HC Deb 19 February 1992 vol 204 cc326-8
13. Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on progress in developing the role of housing associations.

Sir George Young

Housing associations are now the main providers of new subsidised housing. Government support for the Housing Corporation's approved development programme is set to increase from £1.6 billion this year to more than £2 billion in 1993–94. Next year, the corporation will approve more than 50,000 new homes—more than 25 per cent. more than this year and three times as many as in 1990–91.

Mr. Nicholson

I am grateful for the progress indicated in that reply. My hon. Friend knows of my great interest in further improving the resources available for housing associations. Will my hon. Friend—with his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, with whom I have corresponded on the matter—undertake to consider further how a housing association might help with the difficult and complex problem faced by owner-occupiers in Galmington in Taunton, whose homes were built in a non-traditional manner just after the war and who cannot now sell those homes? As the owners are aging, they are facing considerable problems.

Sir George Young

I am distressed to hear of the problems facing owner-occupiers in the area referred to by my hon. Friend. The housing defects legislation was introduced to try to tackle those problems. I shall see whether further steps can be taken to remove the uncertaintly hanging over my hon. Friend's constituents.

Mr. Trimble

One welcomes the provision that housing associations can make, and I speak as a member of the management committee of a housing association. Nevertheless, one has one reservation about making housing associations the main vehicle for the provision of social housing: a housing association is not accountable in the same way as a local authority to the people for whom it is making the provision—that is, of course, in those areas where local authorities have a housing function.

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious matter. In England, we have been taking steps through the Housing Corporation to increase the accountability of housing associations to their tenants by, for example, promoting tenant membership of management committees, and by requiring management committees to consult much more effectively. One could develop the argument that a well-run housing association, with tenants on the board and with regular consultation, might be more accountable than a local authority for which there was a vote only every four years and which tended to ignore the views of tenants.

Mr. Wolfson

I support strongly the development of housing associations in view of my experience with my local authority in Sevenoaks, which successfully sold the whole of its housing stock to West Kent housing association. Nevertheless, is my hon. Friend the Minister not concerned about the growth in size of housing associations, which might make it more difficult to maintain the personal contact with tenants which is an important aspect of good housing management?

Sir George Young

Again, my hon. Friend raises a very valid point. The housing association movement has a tradition of accountability and good local performance. If a housing association becomes too big, it loses those inbuilt advantages. Of course we have this matter under review. The Housing Corporation is particularly anxious to ensure that the smaller and medium-sized housing associations get an adequate share of the growing resources provided by the Housing Corporation so that the more traditional associations can continue to provide the new homes and local management to which my hon. Friend paid tribute.

Mr. O'Brien

The Minister must be aware of the shortage of affordable housing in villages and towns in rural areas, with the result that young people have to leave those areas to find suitable accommodation. The Housing Corporation cannot meet the demand in the rural areas. What is the Minister doing about that? Will he consider allowing local authorities to build houses in rural areas for the people who live there and who need the houses now?

Sir George Young

The Government have taken a number of steps to promote the provision of affordable homes for exactly the people whom the hon. Gentleman mentions. We have two sets of rural initiatives—one through the Housing Corporation and one through local authorities. Increasingly, however, we are using the planning system to generate the affordable homes that are needed.

The hon. Gentleman will have read and re-read circular 7/91 which contains the exceptions policy, allowing homes to be provided on sites not normally designated as residential so long as they are aimed at local people. He will also be aware that the planning system can now be used to require a developer to make provision for a percentage of homes specifically for young people who cannot afford to buy on the open market. We are conscious of the issue and we have developed policies which address it head-on.