today about the importance of building not just one and two-bedroomed houses, and that 60,000 households require homes with three or more bedrooms. It is ironic indeed that 60,000 three to four-bedroomed homes are under-occupied.

Part of the reason for that is the great profitability of building one to two-bedroomed homes. We know that that is why developers like them, and that it is how they maximise their profits. Of course, that could change if we end up with a glut of one and two-bedroomed homes and a shortage of larger homes. We have to recognise that developers are primarily under a financial obligation to deliver what they think will maximise their profits. Let us not be naïve and think that they will alter their strategies simply on the basis of what the Government require and what society needs—that will not happen.

My first question to the Minister is, what mechanisms could be used to influence developers to build the right mix of housing? In parenthesis, I also point out that several developers feel that they have to build one and two-bedroomed homes—the cheaper homes—because the bottom rungs of the house ownership ladder have been kicked away due to spiralling inflation in house prices. Let us not pretend that any short readjustment in the house price market will be sustained for any length of time. The market always recovers if demand exceeds supply, as substantially as it does.

The issue of temporary accommodation has once again been raised. With some 56,000 households in temporary accommodation in London, it cannot be right to think that the strategy is in line with requirements. There has been an 8 per cent. reduction in the number of households in such accommodation, and that is welcome, but it is nowhere near enough.

The cost of temporary accommodation can be measured in pounds and pence and can be extremely high, for reasons that Mr. Dismore and others highlighted, but the social cost has a practical financial value, as well as a less definable but very real cost in terms of misery. Diverting money to housing associations so that they can house families permanently seems like an attractive option.

My second question to the Minister is, what will his Government do to ensure that local authorities have the tools to break the vicious cycle of temporary accommodation that has been lucidly described by others and needs no repetition from me?

Increasing owner-occupation through shared ownership seems an absolutely sensible way to provide equity for the householder and the state. London has one of the lowest rates of owner-occupation in the UK, with only 57 per cent. owning their own home, compared with 70 per cent. nationally. Twenty per cent. of social housing tenants aged 34 to 44 could afford to buy their own home in 1997-98, but that proportion was down to 5 per cent. in 2004-05, entirely as a result of property prices rising. That leads to my third question to the Minister: to what extent will this Government actively drive owner-occupation and facilitate the use of that valuable and important tool in the interests of resolving these issues?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about promoting owner-occupation. In my borough, there is roughly 30 per cent. owner-occupation. He heard what I said about house prices. Is it really credible to promote owner-occupation in an area such as mine? Would it not be better to promote rented accommodation to solve the immediate housing problems?

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

I do not have the arrogance to second-guess the hon. Gentleman's information about his own constituency, but I know that there is great variation in the demographics across London, and that what would not work in his area could well work in others. From what he said today, I suspect that other solutions would be much more appropriate in his area than simply following an owner-occupation agenda.

I think that we are over-obsessed with house ownership in this country. We have created a social status that results in poor decision making by some people, who end up, in effect, being slaves to their mortgage. That does not help them in the long term and it increases the risk of repossession.

The action points seem fairly clear to me. First, compulsory purchase orders could be effective in bringing some of the empty homes back into public usage, or in acting as an incentive to let the property. At least that would be a mitigating measure to reduce the pressure on housing. The empty property strategy from 2003 to 2006 reduced the number of empty homes in Islington by 16 per cent., and I hope that Jeremy Corbyn feels that that, at least, has been an effective methodology. However, we still have people in wrong-sized properties. With sensitive management, I wonder whether the Government could do something to make it easy and painless for people to be put in the right size of house.

I reiterate that, unlike the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats are committed to the principle that 50 per cent. of new housing developments should be affordable housing. I do not understand why Mr. Johnson, whom I regard as a personal friend, takes a contrary view, when it is absolutely clear that to remove that requirement would simply make matters worse. Perhaps Grant Shapps, who will speak for the official Opposition, will clarify that position.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

Does my hon. Friend accept that in London, as colleagues have said, many people just do not have a home of their own? Their needs would be met by the provision of affordable housing. Much of the free-market housing would not be a first home and might not even be a second home, and is for people who are generally perfectly adequately housed—it is not a need in London at all and is absolutely not a priority.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Minister (Housing), Department for Communities and Local Government

My hon. Friend makes a point that is self-explanatory. I agree. I hope that the Minister will respond to it if he has time.

As well as the 50 per cent. condition, and in addition to looking at compulsory purchase, I seek the Minister's views on the 70,000 hectares of surplus land owned by Network Rail, Transport for London, the NHS and other Government bodies, which could be used to build tens of thousands of new houses. Surely that would be an easy win and would be fairly straightforward—especially through new community land trusts—under the legislation that the Minister himself shepherded through the House on new build, which passed through the House of Commons just a few weeks ago.

I have already mentioned shared equity schemes. I should like the Minister to comment on the potential for new forms of housing purchase for people on low and moderate incomes that keep homes affordable, rather than allowing them to be sold on at a market rate. Obviously, we Liberal Democrats will review and expand our policies in line with the need in London but, fundamentally, I am looking for a commitment from the Minister, whom I hold in high regard, to work strategically with local authorities that are doing the best they can with the resources available, given the strictures placed upon them. Without that support, I fear that those local authorities will have to act expediently in the short term and continue to exacerbate the strategic problem in the long term.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party 3:41 pm, 23rd April 2008

I congratulate Ms Buck on securing the debate. I know that the subject is a passion of hers.

This is a timely debate for me, because I have today released a report called "Crumbling Foundations", which looks specifically into affordable housing throughout the country and in London. A table on page 6—figure 3—amply demonstrates the point that the hon. Lady came here to raise today, which is that the number of people now on council waiting lists for housing is at an all-time record, including in London. Back in 1997, there were 181,080 on the council waiting lists; now there are 333,857 on the same lists. There is, by any extent, a crisis.

Mr. Dismore mentioned his constituency in great detail. I knew it well before he spoke and I now feel that I know it even better, including many of the estates. He knows the estates inside out, and he took us on a tour around them and explained many of the crippling housing problems. Jeremy Corbyn and other hon. Members clearly articulated the problem. In that regard, we are all in agreement; we all believe that there is a housing crisis.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, because I would have liked to have put this question to a Conservative Member for London, but since none are available, I shall put it to him. Will he join me in condemning Wandsworth, Westminster, Barnet and other local authorities that have delivered only 10 or 11 per cent. affordable accommodation in London to address the problems that he mentions? If, as he says, all hon. Members in the Chamber are in agreement, he will certainly endorse that sentiment.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

Rather than picking on individual councils, I will do better than that and quote from my report, which makes clear why we have ended up with this horrendous problem. To speed things through, I shall jump to the relevant section of that report, for the hon. Gentleman's benefit.

After 11 years of following roughly the same policy, we have built fewer houses in this country overall. We know the figures. Some 176,000 houses, on average, were built a year during the period of the last Government. That number has descended to a mere 145,000 over the past decade. I welcome interventions from Labour Members on that point. We also know the figures on the statistics for housing association and RSL homes. We know that, in the 11 years since 1997, we have never returned even to the 1997 figure of 28,000 RSL homes being built. In the past year the figure dropped to 26,000. However, the situation is worse still if we look at the supply of houses built by councils. Back in 1997, the figure was still more than 1,550, yet it had descended to a mere 268 last year. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong; I do not have a moment to look that figure up in my report.

If we are going to analyse the problem and have a serious, grown-up discussion about why we are in such a catastrophic mess when it comes to housing, it is not because Wandsworth has done this or Hammersmith and Fulham has done that, but because this nation has not built the houses that we have needed for well over a decade—particularly in the past decade—and that has left us in crisis.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

Is it not true that local authorities, as the planning authorities in respect of these decisions, are essential if we are going to deliver a national house building target? The hon. Gentleman is reading from his report, but would it be wrong to say, from reading his website, that he was also campaigning using the words, "Say no way to 10k", and opposing house building in his constituency?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

That was a cross-party campaign that I chaired in my constituency, and the hon. Lady's colleagues from Welwyn Hatfield were sitting in as well. It is not that we mind building homes. In fact, we have already built 2,000 and are happy to build 6,000 of them. It is just that 10,000 pushes the resources when one considers that, at the same time, the local hospital is being closed down and resources are not being provided. That picture is repeated not just in my constituency, but across London, and I want to focus on that.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

Given the challenges and the need to improve and increase the supply of housing in the capital, does the hon. Gentleman agree with the consensus of our excellent debate that any moves to scrap a 50 per cent. affordable housing build would be absolutely foolish and should be criticised as being in Pottyland?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

No, I disagree with the Minister and I will tell him why. As Lembit Öpik mentioned, trying to build the homes that we need by pushing further with the prescriptions to try to solve the housing crisis that have failed during the Government's tenure will replicate and ensure the continuation of the problems that we have experienced. I should have thought it fairly obvious to Labour Members, who feel passionately about this issue, that repeating the same mistakes is not the way to get out of the problem in which we find ourselves.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

I am happy to carry on taking interventions, but I am sure that the Minister will want to respond to some of the points that have been made.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

On a point that I raised when I think that the hon. Gentleman was out of the Chamber, does he agree with Barnet planners, who tell me that as the 50 per cent. rule works through, sites bought many years ago at the then open market value before the 50 per cent. rule, or when it had just come in, will work their way through and the residual land values will then start to reflect the 50 per cent. rule, thus making it much more achievable?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

I could spend quite a while on that and I make some reference to it in my report. However, in the interests of allowing the Minister to speak, I shall carry on with my own points, but only because it is a complicated question, although the entire situation is complicated.

It is easy to say that we need to build all houses at 50 per cent. affordability. I should like to build all houses at 100 per cent. affordability and I have no doubt that the Minister—although I do not want to do his job for him—would like to as well. However, the reality is that to get those houses built, we must have developers who are prepared to develop, because—guess what, folks—the Government do not build houses. Actually, last year the Government built only 268 council houses directly, as has been mentioned. I should like them to build more. When we were in power, we did build more. I know how we can build more. Rather than having local authorities return 75 per cent. of income from a right-to-buy sale to central Government, with that money not being recycled to build more homes, why not allow that money to be ring-fenced locally for housing? That seems obvious and it is one of the many solutions that we need in respect of housing.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

There are more solutions, if I can get to them, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter PPS (Lord Jones of Birmingham Kt, Minister of State), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, PPS (Rt Hon Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, PPS (Lord Jones of Birmingham Kt, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is perfectly possible to achieve those targets. Some Labour councils, including Hammersmith, when it was under Labour control, achieved them. I shall not ask him about that again, but I would like him to answer another question. My Conservative council said last month:

"Council housing can be a great safety net to help get people back on their feet, but that is all it should be. Council housing is a springboard, not a destination."

When I suggested during proceedings on the Housing and Regeneration Bill that that was Conservative policy, the hon. Gentleman denied it, so will he now dissociate himself from that comment? Conservative policy seems to be to treat all council housing as temporary housing. Is that his solution to the housing problem?

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

I have just told the hon. Gentleman that we want more council house building. When we were in power, we built more council housing in every category than his Government have. To get to the central point, if we want to relieve the housing crisis in this country, we must build more homes, and if we want to do that, repeating the failing prescription of the past will not achieve what we require. I have told the Minister before—and I say again—that when the former Soviet Union told Ukraine how many tractors to build in the 10-year plan, it rarely, if ever, made that target.

The same mistake is being made here today with a new target: 3 million homes by 2020 from a Government who have no chance of building them. If I were in the Chamber with not a junior housing Minister, but a trade and industry Minister, they would think it insane for any of us to ask how many cars or tractors the Government hoped to build in the next 10 years. However, the Government apparently believe that that is a rational approach for housing, and that is why, 11 years on, it must be incredibly sad for Labour Back Benchers, who are passionate about this matter, to know that their Government have failed them and their constituents.

We all have constituents in our surgeries every week telling us that they are unable to get homes simply because not enough are being built. We must tackle that by building more homes and incentivising local communities to create the necessary housing. That is done by not closing down the local hospital in an area where one wants to build 10,000 or 15,000 more homes and by relaxing the rules that section 106 money can be spent only in the exact vicinity of the new housing, rather than through incentivising the existing community to accept those houses. Until we do those things, we will never build the homes that this country requires.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Order. I am going to intervene now to call the Minister to respond.

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) 3:52 pm, 23rd April 2008

I begin with a profound personal apology to your good self, Mr. Chope, for the fact that you have had to listen to me five times in two days. I do not know what you have done to displease Mr. Speaker. I congratulate Lembit Öpik on his engagement and wish him well.

This has been an excellent debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Buck on securing it. It is recognised throughout the House that she has been a champion of housing in the capital. I hope that all hon. Members agree that a one-and-a-half-hour debate in Westminster Hall is inadequate for such a massive issue. We need a topical debate on the Floor of the House, or perhaps a three-hour debate here on a Thursday afternoon, because the matter is so important.

Many issues have been raised: overcrowding, temporary accommodation, problems associated with choice-based lettings, homelessness, rough sleeping and economic apartheid, which my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore mentioned. A common theme—I hope that we all agree on this—is that we need to build more homes, particularly affordable homes, with an emphasis on social homes.

As my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Slaughter) said, the fact that the non-London hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), who claims that he will be a strong voice for London, is not here to debate housing, which is one of London's most pressing issues, is symptomatic of his campaign. He is running scared, hiding from scrutiny, and demonstrating an arrogant and disgraceful disdain for the electorate. Grant Shapps did a sterling job of trying to defend his hon. Friend, but he knows the truth. It is disgraceful that someone who wants to represent London, the world's best city, is not here to have his policies scrutinised.

London's need for housing has been well explained during the debate. It is an extremely successful city— arguably the best—and is growing fast. The London plan estimates that the population will increase from around 7.5 million in 2006 to 8.19 million in 2016 and 8.71 million in 2020. The number of households is expected to increase by around 720,000 by 2026. We have discussed the imbalance of supply and demand, and that has an impact on prices, which has an impact on affordability. It is genuinely shocking that the average house price in London, when adjusted for the mix, is now £339,000. Anyone who suggests that someone with an income of £60,000, £70,000 or £80,000 is normal does not move in the circles in which my hon. Friends and I move in our constituencies. That shows a level of elitism that I do not want in housing policy, and we must address that.

We have been building more homes in London in recent years. In 2006-07, more than 31,000 homes were completed, but the Greater London authority estimates that London will require about 353,000 new homes over the next 10 years to meet the backlog and future demand.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North raised many issues. She wrote to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing in February, and I replied on my right hon. Friend's behalf yesterday—I hope that she received that. I shall reiterate some of the themes concerning temporary accommodation, overcrowding, homelessness and rough sleeping because they are important. I will be happy, with my hon. Friend's permission, to share that reply with hon. Members who have contributed to the debate.

I want to respond to the important point that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon made about Barnet and the patchiness of affordable housing in the capital. He was right to say that last year the proportion was about 10 per cent. We need a lot more, but I want to consider the matter with a three-year trajectory because that gives an idea of direction and how local authorities are committed to ensuring that they provide affordable housing.

The three-year average for Barnet is 23 per cent., which is one of the lowest in the capital and is matched only by Liberal Democrat Richmond with 20 per cent., Liberal Democrat Sutton with 17 per cent., Conservative Wandsworth with 18 per cent. and Conservative Kensington and Chelsea with 21 per cent. I do not want to be party political, so I shall mention the Labour-run London borough of Greenwich, which has a three-year average of 19 per cent., but it is important to point out that last year it showed 38 per cent. affordable housing in its total new build, so it is moving in the right direction. In 2004-05, the figure was 17 per cent. That is important, because local authorities have a key role in securing affordable housing and that shows how committed they are to addressing people's needs and to obtaining affordable housing in their areas.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

My hon. Friend would have noticed, as I did, that Grant Shapps did not answer the question about the 50 per cent. rule—one can only assume that he does not agree with it. His contribution suggested that he wanted to let rip the open market in London. His solution seems to be to build more houses without any reference to social housing. Is that my hon. Friend's understanding of where the Conservatives are coming from, and what would that mean in Barnet?

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

As I said, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield is slightly embarrassed by the stance of the Conservative mayoral candidate.

Photo of Grant Shapps Grant Shapps Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning), Co-Chair, Conservative Party

Will the Minister accept that what is important is not the percentage of affordable housing that is built, but the absolute numbers that are built? Some of the councils that he has mentioned have exceeded the Mayor's own building target. Does the Minister not accept that that is a good thing?

Photo of Iain Wright Iain Wright Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government)

Targets are the right way to drive through improvements in performance, particularly the 50 per cent. target on affordable housing. Yes, let us build more homes, but some people, such as those within the circles in which certain hon. Members move, think that having houses worth £300,000, £400,000 or £500,000 is somehow acceptable and that they are quite cheap. I do not think that that is acceptable. We need to address in a strong manner the needs of the people on the ground whom we represent, which is something that the Conservative party does not do. This is a key dividing line in terms of how we ensure—

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Order. We must move on to the next debate—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.