HC Deb 15 July 1992 vol 211 cc1134-6
14. Mr. Nigel Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assistance is available to local authorities to tackle housing needs in rural areas.

Mr. Baldry

We have taken a series of measures since 1988 to boost the supply of low-cost housing in rural areas through local authorities and housing associations. The Housing Corporation has a clear target for new social housing in villages through its special rural programme under which £80 million has been allocated to rural local authorities for 1991–92 and 1992–93 to produce new low-cost homes. New planning guidance permits the development of low-cost housing for local needs on small sites not otherwise designated for housing.

Mr. Evans

Will my hon. Friend accept the thanks of my local authority, which is not a whingeing socialist local authority always complaining that it has no money for its housing needs? My local authority is working in close association with four housing associations to meet housing needs in our rural area. It has won bids for £4 million in grants for rural housing over three years. Much of that money has been paid to the housing associations because of their past effectiveness and not just because of needs. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that money will be given to local authorities and to housing associations in future because of their past performance and not simply because of needs?

Mr. Baldry

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am glad to say that numerous housing associations are active in the Ribble valley. They are doing extremely good work in partnership with the local authority which is delivering well in its enabling role. I am glad to say that almost £2 million is being invested in new rural housing in the Ribble valley this year. That is very good news.

Mr. Trimble

I was especially glad to hear the last part of the Minister's original reply, which referred to planning guidelines. Does the Minister agree that it is important to ensure that housing becomes available in rural areas for local people, and that for that reason it is essential that the cost be kept down? Does he agree that the best way to keep the cost down is to increase the supply significantly?

Mr. Baldry

I entirely agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's question. That is why we have clear planning policy guidance and why local authorities now have to bring forward development plans in which they have to identify clearly land for housing provision for the coming years.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I fully support what my hon. Friend has said, but does he accept that the wealthier a rural area is, the greater are the problems among the lower paid in the area? Does he accept that there is a need for greater resources to be devoted to areas such as that covered by Macclesfield borough council to take account of the fact that many people in rural areas, especially young people, can no longer afford to live there?

Mr. Baldry

I am always glad to have my hon. Friend's support. We have taken forward initiatives because we acknowledge that there are particular problems in rural areas. It is because we recognise that there are challenges that the Housing Corporation has a special rural programme and there is the potential for special capital allocations to rural local authorities for the reasons that my hon. Friend has outlined.

Mr. Soley

When will the Government take seriously the voices of their Conservative local authorities, of the rural housing associations and, increasingly, of their own Back-Bench Members, such as the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who is not a whinger as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) would have us believe? When will the Government listen to those voices and recognise that they are saying that the villages of Britain are dying on their feet because of a lack of affordable housing? As the hon. Member for Macclesfield said, the problem is especially serious for young people whose roots are in villages and country towns, but whose futures are in a housing queue which gets constantly longer.

Mr. Baldry

This year we are investing £2 billion through the Housing Corporation for new, affordable social housing. We are committed to do that in the coming three years. A proportion of that money will go to rural areas. In addition, rural areas will have access to their own housing investment money. The Government are determined to ensure that every family has a decent home in which to live, whether in the town or in the countryside.

Mr. Dunn

In the context of housing needs and preserving village life, will my hon. Friend assure the House that every effort will be made to prevent the illegal encroachment of traveller families in our villages?

Mr. Baldry

As my hon. Friend knows, we are committed to reviewing the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and I hope that we shall be able to bring forward that review in the not-too-distant future.