Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 27th January 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East 3:29 pm, 27th January 2011

I am pleased to follow the thoughtful speech of Paul Uppal. It is probably one of the most thoughtful contributions that I have heard from a Government Member in my time here. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Betts on his thoughtful and knowledgeable opening remarks. I have the pleasure of serving under his chairmanship on the Communities and Local Government Committee, and I am pleased to be able to make a contribution to the debate on "Beyond Decent Homes", which was published before I joined the Committee.

I am also pleased to be taking part in today's debate because, precisely eight months ago today, when I spoke for the first time in the House of Commons as the newly elected MP for Lewisham East, I pressed the Government on when we would have the chance to debate the future funding of the decent homes programme. I did not think that it would take eight months to get to this stage, but I hope that it will be worth the wait.

For many of my constituents, having a decent place to call home is still more of an aspiration than a reality. Many people in my constituency-in places such as Catford, Downham, Grove Park and Blackheath-live in homes that do not meet the decent homes standard.

Thanks to the previous Labour Government, thousands of properties in my constituency are in the process of being upgraded by housing associations, such as London and Quadrant, and Affinity Sutton, and thousands more are benefiting from improvement works being carried out by Phoenix, a new community-led housing association.

However, many of my constituents, particularly those who have remained local authority tenants, are still waiting in the hope that, at some point, it will be their turn to see their flats, houses and estates turned into places where they feel proud to live, and where decades of under-investment can be put right. I want to focus on how we can achieve a decent place to live for those who are still waiting, not just in my constituency, but in the borough of Lewisham as a whole and in London more generally.

Having a decent home is something that many of us take for granted. It was rightly the ambition of the previous Government to ensure that everyone had a decent home and that those organisations delivering huge housing investment programmes were fit for purpose- efficient, well-run and well-managed organisations that could cope with the complexities of multi-million pound capital projects.

When I first became a councillor in 2004, Lewisham's housing service, as it was then, could not be described in that way. I represented a ward in which 70% of the population rented their homes from either the council or a housing association, and day in, day out, I came across an attitude that can only be described as, "The computer says no." I sat in evening after evening of tenant and resident association meetings, being told by people that they were ashamed to invite friends around to their flat, not because they did not have a reasonably modern kitchen or bathroom, but because they were embarrassed to ask their friends to walk up eight flights of foul-smelling stairs when the lift had broken down. They were embarrassed by the broken communal doorways, the peeling paint in the corridor, the broken windows and the leaking roof.

Although Lewisham's new ALMO has got to grips with the culture of the old housing services and, indeed, with some of the housing management challenges, I am ashamed to say that some of the conditions on estates in my constituency resemble what I have just described. It is not right that people in the 21st century have to live this way. Sometimes, a new kitchen, a new bathroom or new windows are not going to make the sort of changes that are needed. Heathside and Lethbridge is a '60s estate of nearly 600 properties on the edge of Lewisham town centre, and the only real answer is to knock it down and start again. However, Government cuts to the Homes and Communities Agency budget put the future phases of that redevelopment in doubt. The council has been working hard with its development partner to get the regeneration programme started, and the new Government must step up to the plate and find the funds to ensure that future phases can be built out. If they do not, they will condemn hundreds of residents to a life in completely substandard accommodation. The situation is the same with Milford Towers and Excalibur, which are smaller estates in my constituency, but whose needs are no less pressing or complicated.

Although regeneration funding is incredibly important for many areas of Lewisham, so too is the amount of money that the Government will make available to local authority landlords to carry out decent homes works. That was an issue that my right hon. Friend Joan Ruddock raised earlier, and it is the issue to which I will now turn.

I have already touched on the transformation that has taken place in our local ALMO. It has been a long, hard slog for the board, and I pay tribute to the resident chair, Julia Cotton, and the chief executive, Andrew Potter, for bringing about that change. However, as a result of the Government's announcement in the comprehensive spending review, Lewisham Homes finds itself facing increasing uncertainty about the amount of money that it will receive to carry out desperately needed works. Of the ALMO's 13,000 tenanted homes, 7,300 do not meet the decency standard.

In March 2010, the previous Government indicated that £154 million would be made available to Lewisham Homes to carry out the decent homes programme if it met the two-star rating, which, I should say, it achieved last summer. However, last October, as part of the CSR, this Government insisted that local authority landlords would have to fund 10% of all outstanding improvement works themselves. Lewisham's bid has therefore been reduced to £126 million, to be spread over four years from April this year. Like many other ALMOs and local authorities throughout the country, we are waiting to hear the outcome of our bid.

My biggest fear-my right hon. Friend touched upon this-is that Lewisham Homes will not get anywhere near the amount of money that it needs. In the CSR, the Government announced £1.6 billion to meet the outstanding decent homes requirements of local authority landlords. London local authorities alone estimate that their outstanding investment need is £2.5 billion. London has 46% of the 150,000 homes identified by the Government last year as eligible for that funding. Therefore, even if London gets 46% of the overall sum, £736 million is a long way off £2.5 billion. I must therefore question whether Lewisham will get £126 million of that money.

Lewisham Homes has also received scant recognition for its work in achieving a two-star rating from the Audit Commission. As Tom Brake has said, the Government's current approach does not seem to take account of all the hard work put in by ALMOs that have achieved the two-star status. I think that that says to those people, "Tough luck-you're now lumped back into the mix, just like everyone else."