HC Deb 06 May 1981 vol 4 cc140-1
7. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to receive a report from the National Building Agency on claims made by new town authorities under section 10 of the New Towns (Amendment) Act 1976, in respect of design defects in houses transferred to them; and when he anticipates he will be in a position to come to a settlement on this issue.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) on 27 April.

Mr. Newens

Does the Minister recognise that as councils cannot remedy all the defects in new town houses, which are causing great inconvenience and hardship to many residents, his reference of the matter to the National Building Agency means that those defects will have to go unremedied for several years? Does he accept responsibility for that? As he is so anxious to save public money, will he say how much this study, which is merely a delaying action, will cost?

Mr. Finsberg

I have told the hon. Gentleman ad nauseam that we are discussing this matter with the Association of District Councils. I have said over and again in the House that we have made it clear that if authorities proceed with urgent repair work it will not prejudice their claims for assistance.

Mr. Newens

How much is it costing?

Mr. Foster

Is the Minister aware that it is costing Sedgefield district council about £15 million to do all these repairs, and that such money is not available to a district council? Is he further aware that there is a widespread belief in all the district councils concerned that he is dragging his feet? When will he draw these negotiations to a close?

Mr. Finsberg

The hon. Member doubtless chooses to forget that these defects did not occur during the past two years. He also chooses to forget that my Labour predecessor delayed making a decision because no Government could accept at face value all the claims without an investigation of the public interest.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is my hon. Friend aware that the reference to the National Building Agency is welcomed by the majority of Members who represent new towns? Does he realise that, at the end of the day, when the transfer takes place, there may be some unforeseen defects in the properties—for example, the problems with cladding that have occurred after 10 years with the tower blocks? Will there be some safeguards to deal with any unexpected defects?

Mr. Finsberg

We shall consider my hon. Friend's point. However, it is right to say that the houses were handed over by the Government to local authorities at an advantageous price.

Mr. Graham

Is not the saga of the frustrated section 10 claims a disgrace and a scandal? Should not the Minister shoulder a major share of the blame for the delays caused by his continual attempts to restrict the criteria for claims? How does he expect new town councils to deal fairly with inherited problems when they have been dealt with so unfairly in the HIP and rate support allocations?

Mr. Finsberg

With limited exceptions, the criteria for judging claims were those laid down by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett).

Mr. Dormand

Does the Minister realise that it is almost two years since he and I discussed this matter in an Adjournment debate? Does he recall that during that debate he conceded that Peterlee new town in my constituency was the worst affected new town in Britain? Is that not evidence of a scandalous dragging of feet? Does he also recall telling the Easington district council that it would be reimbursed and could get on with its work? Is it not true that it has not yet received a penny? Is not the answer to set a target date for the report, so that some resources can be made available to the new towns?

Mr. Finsberg

The hon. Gentleman is aware that I have already said that the National Building Agency report will be available next May. We shall take a decision as soon as possible thereafter.