HC Deb 08 May 1991 vol 190 cc715-7
9. Mr. Ashton

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any new proposals to provide additional properties for rent in rural areas.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Yeo)

We have taken a variety of measures over the last three years to boost the supply of low-cost housing in rural areas. We have substantially increased public resources through the Housing Corporation for new investment by housing associations, raising the target for the development of new subsidised housing under their special rural programme to 2,250 a year by 1993–94. We recently announced an extra £50 million of credit approvals for rural local authorities for a new programme of low-cost housing and we have amended planning guidance to permit development of low-cost housing for local needs on small sites not otherwise designated for housing.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Minister aware that his variety of reasons sounds like waffle? All that he can manage is the provision of 2,000 extra houses in rural areas, despite the fact that thousands have been sold to council tenants and councils have been prevented by him from replacing them. There is now a massive shortage of council rented tenancies for manual workers, particularly people who work in such places as farm factories or local garages. This is turning the countryside into dormitory suburbs for yuppies. Manual workers, including the lower working class, just cannot afford to pay the prices that houses are fetching. Previously, when tenants died, houses became available. When will the Minister ensure that large numbers of council houses are built in villages so that people may have decent places to live?

Mr. Yeo

As we are within 14 months of a general election, it is most timely that the House has been reminded of the Labour party's underlying hostility to the Government's policy on the sale of council houses. From what the hon. Gentleman has said, it is clear that his mind is still set in the ways of the 1940s. He sees local authorities as the monopoly providers of accommodation for renting. We wholly reject that solution. We are determined to see a substantial increase in the private rented sector and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will persuade his colleagues to support us in that important objective. We are also providing the Housing Corporation with substantially increased resources—rising from just over £1 billion last year to well over £2 billion a year in three years' time—to expand very substantially the provision, through housing associations, of subsidised accommodation for renting. I am glad to be able to say, that, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency alone, the Housing Corporation is spending £1.3 million in the current year on the provision of another 40 units.

Mr. Gill

Although the additional £50 million in the current year is most welcome, I hope that my hon. Friend can assure the House that there will be similar provision in future years so that local authorities and others engaged in the provision of affordable housing in rural areas may have an ongoing programme. It is extremely difficult to generate programmes at very short notice.

Mr. Yeo

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the need to provide an adequate supply of affordable housing in rural areas. We are pleased with the results so far of the £50 million credit approvals that we have provided for the current year. Obviously we shall keep an eye on the situation. We are determined to ensure that all rural areas will get a fair share, whether through local authority credit approvals or through the Housing Corporation. As I said, the corporation is building up its programme. Over the next three years, including the current year, housing associations will build more than 6,000 units in very small villages.

Mr. Battle

How will local authorities in rural areas that have no housing—all their houses having been sold off—fulfil their statutory obligation, under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, to house the homeless? How can that obligation possibly be fulfilled when there are no council houses?

Mr. Yeo

A number of schemes are available to local authorities. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the end of my original answer, where I referred to the fact that local authorities may now introduce schemes in respect of land not otherwise designated for housing, in which case the land component in the total cost of a house is almost entirely eliminated. In many areas, Iandowners are coming forward with offers of land and it is up to the local authorities to respond.

Mr. Walden

Does my hon. Friend agree that houses for renting or for sale should not be constructed at the expense of the environment? In the light of yesterday's published estimates of future aggregate demand, will he look urgently at the possibility of encouraging substitutes? If what is going on is allowed to continue, constituencies like mine will look like a lawn after the moles have been at it.

Mr. Yeo

I know of my hon. Friend's close interest in this subject and I am glad to be able to tell him that I entirely share his concern that the proportion of recycled and secondary aggregates that are used in all forms of construction should be substantially increased.

Mr. Soley

Bluster is not going to get the Minister anywhere. Can he confirm that the Association of District Councils, which is Conservative controlled, has consistently told the Government that selling council houses without replacing them—the Labour party's view is that they should be replaced—is leading to a catastrophic shortage of rented accommodation in rural and urban areas? Why does he think that Conservative councils in rural areas have got it so badly wrong and he has got it right?

Mr. Yeo

The House must have listened carefully and in vain for any hint in the hon. Gentleman's question that he supports the policy of selling council houses. It is perfectly open to housing authorities in rural areas to meet needs in the ways that I have outlined; by co-operating with the housing association movement; by taking advantage of our off-site plan policy so that low-cost housing can be provided at prices that are affordable both for sale and for rent; and through the judicious granting of planning permissions to the private sector, which is also ready and willing to help meet the need.

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