HC Deb 20 December 1961 vol 651 cc1437-41

7.18 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable local planning committees to make conditions with regard to the satisfactory rehousing of displaced tenants and leaseholders in approving schemes of private redevelopment. My proposed Bill is concerned with homeless families, families who are made homeless as a result of schemes of private redevelopment. Strong feelings are held about the respective merits of public and private development, but in all that has been said on the subject very little reference has been made to one factor which is very important, namely, that where a local authority carries out redevelopment it is obliged under the Housing Act, 1957, to make provision of residential accommodation for the reasonable requirements of the families displaced.

But a private developer is under no such obligation. He cannot, of course, displace a controlled tenant without providing alternative accommodation, but there his obligation ends. It seems to me indefensible that there should be one rule for local authorities carrying out essential redevelopment and another for private developers many of whom are carrying out speculative developments. Moreover, the lack of obligation on the private developer throws a heavy additional burden on the local authorities which are very hard pressed already.

Redevelopment, or urban renewal as it is now called, is, as we all realise, an essential way to prevent our cities running down and to bring them abreast of modern conditions, but what is intolerable is that redevelopment should be allowed to push out of their homes, without alternative accommodation, families who are essential to the life and work of our cities and whose activities have contributed to the very community values from which the developer is reaping the benefit. I seek, by means of the Bill, simply to enable planning committees to put an obligation on private developers to provide for the rehousing of displaced families before they are given planning approval.

This is an entirely reasonable procedure. Private developers do not undertake redevelopment unless the scheme is financially advantageous to themselves. Where they are rebuilding for housing purposes, and they cannot find accommodation elsewhere, they could offer a displaced tenant a flat in the new block at a reasonable rent, without any financial hardship to themselves. Where private developers are building shops or offices to replace residential accommodation it is already the practice of some planning authorities to require that lost residential accommodation to be replaced in the new scheme. Here again, there should not be any unreasonable difficulty in offering accommodation to the displaced tenants.

Where the time lag between displacement and rebuilding is a difficulty it should be possible for the local authority to nominate tenants from its waiting list for flats in the new development equivalent to the number of displaced families which it has rehoused. All that the Bill does is to add one more condition to those which planning committees can already require of developers with regard to such matters as daylighting, parking facilities, flow of traffic, and so on. It will be left to the individual planning committees to work out with the private developers the way in which the conditions should apply in a particular case. This is already very much the practice of planning committees with the other conditions which they have the power to impose.

The previous Minister of Housing and Local Government has said that such a requirement would hamper private redevelopment, but I believe that the very opposite is true. It is precisely because they lack the power which I seek to give them in the Bill that planning authorities have hesitated to approve schemes of private redevelopment. They know that homeless families or pressure on themselves as housing authorities will be the result.

This problem was first brought to my attention by the tenants of 12 houses in Tottenham, where the owners have decided to redevelop because the houses are old and too large for the district. Some of the tenants have managed to find other accommodation, but the others, either because they are too old and cannot secure a mortgage or have not the means to buy a house, will become homeless unless the local authority, which already has 3,700 families on its housing waiting list, can do something to help them. How can two elderly spinsters, who live in one of these houses on their old-age pension, possibly be expected to buy a new home? How can families with children and earning the average wage of workers who keep London's services going, be expected to buy a house? There is no alternative accommodation to rent.

Since this case was brought to my notice I have had a number of others put to me in my constituency, in other parts of Middlesex, in the area of London County Council, and in large cities in the North of England and in Slough. These cases vary from large-scale redevelopment, such as is undertaken in the L.C.C. area at present, to very small schemes where only one or two houses are to be pulled down and one or two families displaced.

Such is a case in Slough, which my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway) mentioned to me, where an elderly couple who have lived in the property since 1912 will be rendered homeless by this kind of development. Clearly, this is a problem which is confined to those parts of the country where development is highly profitable, but in those parts it is a growing problem.

Some of the best private developers are already co-operating with the local planning authorities in the way which I have indicated as desirable, but, even so, there is nearly always a residue of families left homeless by this kind of voluntary arrangement. I seek, by means of the Bill, to make the condition which is voluntarily accepted by the best developers an obligation on all and particularly on those property speculators who buy and demolish bricks and mortar without any regard for the future of the families living in them. Already, local authorities are being left to redevelop the unprofitable areas. Surely it is unreasonable that they should be expected to add to their burdens the rehousing of families displaced by profitable schemes undertaken by private redevelopers.

Sir Bruce Wycherly, managing director of the Abbey National Building Society, in urging building societies not to finance evictions in the interest of property speculators, drew attention recently to the fact that some of London's 3,000 homeless are in their present plight because they have been evicted in the interests of property speculation. The Bill does not and could not attempt to cover the whole problem, but I am assured by those who are particularly concerned that it will be a very welcome step in the right direction.

We are in grave danger, in the London area, of creating a Metropolis in which, increasingly, elderly people and families with children can find no place because of the housing problem. Local authorities are already far too heavily overburdened in trying to cape with their waiting lists and the problem of the homeless. In seeking to place some small responsibility on private developers, I hope that the House will share my view and will not oppose the Motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Butler, Mr. Allaun, Mr. Cliffe, Mr. Key, Mr. Mapp, Mr. Marsh, Mr. Pargiter, Mr. Skeffington, Mr. G. Thomas, and Mr. Weitzman.