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It is a pleasure to respond to this debate. In line with tradition, I intend to leave my hon. Friend Lee Rowley a minute or two at the end to wind up.
I will rattle through some of the contributions. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate, and on the elegant and forceful way he put the case for his constituents. He is the first Conservative Member of Parliament for his constituency since 1931 and, my goodness, he is doing a fantastic job. It was great to have a contribution from Jim Shannon, and I know that my hon. Friend Amanda Milling, as a Government Whip, has been champing at the bit to champion her constituency. She took the opportunity over the weekend to lobby me about Rugeley power station. In addition, the electrification of the Chase line—something I know that she has been a huge advocate for—is a great demonstration of the Government’s investment in infrastructure. My hon. Friend Edward Argar made a great contribution, showing that the fox’s county still has a couple of wags left in its tail when correcting Toby Perkins, saying that he had forgotten Leicester. It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend has gone to wag his tail somewhere else for the conclusion of the debate.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield spent some time castigating the Government for the number of houses that we are building. I gently point out that we inherited a housing system in which we were building fewer houses than we were in the 1920s, because of the recession caused in part by the Labour party. Recently, we have seen figures showing that the number of house-starts in construction has increased by more than three quarters between 2009 and 2016. Just a few weeks ago, the Halifax survey showed that the number of first-time buyers is at its highest for 10 years.
The hon. Gentleman also spent some time saying that we should address youth unemployment and skills. I am pleased that we now have more people in employment than at any time since the 1970s, particularly with the introduction of T-levels and the Government’s drive to create 3 million high-level apprenticeships. That will ensure that young men and women come through our education system with the necessary skills to build an economy fit for the future.
My hon. Friend Andrew Lewer talked about devolution. I would happily have an entire debate devoted to that subject. In my view, devolution should be the golden thread of Brexit. When more than 60% of my constituents voted to leave the European Union, they did not do so to bring more powers back to Whitehall; they wanted to bring more power back to themselves and, in my case, to east Lancashire. Of those areas that voted remain, the vast majority—London, Manchester, Liverpool, large parts of Wales and Scotland—already benefit from devolution, which shows that where people feel more connected with local government and government in general, they were, in my opinion, more likely to vote to remain in the European Union.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South also correctly pointed out that there is huge pent-up demand for devolution and for local government reorganisation. Eric Pickles famously said that he had a nickel-plated, pearl-handled revolver in his desk drawer for the first MP to come and ask him about local government reorganisation. Recent progress in that area shows that the Government’s position has changed and we would now welcome discussions from any area about local government reorganisation. That big change, led by Dorset, may be the trickle that leads to a torrent.
My right hon. Friend Sir Patrick McLoughlin delivered a masterclass on transport and infrastructure. I was interested to hear how he has made himself massively popular by closing Nottingham station for six weeks—I am sure that was a pretty difficult thing to do. His point about housing infrastructure having to come before development, in order to support development, reflects a lot of the debate today. There are legitimate concerns about whether buses can take the capacity of new houses and whether local primary and secondary schools have the capacity. That is exactly why the Government set up the housing infrastructure fund; it is an acknowledgment that people want infrastructure first. That is what we are doing.
The announcement of the second phase of bids to the housing infrastructure fund is due to take place tomorrow. I say to all right hon. and hon. Members whose areas have submitted a bid that, even if the bid fails, Homes England has committed to continuing to work with areas to bring forward both the infrastructure and the housing development of the good bids.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire Dales will of course be aware that our right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin is working on the Government’s plan to bring forward sites for development. It is a common problem across the country that people refer to anecdotally, saying that there are more planning permissions granted in their area than are being built out. Our right hon. Friend is looking at how we can tackle that issue.
I agree with comments from the Opposition spokesperson, Tony Lloyd, about the idea of replacing housing. It is a very interesting area. Houses built in this day and age do not seem to last as long as the fantastic Victorian terraced houses that I have across my constituency. Of course, I remind the hon. Gentleman that when the Labour Government left office in 2010 there were 400,000 fewer social homes than there were when they took office. I would have hoped that they would spend a bit more time devoting themselves to delivering social homes, rather than removing them from our national housing stock.
The hon. Gentlemen used the issue of house prices in Derby interestingly and well to demonstrate the crisis in affordability. It neatly demonstrates that the housing crisis is a national crisis. When people talk about the focus that the Government are putting on tackling the housing crisis, all too often they talk about the housing crisis as being a problem in London. It clearly is not; it is as much a problem in the midlands engine or the northern powerhouse as in any other area of our country. Through the £5 billion in the housing infrastructure fund, the changes we are making to the national planning policy framework and other matters outlined in the housing White Paper and the Budget, we have set out an absolute determination to tackle the housing crisis not just for London and the south-east, which we have talked about a lot today in terms of spending, but for our entire nation and constituents all over the country.
With that in mind, on
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire mentioned the A61 corridor. He raised specific concerns about that corridor, from the Ford Cortina traffic jam to the Secretary of State for Transport traffic jam. The problem is obviously ongoing. We are taking action and have given £1.9 billion to the midlands through the local growth fund, which includes support for transport connectivity, as well as skills and support to grow the local economy. Some £257 million of that funding was earmarked for the D2N2 local enterprise partnership, which has been putting that money to good use, including by investing £12.8 million in improvements to the A61 corridor into and through Chesterfield. That will improve infrastructure and unlock opportunities for major housing development, including some of the houses we have discussed today and the growth of Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire over the months and years to come.
A good way of demonstrating that commitment is the Avenue project in North East Derbyshire, which my hon. Friend referred to. I will conclude with that example because it is a particularly pertinent example of good practice. The project is located in Wingerworth—I am sure my hon. Friend will tell me after the debate whether I have pronounced that correctly—on a former coking works, once described as the most polluted site in the entirety of England. A completion ceremony is taking place on the site this very morning to mark the end of remediation and the new chapter of building homes. With support from Homes England, the site has been transformed and will deliver 489 new homes, all starting in the spring, a new primary school, 2.8 hectares of employment land, road improvements, including new access to the A61, and a wildlife habitat and country park.
That example, one of many we have heard about today, is a demonstration of how this Government, together with Homes England, working in partnership with local authorities, are prioritising the delivery of homes. My hon. Friend started the debate by saying that it is still an ambition of people across this country to own their own homes. I absolutely agree. When I travel across the country, people will say that what they most desire to be able to afford is their own home. The Conservative party is the party of home ownership and this Government are on the side of all those aspirational young and old people who would like to own a home in the east midlands.