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Local Infrastructure (East Midlands)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:33 am on 20th March 2018.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Housing) 10:33 am, 20th March 2018

I congratulate Lee Rowley on securing an interesting debate that has covered a huge range—from Sandy Lane all the way through to Crossrail and investment in St Pancras. There have been important contributions across the piece on which I will comment as I go along.

Housing has shot up the political agenda dramatically. My own party has been banging the drum for some time, but it is good that the Government are beginning to talk about the fundamental importance of housing both as a social and an economic driver. That must be welcomed. However, we are still not where we ought to be: intelligent public policy, mixed with the private sector and working with local government. Andrew Lewer has already mentioned the importance of local government in the mix.

We ought to have a policy of housing replacement. The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire referred to the fact that in the east midlands there is a higher rate of housing formation than in most other parts of the country, but it will still take 135 years for it to replace its existing housing stocks. Houses that were built 50 years ago will not last the next 85 years, so we have to do massively better.

We need a mix of housing, but we do not have that in the east midlands. Of the roughly 15,000 new homes built in 2015-16, the overwhelming majority, 12,500, were built by the private sector for owner occupation. Some 2,000 were built by housing associations, but they are often for sale as well. Only 200 were built by local authorities. That does not provide the housing mix that allows people to be properly housed.

In Derby, for example, the average house price is just short of £170,000. Someone needs an income of £37,000 to £40,000 to service such a purchase, and that is above the levels of income typical in large parts of the east midlands. We know there will always be a need for social rented accommodation and we must see local authorities as part of that mix. I endorse the words of my hon. Friend Toby Perkins about the need to look at the right to buy and how councils build houses that simply disappear from the stock. We must at least see adequate replacement.

We must recognise that houses are people’s homes in their own communities. That emphasises the important of infrastructure. If we do not integrate the planning process and make infrastructure an integral part of planning for people’s homes, then we miss a huge trick. That means public involvement because only the public sector can have such a planning framework. However, there are problems with that.

People who know my background are aware that I spent time working on the devolution agenda in a very practical way. I profoundly believe that there should be devolution from central Government, who have been far too centralising. Frankly, Government Department does not talk to Government Department; it is much easier at the level of a Northamptonshire or Derbyshire local authority.

For the sake of brevity, I will not name every east midlands county. Localism is important for coherent planning. It is possible to integrate, although I recognise there are difficulties and different arm wrestles between counties and districts. I will not get into the local government reorganisation debate, but devolution is fundamental to the delivery of good infrastructure. We are not there yet across the country.

We must also recognise that the Government are preoccupied with London. I disagree with Sir Patrick McLoughlin. Crossrail might be necessary for London, but London should not get the lion’s share of investment too often, whether it is for transport or across the piece. Of course the national capital is economically important, but we do not have a balance. It is not reasonable for public infrastructure investment in the east midlands to be only half that of London. In terms of economic investment, for example, it is only a third of that that goes into the national capital. That is not efficient for the nation’s economy.

Hon. Members have rightly emphasised the importance of the industrial traditions of the east midlands. I have studied and worked in the east midlands, so I am well aware of both the challenges and the opportunities. To liberate the capacity of that industry, we need public investment on a more equitable footing. The Government have to begin to rethink their allocation processes. Interestingly, in the week when the Government re-committed to Crossrail 2, they announced that the electrification of the midland line would not go ahead. That was a symbolic and interesting commentary on the Government’s priorities.