HC Deb 12 December 1990 vol 182 cc943-4
7. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he proposes to take any new initiatives to increase the provision of affordable housing in rural areas.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young)

Yes. Since 1988, the Government have introduced a number of initiatives to increase the supply of low-cost housing in those rural areas where it is needed. Most recently, we have decided that £50 million of the total of nearly £2 billion of local authority credit approvals in 1991–92 should be set aside for a new programme for low-cost rural housing, mainly through local authority sponsorship of housing association schemes. I have now decided that these resources should be allocated as supplementary credit approvals, to ensure that they are targeted on authorities where they will have the greatest impact, and we shall shortly be inviting eligible authorities to make bids for a share of them.

Mr. Pike

I accept that this may be at least a small step in the right direction. Do not the Government recognise, however, that "Faith in the Countryside" identified a strong feeling that the Government had failed to appreciate that councils provide a major source of housing to meet the needs of the less well-off who want to rent property in rural areas? Does the Minister now intend to make it possible for local authorities to provide the extra housing that is needed, at affordable rents?

Sir George Young

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's small tribute at the beginning of his question. This initiative is the responsibility of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer), to whose work on housing I pay tribute. As for the hon. Gentleman's substantive question, we have made it clear that we see housing associations rather than local authorities as the main providers of affordable accommodation. Within the Housing Corporation's growing budget, a greater percentage of its resources will go to rural areas.

Mr. Colin Shepherd

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his welcome return to the Dispatch Box. Is he aware that there is considerable concern in South Herefordshire district council that it is being frustrated in discharging its responsibilities as the facilitator and enabler of low-cost housing for its people? Is he also aware that last year about 97 per cent. of the Housing Corporation's resources for the west midlands area went into the west midlands conurbation, leaving only a small amount for rural areas? Will he tackle the Housing Corporation? We feel very strongly about the matter.

Sir George Young

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is right. In a number of villages there is resentment towards second home owners or long-distance commuters who buy up homes, to the disadvantage of those who live locally. I am in touch with the Housing Corporation. It has a special rural programme targeted on the smallest villages, such as the ones referred to by my hon. Friend. By 1992–93 we hope that that programme will rise to 1,850 approvals. Housing associations in rural areas will be able to bid for resources and I hope that my hon. Friend's local authority will be successful.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister agree that the drift to the cities and the pressure on existing houses in city areas is partly because of the lack of housing for rent in rural areas?

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Since when has the hon. Gentleman represented a rural area?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Alton

Does the Minister therefore agree that yesterday's statement by the bishops of England and Wales about homelessness in Britain could not have come at a more timely moment? What further action does he intend to take to tackle the problem of homelessness?

Sir George Young

A separate question about homelessness appears later on the Order Paper. This question is mainly about rural areas. I have already explained that the Housing Corporation will devote increased resources to the provision of affordable homes in rural areas.

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