[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] — Decent Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:31 pm on 27th January 2011.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 4:31 pm, 27th January 2011

That is a real issue. When the London Docklands Development Corporation was developing Rotherhithe and Surrey docks, it contracted with a consortium of six housing associations to develop the place at the end of the Rotherhithe peninsula. That was fine in practice, and all the housing associations were very interested, but when it came to delivering the management of that bit of the borough, it was hopeless because problems arose over the common parts and the public roads. In the end, the housing associations had to agree that one of them would take over the management of all the areas owned by the other five.

My friend, the hon. Member for Vauxhall, argued strongly in favour of tenant-management organisations, which I support and which are often small, bottom-up organisations. Ways must be found of allowing such organisations to retain that degree of autonomy, but within a federation of local housing associations. That may be the way in which we can bring together the small specific housing associations without being draconian and say that they must pass a specific threshold.

It was good that the Labour Government set up the decent homes programme in 2000. For the record, it was sad that they fell short. I understand all the constraints that existed, but in the end the programme did not deliver on its aspiration. It was a judgment call. The result was that the new build of housing under Labour was dreadful-in fact it was more dreadful than under a previous Tory Government. Labour will have to defend that judgment call. The present Government are right in saying-the Minister and I were talking about this only recently-that they have to encourage both new build and the renovation of existing stock. We must do both in parallel; we cannot put all our eggs in one basket.

All local authorities that have social housing-apart from areas in the north-west, such as Burnley, where there is a surplus of housing and where the issues are entirely different-need both new build and renovation. I am talking about all the London boroughs and most of the rest of the country, both rural and urban.

There also needs to be flexibility in the decent homes standard. As Nick Stanton says, there are different criteria for someone on the seventh floor of Lupin Point in my constituency in Bermondsey and for someone in a cottage in a tin-mining village in Cornwall, which may still be local authority-owned. There needs to be the flexibility for that to be defined locally.

When my colleagues were leading the administration in Southwark, they always said that they wanted to apply their own standards rather than the off-the-shelf Government standards. There is also a very different view from the residents. I visited the famous prefab estate in Lewisham-I do not know whether it is in the constituency of Heidi Alexander-which is a wonderful place to go. I have not followed every twist and turn of the saga, but I think that I am right in saying that the council has decided to have it demolished. I regret that because, bizarrely, prefabs that have existed since the war were very popular homes for the people who lived in them. They will not conform to all the decent homes standards, but they were warm and had gardens. Therefore, we should be careful about not being over- prescriptive from the centre.