[Hugh Bayley in the Chair] — Housing (Greater London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:19 am on 11th November 2008.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter PPS (Rt Hon Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 10:19 am, 11th November 2008

As my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn and other speakers have said, there is a housing crisis in London—a crisis of temporary accommodation, of overcrowding and, above all, of affordability, which has not yet been resolved by the fall in house prices. An organisation with which many London Members will be familiar, London Citizens, conducted research on the housing affordability standard. It showed that for those on the London living wage, which is currently just below £8 an hour, the only type of affordable housing in London is social rented housing provided by council housing associations. That is the case for many of my constituents whether renting or buying in the private sector. Even many types of shared ownership housing are simply not affordable in London, which might not be the case for the rest of the country.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government's response to the London housing crisis will be. London Labour MPs are preoccupied with the Mayor's response and the steps that he and his advisers are taking, which are worsening the situation. We have heard about the abandoning of the 50 per cent. target. There is a myth that that target is difficult to achieve, but in its last three years of a Labour administration, Hammersmith and Fulham local authority achieved an 80 per cent. affordable housing target, split roughly 50:50 between intermediate and rented property, so although it might not be easy to achieve, it is possible.

The reason for abandoning that target has far more to do with London politics and the fact that the Mayor has surrounded himself with advisers from the right wing of the Conservative party, many of whom are from the old Porter regime or a younger generation of the same ilk. [Interruption.]It has its amusing side, but I am afraid that it is a serious matter for constituents.

The housing policy in my local authority area is to reduce the percentage of social housing—that is what the authority says it intends to do—despite the fact that that percentage is already below the inner-London average. To that end, it has three policies: the first is to build no new affordable homes; the second is to sell off existing affordable homes, and the third is to demolish existing estates.

I do not have time to discuss all the case studies that have been carried out, but I shall deal with one, because it is a good example of people being caught with their fingers in the till. A development in White City—the most deprived part of my constituency and the area with greatest housing need—was intended to provide 150 new homes, half of which would have been affordable, but when the Conservatives took over the administration of the council two years ago, they put that development on hold. They waited until the change of mayoralty, so that there would be no block imposed, and at that stage removed all rented affordable homes from the scheme. Effectively, the authority removed all the affordable homes, given that income levels of £30,000, £40,000 or £60,000 a year are needed to afford even the very few shared-ownership units on that development. The £12 million that the Housing Corporation provided to subsidise the affordable homes was sent back as not wanted.

Ironically, the Greater London authority's own officers objected and said that

"a zero social rented development in this case would be a disproportionate approach".

The Conservative-controlled committee ignored that and said that it would speak directly to the Mayor, which it did. Lo and behold, a week later the decision was reversed, meaning that there will be no affordable rented homes on that or any other sites developed in the borough. Other Conservative councils in London are seeking to follow that precedent.

In Fulham is the Imperial Wharf development, where permission for 241 affordable homes, including 191 affordable rented homes, was withdrawn from the developer, because they were not wanted. Very nearby is the Watermeadow Court development, which is to be demolished with the loss of 80 affordable homes. Obviously, the tenants will have to be rehoused; the opportunity cost of that is that doing so may use accommodation that would otherwise have gone to people in overcrowded accommodation or on the housing waiting list.

In addition, 60 good-quality units intended for homeless families have been sold off at market rates to produce capital receipts. Those families will either jump the housing queue or enter private rented accommodation, which will result in an extremely large bill for the taxpayer. Furthermore, plans are on the table to demolish up to seven, or part of seven, estates in the borough.

This problem will be cured only by Government intervention, which appears to be more fashionable these days than it has been in recent times. The implications of the policies in London that I have outlined are appalling for my constituents.