Milton Keynes/South Midlands Sub-region

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 13th January 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 11:00 am, 13th January 2009

I am glad to have the opportunity to bring forward a further debate on this issue, which is vital not only to my constituency, but to every constituency in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire. If the Minister was in any doubt about the level of parliamentary interest in today's debate, those doubts might be laid to rest when he sees that attending with me are my hon. Friends the Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley), for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), and for Buckingham (John Bercow). I am also glad to see Dr. Starkey here today.

I want to begin with two points on which I think that we can find agreement between all parts of the House. First, there will be a need in the Milton Keynes/South Midlands area, as in the rest of the country, for new housing and associated development. My hon. Friends and I all meet at our constituency surgeries people who are in housing need. We are all familiar with the demographic trends that are driving an increase in the number of households, even in circumstances where the population is relatively stable. They include the breakdown of marriage and partnership; the welcome fact that elderly people now live longer and can live independently for longer than in the past; and the wish of young adults to live independently of their parents and on their own—before they settle down and start a family—for more years than used to be the case. We are aware, too, of the impact on housing demand of what the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government described at the weekend as the "free-for-all" in Government immigration policy, which present Ministers allowed, whether or not they realised what they were doing.

Secondly, we can all agree that where new development takes place, it should be of good quality. I would be happy to endorse the aspirations set out on behalf of the Government by none other than the then Deputy Prime Minister in the 2002 White Paper, "Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future," in which the issues we are debating arise. The Government stated in that White Paper:

"Where new and expanded communities are needed," the Government would wish

"to ensure that these are sustainable, well-designed, high quality and attractive places in which people will positively choose to live and work."

I happily endorse the Government's statement that part of their response to the housing challenge would be:

"To address public services and infrastructure needs to enable the new communities to function."

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Shadow Minister (International Development)

My hon. Friend mentioned sustainability. Does he agree that for any community to be truly sustainable, it must have the support of local people? That is probably one of the key points that many of our constituents feel strongly about. They feel that housing is being imposed without any genuine local concerns being taken into account.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Where I differ from the Government is that I believe that their policy has been flawed in two critical respects. First, they have been wrong to rely on top-down planning and targets imposed from the centre on local areas. In the 2002 White Paper, four areas in south-east England were singled out for large-scale development, when the evidence is that there is housing need and need for regeneration in many different communities in the south-east. I would have had far more sympathy for a Government policy that accepted that almost every town and village could cope with some additional housing, in each case on the scale and of a design that was acceptable to local people and in line with the needs and ambitions of that area.

Powers were removed from local authorities by the Government and given either to the Secretary of State or to unaccountable and remote regional agencies. Even when we get down to the process of public consultation on individual sites, which is happening in Aylesbury at the moment, we find that the rules that the local authority are obliged to follow in carrying out that public consultation—the timetable, the sort of questions that may be asked, the considerations that will be regarded as relevant and legitimate when a decision is taken—are determined by central Government and not by the representatives of the local communities themselves. Hanging over all that has been the threat, made clear in conversations between Government officials and local authority representatives, that if local authorities do not toe the line, the Government will step in, as they have done in Milton Keynes, and remove altogether the planning powers of the local authority in respect of growth and hand them over to a panel appointed by the Secretary of State.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to clarify that although it is true that parts of the new growth areas currently have little or no housing and are under the planning control of the Milton Keynes Partnership, there is also significant growth planned within the existing urban area of Milton Keynes, which is under the control of the council, as a local planning authority. In addition, of course, the local planning authority sets the overall parameters within which all development is taken forward.

r

but our council development parameters are not fit for perpose lets look a Monkston and the pavillian and why it can not be used due to the parameters

Submitted by russell burnikell

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The hon. Lady is making the best fist that she can of defending a policy that I suspect is pretty unpopular among voters in her city. Although she asserts that it is up to the local authority to set the framework, the changes to legislation that her Government brought in require local authorities to ensure that their own plans comply with both regional and central Government guidance, or else those plans will be considered invalid and can be struck down by the Secretary of State. The problem with this top-down approach is twofold: it has led to bad planning decisions and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes pointed out, it is utterly corrosive of public confidence in the democratic system that allows its voices to be heard.

One of the most depressing experiences that I have had in my constituency when dealing with this issue over the past six or seven years, has been talking to local people who say, "What is the point of responding to a public consultation? What is the point of deciding which candidate I support in a local authority election? At the end of the day, all these decisions are being taken up in Whitehall; our voices are not heard, public consultation is a pretence, local democracy is meaningless." I say to the Minister that irrespective of which political party happens to be in office at any one time, whether locally or nationally, it is not a healthy state of affairs when we see public cynicism about democracy growing in this way.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the prevalence of concern among the public and council leaders. I am sure that he would agree that both David Shakespeare from Buckinghamshire county council and John Cartwright from Aylesbury district council have consistently taken an extremely pragmatic and responsible approach to development, but given that Roger Tym and Partners estimates that £770 million of infrastructure investment is required in Aylesbury alone, does he think that local councillors are legitimately concerned that thus far, only a little in excess of £30 million of such commitments has been garnered?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am mindful of what my hon. Friend has said and I shall try to develop that theme at greater length later in my speech.

We need a change away from centrally driven, top-down planning. I welcome very much the commitments given by my hon. Friend Mr. Pickles that a Conservative Government would return powers over housing and strategic planning to elected local authorities and would free local authorities to revisit housing plans and spatial strategies that have already been imposed.

The second flaw in the Government's general approach is their failure to plan adequately for jobs, infrastructure and public services alongside the new homes. Even if we set aside our disagreements about the sustainable communities plan, the housing targets and the designation of four areas of south-east England for particularly large development, and look at the Government's implementation of policy in their own terms, we find that that failure is a massive flaw which threatens to deliver communities that are far from sustainable. In the Milton Keynes/South Midlands area as a whole, the target is to build some 220,000 new homes. For Aylesbury Vale, the target is about 27,000 new houses by 2026, of which 16,800 will be in and around Aylesbury itself. Many hon. Members want to get in on this debate, so I shall touch briefly on three subjects that are relevant to my constituency: calculation of housing targets, provision for jobs and planning for infrastructure.

On the calculation of housing targets, I urge the Minister, even now, to look again at the change of policy that the Government introduced a couple of years ago which stopped local authorities from counting development on windfall brownfield sites as part of their housing targets. Historically, those gains were important in Aylesbury, and a consequence of the policy is that pressure for greenfield development has increased. The policy has also provided central Government with a way surreptitiously to increase housing targets without actually announcing and taking responsibility for such decisions. That, too, corrodes public respect for the political process.

I would also ask the Government to look seriously at the provisions in planning policy statement 3 for local authorities to maintain a continuous five-year supply of deliverable sites. Paragraph 71 of PPS3 states that local authorities that do not have a five-year supply of housing land should "consider favourably" applications for planning permission. The inference one draws from that is that the absence of supply should trump other planning considerations that would normally make a scheme unacceptable.

The problem at present is that the impact of the recession means that sites that would perhaps have been given planning permission, or on which the local authority would certainly be willing to grant planning permission, are slipping out of the five-year deliverable timetable. In Aylesbury, work on many existing development sites has stopped, starts have been delayed, and where building continues the building rate has slowed down because of the impact of the recession.

Unless the Government are prepared to look at their rules on five-year supply, there is a risk that under paragraph 71 other sites outside the local plan—speculative applications—will succeed, not because they are sensible or sustainable but because market conditions mean that the local authority is unable to deliver the five-year supply required by the Government. We end up with the five-year supply rule clashing with the Government's declared commitment to sensible planning and sustainable development.

Secondly, on jobs, there is at present a net outflow of some 20,000 people every day from Aylesbury Vale. Those people are commuting to workplaces elsewhere. Yes, Aylesbury is linked to London, and, yes, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West knows, I very much support the efforts that have been made to get agreement on the orbital rail route, including a link from Aylesbury to Bletchley, but Aylesbury's travel-to-work area covers a wide circle which includes east Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and west London. Commuting to work involves a large number of car journeys.

Therefore, to cope with new development without adding dramatically to traffic congestion, Aylesbury will require many more jobs. Frankly, the target approved by the Government of one job for each new house is inadequate. These days, most couples work or, in the present economic climate, both halves of a couple wish to get a job and work regularly.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

May I point out to my hon. Friend that one job for every new house appears to us in north Northamptonshire as rather generous? The Government targets for north Northamptonshire are for 52,100 new houses by 2021 but only 47,400 new jobs.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes his point persuasively.

The message from Government officials to local authorities about, for example, the future of the Aston Clinton Road business park in Aylesbury is that Ministers are not terribly interested in jobs—that all that really matters in keeping Ministers happy is meeting targets for house building. If that means giving up land earmarked for employment to housing, so be it. If the Minister in his reply is prepared to get up and put it on the record that that is not what the Government want, I would welcome such a statement.

Let me turn finally to infrastructure, because the provision of infrastructure and good public services is, of course, intimately connected with hopes to persuade employers to locate to the areas designated for large-scale new residential growth. Firms will move to Aylesbury only if there are good transport links for their suppliers and customers, and decent public services and a good quality of life for their employees.

There has been no shortage of warnings to the Government about the need to plan for infrastructure. The Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions stated clearly in its eighth report, which was published in 2003, that it was concerned by the absence at that stage of a clear strategy to deliver infrastructure and public services to match the Government's housing targets, and that it looked forward to such a plan being published at an early opportunity.

The independent study by Roger Tym and Partners in 2003 stated that £8.3 billion would be needed for the whole of the Milton Keynes/South Midlands sub-region. Aylesbury Vale Advantage, the local delivery vehicle, currently estimates that the capital costs—I stress that these are the capital costs only—for Aylesbury Vale district alone are about £827 million. That bill is not for the general capital plans of the district council but for development that would be needed that is directly attributable to the growth required under the Government's housing targets. I should add that the £827 million excludes anything needed as a result of the proposed expansion of Milton Keynes into Aylesbury Vale district.

So far, some £50 million has been received or pledged in Government grant or developer contributions. That money is welcome, but it is a small proportion of what is needed. For example, the latest £9.4 million that the Government have awarded to Aylesbury Vale will have to be spent on securing an improvement in electricity capacity, which is essential if any development is to take place, but which is not even part of the £827 million bill identified by Aylesbury Vale Advantage.

As the recession has begun to deepen we have seen a fall in section 106 contributions, and negotiations between authorities and developers have been getting steadily more difficult. If we are honest, we have to face up to the fact that the Government money has now been spent. I find it difficult to see where the Government will find the funds to deliver even a fraction of what will be needed, not just in my constituency but in those of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members. It is no good saying, "Oh, Buckinghamshire county council can borrow more; it is a floor authority"—meaning that it is unable to take advantage of supportive borrowing because it cannot afford to make repayments on capital borrowed—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has been generous in giving way and is, as always, making a compelling case. Does he agree that an additional concern is that population expansion necessarily has major implications for the local health service, assessments of which are robust and on the public record? In particular, does he share my concern—I think he does—about the known time lag of up to 18 months between the arrival of new residents in the area and the processing through the system of the necessary capitation payments?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My hon. Friend is spot on. It is no good saying to developers who might want to build a house or to residents who might want to move into a newly built house, or to an employer weighing up whether to move into our area rather than another one, "Don't worry. In a few years' time, if you are lucky, and depending on the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the council tax rates, you might get your new GP clinic, your new road or your new school." If we are going to have sustainable communities—the Government have declared that that is their ambition—such facilities must be available at the start. Those new facilities must also be introduced in a way that gives some advantage to the existing residents of the town where new development has taken place. I am hearing about incipient resentment from Aylesbury residents, who think, when they hear talk about a new school or community centre being planned for the area to be built, that they will be stuck with buildings that are in need of repair, with the new residents getting priority over those who have lived in the town for many years.

Transport undoubtedly comprises the biggest share of the £827 million bill, which includes £182 million for roads and £100 million for rail—sums that are needed directly for growth. Aylesbury is already heavily congested at peak hours. The Minister has visited more than once, and if he has arrived at peak hours he will have had to queue on one of the approach roads to the town centre. The A41 Tring road is already designated as an air quality management area because exhaust pollution levels there breach the limits set by European law.

It is not just the impact of extra houses in Aylesbury about which I am concerned, but the impact on traffic in my constituency of development in Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes and other neighbouring districts and counties. The latest estimate is that the planned housing growth will result in an increase of 38 per cent. in the number of trips made by car in Aylesbury between the base year of 2005 and the end of the housing programme in 2026. That is not just a predict-and-provide figure obtained through extrapolating current trends. That 38 per cent. increase assumes that there would be an increase of more than 90 per cent. in walking and cycling trips during that period and an increase of 70 per cent. in bus and rail trips. Even if those shifts to other modes of transport take place, the consequence of the Government's housing plans—unless something serious is done about road and rail infrastructure—will be that, by the mid-20-teens or 2020s, congestion at off-peak hours in Aylesbury will match the congestion that my constituents see in peak hours today. I can think of no greater disincentive for new businesses to think of locating in Aylesbury and, frankly, no greater incentive for businesses currently located there to consider whether they ought to leave and locate elsewhere.

I could mention a long list of items. For example, some £12.7 million is needed by the NHS for four health centres and a community hospital; £28.5 million is required for further education facilities; £123 million is needed for two secondary, eight primary and one special school; £6.5 million is needed for sports pitches; £5.5 million is needed for new residential places in day-care centres and other provision for social care; and £2 million is required for children's play areas. There is not time to go into detail about those sums, but it is important that the Minister is aware of the scale of the need.

How will these facilities be provided? The housing targets have been created by the Government, so it is fair to ask the Minister what the Government's plan is for sustainable communities and for the infrastructure and public services that they set out in 2002. A year after the White Paper was published, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister published a document entitled, "Creating Sustainable Communities. Making it happen: Thames Gateway and the Growth Areas," which was the Department's first progress report on the sustainable communities plan. On page 5, that report stated

"that the Government was not simply committed to the delivery of additional housing", but that the plan

"was committed to creating communities. That principle has underpinned our work...We want employment growth to accompany housing growth. We" want

"to make the growth areas attractive places in which to live and work...Alongside housing growth, we are planning for the delivery of schools and healthcare provision, for public transport and good quality public spaces, for quality and high design principles...The projects we have identified for funding in all four growth areas reflect that commitment, though this is only a start."

They thought that they had made a start in 2003. However, from what I have seen over the past seven years, and from what I see when comparing what the Government are planning for and delivering with those aspirations, there has been a sorry failure to deliver on those promises. I look to the Minister to explain what the Government's strategy is now and whether they have abandoned those pledges on truly sustainable communities.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Seven Back Benchers have indicated that they wish to speak, so would hon. Members bear that in mind when making their speeches?

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West 11:27 am, 13th January 2009

I agree with the three points that Mr. Lidington outlined at the beginning of his contribution. First, there is a need for new housing in all the areas represented by all the hon. Members in this Chamber. Secondly, that housing should be of good quality and, particularly, of high environmental quality. I am proud that the Oxley Park development in my constituency has eco-houses of the highest quality, which have been occupied extremely quickly both by people buying them and through social ownership or social renting. Thirdly, housing needs to be provided in parallel with the necessary infrastructure underpinning it.

Although we are talking largely about physical infrastructure, I also want to stress what I describe as the soft infrastructure, which needs to accompany new communities and has always been developed in Milton Keynes, which is not yet at the end of its first development plan, a small proportion of which is still being completed. When I talk about soft infrastructure, I mean the social organisations, including voluntary organisations and other social infrastructure, that have to be developed as a community is enlarging and, in the case of the areas that Mr. Lancaster and I represent, becoming considerably more diverse.

From there, we diverge, because I want to talk largely about housing need. What I say will be very different from what others say because Milton Keynes is very different from the rest of the Milton Keynes and South Midlands area. Milton Keynes is a hugely successful and highly dynamic new town or new city. During the previous recession, growth continued in Milton Keynes, albeit at a slower pace, obviously, but at a faster pace than in the rest of the country, and I am confident that Milton Keynes will also weather the current recession, and that growth will continue.

The concept of growth has been embraced by, for example, the Milton Keynes economy and learning partnership and has been set out in its economic vision, "From New Town to International City". Milton Keynes looks forward to being the 10th largest city in the UK in 2030. The superior facilities that we have—for example, our shopping centre, theatre and art gallery—surpass innumerable other facilities and are enjoyed by many of the constituents of the hon. Members ranged on the Opposition Benches. I except my colleague in the other half of Milton Keynes, Mr. Lancaster, because they are our joint facilities, but the constituents of all the other hon. Members are happy to come and enjoy those facilities. We all benefit from the fact that we have a superb regional theatre. We are happy to welcome the constituents of the other hon. Members to enjoy those facilities and help to make them economically viable and hugely successful.

As I said, we are different from the rest of the Milton Keynes and South Midlands area. In particular, we are different because we have more jobs than houses. Therefore, many members—one third—of the work force in Milton Keynes live outside the constituency and commute in. I accept that many of those live outside the constituency by choice. They may prefer living in a village to living in an urban area. However, a great many of them live outside the constituency because sufficient housing is not available in Milton Keynes, and they are priced out. I have innumerable examples of individuals who have moved from the north of England and got a job in Milton Keynes, but who have not been able to get a house in Milton Keynes because they cannot afford it, so they come as far south as they can, which is not as far as Milton Keynes. If more people who already work in Milton Keynes could live in Milton Keynes, the effect on the environment would be much reduced and the quality of life of those individuals would be improved.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am listening with great interest to the hon. Lady's argument about how Milton Keynes has been such a success under the Labour Government. Why, then, is unemployment in her constituency 47 per cent. higher now than it was in 1997?

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

Unemployment figures have increased by more than the south-east average just over the past few months, and the local economic partnership has been looking into the detail of why exactly that has been occurring. It appears that it has largely to do with the laying off of temporary and casual workers, and the suspicion is that it has to do with the downturn in the retail sector, which is very large in Milton Keynes. Clearly, the issue needs examining, but notwithstanding that, it remains the fact that we have more employment than houses available for the people who work in our area. The hon. Member for Aylesbury, in opening the debate, talked about his recognition of housing need. I want to put some flesh on the bones of the feedback from my constituents about what that housing need means.

First, there is a wholly inadequate supply of social rented housing in Milton Keynes. Therefore, many of my constituents live in overcrowded, unsatisfactory conditions. They are forced into the private rented sector, where they may pay very high rents to live in relatively poor conditions. My local council, because of the shortage of social rented housing, has a housing allocations policy. I understand how it arrived at that, but it is wholly unsatisfactory. If someone needs housing in Milton Keynes and is accepted as statutorily homeless—no one else gets access to social rented housing—they go to the council and the council will say, "Fine. You are statutorily homeless. We have an obligation to house you. What have we got available today?" That is essentially what the council says. If it does not have a social rented property available for the person, it offers them a private rented property and if they do not take it, the council has discharged its statutory obligation.

The consequence of that is, first, that the allocation of housing is seen as arbitrary—it is just a matter of luck as to what is available on the day a person turns up. That leads to a corrosive view in the community that some people are given an unfair advantage, as it is essentially a lottery. Secondly, most people are placed in the private rented sector. Those properties may be okay, but the accommodation is not stable and individuals are moved frequently. That has a hugely detrimental effect, particularly on families with children. Children are moved from one school to another at frequent intervals, on top of the instability that has already been caused by the fact that they were homeless. Hon. Members will know from their own constituencies that major causes of individuals becoming homeless are relationship breakdown, redundancy and sudden illness and disability that lead to household income loss. Those households are already experiencing huge stress. On top of that, they are put in unsatisfactory private rented accommodation.

Alternatively, people may be fortunate enough to get into social rented property. Housing association properties of good quality are still being built, but the council's own property stock has been eroded by the right to buy to such an extent that very many of my most disadvantaged constituents with families are placed in the two or three blocks of council housing that are least favoured. They have to share wholly inadequate, overcrowded accommodation that suffers high levels of condensation and damp with various other people who have severe social problems, often associated with alcohol addiction, drug addiction or other unfortunate behavioural characteristics. That compounds the problems that those families have.

I am laying it on thick because it is incredibly important that when we talk about housing need, we spell out what the housing need is and what the consequences are of not meeting those housing needs. I have talked about social rented housing, but of course the—

r

Perhaps we could have numbers of (council houses) we have in milton keynes in use and out of them
the number of the propertys granted housing benefit

with regards housing assosiations the same as a above

Is it not true that our council prefer to have jobless people with children in council propertys as the money is paid by central funding

Also why is it that repair works needed to bring empty propertys back in to use can not be afforded by our council

could it not be done by way of community service If she would like to take the time and visit woodhill prison she would find prisoners nearing the end of there sentence have vast trades that are needed to repair the homes and with day release work forse these houses could be made good for very little cost and indeed the prisoners would be willing

perhaps our council would employ its own staff for a trial to test this

Submitted by russell burnikell Read 1 more annotation

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Shadow Minister (International Development)

This is actually on the broader point, to be honest. The hon. Lady talked about being very keen to listen to her constituents' views. Will she take this opportunity to explain to her constituents and mine why she feels so strongly that they should not be trusted to help to deliver the future of Milton Keynes; why they should not be trusted to vote in local elections to allow Milton Keynes council to be the sole planning authority to decide the future of our city?

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise and I will not be turned away from what I believe is the priority for my constituents—homes for them and for their young people—and led into a spurious argument that simply plays into his political agenda, which I am sure will be well expressed by the massed ranks of Tory MPs present.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to be able to put the point of view of my constituents.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I accept what the hon. Lady says about making her own case—who could deny it?—and she is making an important point about housing need. I do not cavil at that. One can argue the toss about overall numbers, but she is making a persuasive point. The question is this: does she accept that, even if that need is precisely as she describes, the development required to meet it still has to be sustainable? That raises the critical question of the level of infrastructure and who pays for it.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

I absolutely accept that point and I will come on to the issue of infrastructure, but I suspect that everyone else will talk about that and I want to redress the balance and focus the debate on people, including families, children and elderly people, who need decent housing. All of us have access to decent housing—more-than-decent housing. It is important that I speak for the people in my constituency whose voices are far too often not heard in this argument. In my view, the emphasis is disproportionately on people who already have houses and is not on those who do not. The others who need new housing are those who could afford to buy if they were given some help, particularly young people.

Two big groups in my constituency frequently want to speak to me about housing. The first is those young people in work—hard-working, thrifty families who cannot afford to buy a house, even in Milton Keynes, without the additional help of shared ownership or other schemes. The Milton Keynes development corporation—it is a quango established to deliver housing—has been at the forefront of developing shared ownership. The tenure of shared ownership is therefore well understood by people in Milton Keynes, and it has made a greater contribution to the housing stock in Milton Keynes than it has in most other areas. However, young people who want to buy their own homes are not able to do so because the house-building rate has not been fast enough, and because there is a total lack of liquidity as a result of the bigger problems caused by the housing market during the boom and the opposite.

The second group is the parents. They have homes, but they do not have the additional capital to help their children acquire a home. They are distressed because their sons and daughters are not able to get a home before starting their families; and many are distressed because their sons and daughters are still living with them, plus or minus various partners and small grandchildren, whom they love dearly but, to be blunt, with whom they would rather not have to share their home.

Those two groups continually say that more houses are needed. Some may say, "We need more houses, but not next door to mine." However, they all say that more houses are needed, that they need to be built more quickly and that they should be affordable.

I welcome the steps that the Minister has taken thus far to keep housing building going at the planned rate. Those measures have partly been successful. I cite the HomeBuy Direct scheme. There are a number of examples in my constituency of partnerships between Government and developers that allow homes to be offered for sale with equity loans of 30 per cent. Those schemes are working, but they are not big enough. We need more.

I also welcome the initiative taken by the Government's HomeBuy agency, which has been a catalyst in Milton Keynes. It held a special event late last year at which information and advice was given to people on exactly how to make best use of the various schemes—My Choice Homebuy and others—to help people buy their own home. I know that 909 households living in Milton Keynes registered with those schemes, and that in mid-November, only a few weeks after the event, 30 had already successfully used the Homebuy scheme. I welcome those schemes, but they are not enough. I urge the Government to do even more to ensure that we continue house building in order to meet housing need.

I said that I would talk about infrastructure. The original Milton Keynes development plan was successful because housing and infrastructure were planned from the start, and were delivered in parallel.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Order. I remind the hon. Lady that others wish to speak.

Photo of Phyllis Starkey Phyllis Starkey Labour, Milton Keynes South West

Indeed, Mr. Martlew.

The Milton Keynes Partnership pioneered the infrastructure tariff—the forerunner of the Government's community infrastructure levy—which funds development in parallel with housing. For example, we have the biggest school building programme in the country. The Members for both Milton Keynes constituencies have opened new schools to meet the pupil need. Those schools were built before all the houses in the catchment areas had been built; they then grew as the areas grew. We have also had massive investment in our health system. We have had new GP surgeries and dental surgeries—the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes recently opened a dental surgery—and the hospital has been expanded.

That is very different from the situation in 1997, when I was first elected. Health provision then did not meet the needs of the population. However, it has now expanded, as has the annual funding, and it is now more or less in balance with population growth. None the less, it needs to continue growing as the population increases.

There is also the transport infrastructure. I think particularly of the improvements to junction 13 on the M1 and the extra platform at Milton Keynes Central station. Regrettably, some of the gilt was taken off the latter because of Network Rail's mess-ups in January, when the west coast main line completely seized up. Infrastructure should improve in parallel with the increase in housing. The Milton Keynes Partnership tariff allows for forward funding, so that the infrastructure can be put in place despite the fact that the housing development takes place later; we know that the developers are committed to topping up the fund.

I suggest that the rest of the region gets its act together, as has Milton Keynes. All local councils should draw up proper infrastructure plans and work with developers and the Government to ensure that those plans are achieved.

As for the kind words of the hon. Member for Aylesbury about the east-west rail link for Aylesbury, I am more than happy that Aylesbury is getting its station paid for. However, I hope that Aylesbury Vale district council will commit itself to approving the housing that it is supposed to, to help fund those railway improvements; it should not say that it wants the infrastructure but not the housing. We need to have both in parallel; just as we need infrastructure with the housing, so we need the housing with the infrastructure.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 11:46 am, 13th January 2009

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr. Lidington on his wonderful opening address. I shall keep my remarks short, out of respect for my colleagues who also wish to contribute to the debate.

North Northamptonshire, of which Kettering is but a part, is the biggest single growth area outside London. Under the Government's plans, the population is expected to grow to more than 370,000 by 2021—the equivalent of a city the size of Bristol. There are meant to be 52,100 new houses and 47,400 new jobs. More than 2,100 new houses were built in 2006; under the Government's projections, that is set to rise to 3,700 a year in the coming years, although I doubt whether it will be achieved. That growth is faster than in the Thames Gateway or Milton Keynes. The lesson from north Northamptonshire is that the infrastructure is not being provided as promised.

For instance, the A14, a Highways Agency road that runs through my constituency, is a key part of the growth of north Northamptonshire, yet we are still awaiting a Government announcement on what is to happen to that road. When first elected to Parliament in 2005, I started asking questions of the Department for Transport about when the Highways Agency would publish its plans for improving the A14 near Kettering. I was told by the Transport Minister in October 2006 that he had asked the agency to finalise the A14 Kettering bypass widening options study by early 2007. Here we are in early 2009, and still no announcement has been made.

The A43 between Kettering and Northampton is the most dangerous, busiest and most congested road in Northamptonshire. Mr. Prescott axed it from the road improvement programme in 1999, and it is still not to be found in a funding scheme. Indeed, references to dualling in the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy have since been removed.

Kettering urgently needs an eastern bypass if it is to accommodate an increase of one third in its housing stock by 2021. However, the north Northamptonshire core spatial strategy states that

"transport modelling indicates that this road is not essential for development".

I say to the Minister that that is absolute nonsense, and that Kettering will simply grind to a halt unless it is provided.

The rail service from Kettering to London has been scaled back, and the rail service from Kettering to Leicester has been halved since the new timetable was introduced in December. Unemployment in north Northamptonshire stands at 5,300, compared with 4,000 in 1997, and has risen by 50 per cent. in the past year alone. The Minister's sustainable communities plan for my constituency and north Northamptonshire will not be sustainable unless it enjoys popular support. This is a wonderful opportunity for the Government to use the background of the recession to pump-prime investment into north Northamptonshire by introducing infrastructure projects. That will help to address local concerns about the scale of the development.