HC Deb 04 December 1991 vol 200 cc245-6
3. Mr. Steinberg

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on his funding of local authority new build.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young)

The building of new social housing is now mainly the responsibility of housing associations, with local authorities assuming an enabling role.

Mr. Steinberg

Is the Minister aware that in my constituency, because of Government policy, little house building has taken place? As a result, people can expect to be on the waiting list for about seven years whereas under the Labour Government it was about one year. Is not that a disgrace? Will the Minister confirm or deny that his Department is now threatening local authorities that plan new builds, by saying that it will take away discretionary housing grants?

Sir George Young

I can deny that. No departmental official of mine has told a local authority not to build new. In one case—I think it was in Warwickshire—a local authority, on reflection, revised its bid and decided to develop its relationship with housing associations rather than commit its allocation to its own project.

I notice that the housing investment programme allocations to the city of Durham rose from £1.8 million in 1988–89 to nearly £3 million in the current year. On top of that, £358,000 was allocated to housing associations. I urge the local authority in Durham to develop a relationship with housing associations so that it can make faster progress in meeting the problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. David Nicholson

In answer to an earlier question the Under-Secretary of State mentioned the vast resources given to the city of Liverpool, and by definition to other inner city authorities, which have not used housing resources sensibly and have not proceeded far with the right to buy. Is my hon. Friend aware that many authorities in the south-west have not only used housing resources sensibly, but have sold about 25 per cent. or more of their stock? In making HIP allocations, will he take those matters into account as well as the efficiency with which those authorities use their stock and their willingness to co-operate with the private sector? That will be good for the building industry and for meeting housing need.

Sir George Young

Local authorities that use their resources sensibly, develop an enabling role and co-operate with the private sector and housing associations will benefit from the new regime being introduced this year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whereby HIP allocations take account of the use to which resources are put to give an added incentive to local authorities to improve their performance and the standard of service for their tenants.

Mr. Soley

Is not the Minister dodging the question yet again? Only the other day on "Panorama" Conservative councillors in Worcester said that they could not build new council houses without losing money. Is not the truth of the matter that the way in which the Government have skewed the finances means that councils cannot provide that housing? How much more bad publicity do the Government have to get on the failure of their housing programme from the Duke of Edinburgh, Conservative councillors and their supporters around the country before they do what we are all asking them to do and undertake a planned release of the capital receipts? That is money from the sale of council houses and the Government should invest it again in housing.

Sir George Young

Much of the bad publicity on housing accrues to Labour-controlled local authorities that have mismanaged their resources, let down their tenants, do not implement the right to buy, have been short-sighted about the role of the housing associations and have not developed the enabling role. The Government are making £8 billion of housing resources available next year and £24 billion over three years. We believe that that is a square deal for the housing movement.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is often precisely those authorities that complain most about not being able to use capital receipts which have used the most in the past few years? My local authority, sadly Labour-controlled, has been able to use £16 million of capital receipts in the past five years. Many of those authorities also have land available which they are able to use with housing associations to provide new build, but they would not have been able to do so had not this Government been in power.

Sir George Young

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary have talked with housing authorities throughout the country in the past few weeks and we have been interested to find out that many local authorities have land banks which they are not prepared to make available to housing associations. They are not adopting the broader role that we envisaged. I hope that any local authority that has land available will develop a dialogue quickly with the housing association movement, whose resources are increasing substantially, to see whether it can make faster progress than would otherwise be the case in meeting housing needs in its area.

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