[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:22 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons) 4:22 pm, 27th January 2011

I apologise, Mr Bone, for not writing to you beforehand to indicate that I wished to speak in today's debate.

The Communities and Local Government Committee's report begins its key conclusions with the statement:

"The decent homes programme has had a dramatic, positive effect on the living conditions of almost all social housing tenants by putting very significant resources into tangible improvements to social housing."

There is no doubt that the Committee's report is comprehensive and far-reaching, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Betts on his chairmanship of the Committee. I am unsure, however, that such an analysis can ever adequately express the importance and impact that such schemes have on local communities and local people. That is why I would like to share Nottingham's experience of the decent homes programme as implemented by our ALMO, Nottingham City Homes. I also want to take this opportunity to raise concerns about the future, particularly since funding for the completion of the programme has been cut by 40%. We in Nottingham are only part way through the scheduled works to bring all council housing up to the required standard.

In Nottingham, the Government have decided to withdraw £200 million of funding for a major private finance initiative project for the regeneration of the Meadows neighbourhood in my constituency. As a result, council homes that would have been demolished and rebuilt or substantially improved under the PFI scheme, and that were therefore not included in the city's decent homes programme, are now in need of substantial improvements to bring them up to standard.

Nottingham's decent homes programme is known locally as Secure Warm Modern, which reflects the priorities set by tenants, for whom security was and is a key concern. Nottingham City Homes had to work very hard to reach the two-star rating required to access capital funding and, having done so, expected to bring all its housing up to and beyond the national standard by 2013. I was interested in the comments of a number of hon. Members on the two-star rating and, while I agree that tenants should not be penalised for the failings of the management company, I think it would be hard on an ALMO that has worked very hard to reach that standard to be penalised.

The programme is mid-way through and in a period of intense activity. I understand from Nottingham City Homes that a new window or door is fitted every two minutes, a new heating system is installed every 20 minutes, and an internal package-a kitchen, bathroom or both-is completed every 20 minutes. By April 2011, Nottingham City Homes will have upgraded windows in 13,700 properties, replaced 3,300 doors, upgraded 10,600 heating systems, and replaced 7,300 kitchens and 6,000 bathrooms. That is a total investment of £74 million.

In carrying out that work, our ALMO is already achieving good value for money and efficiency savings. For example, £7 million of savings were achieved by using innovative e-auction tenders and £8.4 million was saved by adopting a streaming rather than a whole house approach-in other words, a specialist contractor completes all the windows required on a street-by-street basis and then a separate contractor undertakes work on boilers, insulation and so on. Although that might seem to be disruptive to tenants, it has been a much more popular and efficient way of doing things.

Tenants tell me that they feel safer, warmer and, indeed, happier as a result of the works undertaken and investment in their homes. They often mention the reduction in damp and condensation, the benefit of having lower heating bills and, importantly, the feeling of pride they have in the improved look of not just their home, but the neighbourhood. In going out to talk to tenants, I also talk to the people who live next door who are owner-occupiers or other social tenants. They say the same thing: they really appreciate the difference that the decent homes programme has made to our city.

The view that the decent homes programme has had benefits is based not only on tenants' comments-vital though those are-but on hard evidence. Nottingham City Homes is undertaking research projects in partnership with Nottingham Trent university to measure the wider social impact of the decent homes programme in Nottingham. The first research project was based on areas where the secure work to install new windows has been carried out. The report is quite substantial, but one of the statistics I picked out from it indicates that there has been a 41% reduction in burglaries in areas where the secure work has been completed in homes, compared with a 21% reduction in burglaries across Nottingham. That demonstrates the real difference to the lives of local people that just one element of the programme has had.

One of the other most valuable impacts has been the creation of more than 600 new jobs in the city and 80 new apprenticeships as a result of the award-winning "One in a Million" scheme, under which the contractors agree to take on a new apprentice for every million pounds of expenditure. However, much of the work is still to be completed under the remaining programme and is planned for completion by 2013. Nottingham City Homes was due to receive a further £91 million of funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government for the remaining programme in the coming two years. As a result of the re-allocations process, Nottingham City Homes has bid for £67 million to bring 90%-the maximum allowed-of the stock to decency by 2013. It has made an additional bid for £26 million between 2011 to 2015 to cover exceptional stock. The bid now includes an additional £9.7 million for the Meadows estate, after the announcement that the planned regeneration project had been cut from the private finance initiative programme. That is a disastrous decision for my constituents and for the achievement of good-quality housing in the Meadows. I am grateful that the Minister has agreed to meet me to discuss that decision and the impact it is having.

The properties covered by the proposed PFI project in the Meadows were previously excluded from the decent homes programme because they were going to be rebuilt and refurbished. Local residents are extremely disappointed that the transformation of their estate will not go ahead. It would be deeply unfair and a real kick in the teeth for them if they also missed out on the improvements that other tenants across the city have enjoyed. Let me give hon. Members an idea of the scale of the situation. A further 1,240 properties require decent homes work, including 820 windows, 620 doors, 1,000 heating upgrades, 840 kitchens, 920 bathrooms, plus electrical rewires and insulation upgrades. There is a substantial impact on demand.

The exceptional stock part of the bid also includes five high-rise blocks in Lenton in my constituency, which require additional funds to fit external structural wall insulation to bring the properties to the required standard for thermal comfort. Nottingham City Homes has bid for the majority of funding in 2011 to 2013, in line with original plans and contractual agreements to complete the programme by 2013. It tells me that any delay or change to the contracts will result in increased costs, as the favourable terms will not be achievable at a lower volume or with a delay to the contract, and additional costs will be incurred as a result of the re-procurement process. The results of the bidding process will be announced next month. This is clearly a period of great anxiety for both the ALMO and, more importantly, tenants.

Tenants are rightly angry that the promised refurbishments might not go ahead. There has been huge support for the Nott Decent campaign that they launched to raise their concerns with Government. I was proud to welcome local tenants' representatives Jean England, Alison Thorpe and Ennis Peck when they came to Westminster last year to present a petition to No. 10 on behalf of all those local people who are waiting for their homes to be improved. If the bid is not fully funded, that will severely damage Nottingham's programme, with less value for money, higher costs, hundreds of job losses at a difficult time and, worst of all, thousands of tenants who are expecting their homes to be improved being let down.

I welcome the recommendations in the report by the Select Committee and its wish both to learn from the decent homes programme and to establish priorities for the years ahead, but it seems to me that the priority must be to deliver what was first promised-a decent home for all.