[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

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

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

My hon. Friend makes some good points, and I am sure that he will appreciate my role as a representative of Lewisham. I know what effort has been put in by my local residents, by the members of the board and by the staff who have worked incredibly hard. They feel very disappointed by the fact that although they have put in a huge amount of effort, that will not necessarily give them a greater chance of accessing funds.

If I can move on, I shall say something about the particular situation that we face in London. In the capital, we have the potential problem of higher unit costs-by that, I mean that it would perhaps cost more to bring an individual property up to standard in London than it would elsewhere in the country. That is because of the cost of construction labour in the capital and the fact that a number of homes are of a non-standard construction type. Anyone who looks at the skyline in London will see a large number of high-rises. Such buildings can cost a lot of money to bring up to the decent homes standard. I am hoping that the Minister appreciates those regional subtleties and that he will give me some assurance that such issues will be taken into account when the applications are considered.

Before I finish, I shall touch on the importance of the proposed reform of the housing revenue account annual subsidy system. The way in which historic debt is allocated to local authorities is very important and must be addressed as part of the reform. The ability of ALMOs and councils to meet the decent homes standard and to continue to meet those standards as some homes fall out of decency-as mentioned earlier-will be determined by how we allocate that debt and resolve the issue of HRA reform. I do not claim to be an expert on the matter and I can only begin to imagine how incredibly complex it must be to try to reform it but, for areas such as mine that have significant investment needs and a large amount of housing stock, it is too important to get wrong.

I could say much more on the matter-not least about standards in the private rented sector, which now accounts for a third of all households, as it does in the constituency of my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn-but I am conscious of the time and the fact that other hon. Members want to speak. In conclusion, I urge Ministers to reconsider the amount of money that has been allocated to the future programme. I ask them not to forget the importance of comprehensive estate regeneration schemes-new kitchens and bathrooms are all well and good, but sometimes the problems of an area cannot be solved by such things alone. Finally, in moving beyond decent homes, my plea is this: do not walk on by areas such as mine, where significant need so blatantly exists and where investment can really change people's lives.