HC Deb 17 June 1992 vol 209 cc881-3
3. Mr. Ancram

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further measures he proposes to introduce to stimulate the provision of affordable housing for local people in rural areas.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Sir George Young)

We have taken a series of measures since 1988 to boost supply of low-cost housing in rural areas to enable local people to stay in the areas where they have grown up. We have substantially increased public resources, through the Housing Corporation, for new investment by housing associations. In addition, the Housing Corporation and local authority special rural programmes should together provide around 3,400 units this year. New planning guidance permits development of low-cost housing for local needs on small sites not otherwise designated for housing.

Mr. Ancram

I welcome the current initiatives, but does my hon. Friend accept that the continuing lack of affordable housing in a constituency such as mine severely restricts the choice in housing that the Government are seeking to promote? Will he look for new ways of bringing together the public and private sectors, including housing associations, housing trusts, building societies and local councils, to promote joint schemes that can provide local housing for local people at rents and prices that local people can afford?

Sir George Young

I recognise the pressures in my hon. Friend's constituency. He brings to the problems his experience as a former Housing Minister in Scotland, where he pioneered a number of innovative housing measures. On the subject of his own constituency, he will know that, last year, we were able to approve two schemes at Sillington lane, Poushot and at Nether street in Bromham and, this year, an additional scheme at East Grafton. My hon. Friend is right. If real progress is to be made, the co-operation of landowners, housing associations, planners and housing committees, as well as the private sector, will be needed. I am determined to make further progress in that direction.

Mr. Canavan

Does the Minister agree that housing provision in rural areas might be improved if absentee landlords such as the Marquess of Lothian and the Earl of Ancram let out some of their huge country mansions to homeless people?

Sir George Young

My responsibilities stop at the border. The Scottish dimension of politics continues to fox me, so I shall not enter into any local Scottish debates in the Chamber this afternoon.

Sir Anthony Grant

Does my hon. Friend recall that just before the last general election the Secretary of State for the Environment issued a sensible guidance circular to authorities which pointed out that where large settlements or village developments were to take place it was essential to take into consideration the wishes of the people in the locality? Can he confirm that under the new regime that will be rigorously applied?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend refers to planning policy guidance note No. 3, which was issued shortly before the election. It indeed states the Government's policy on new settlements and villages. I reaffirm that where a local authority proposes such developments it must take account of local opinion and ensure that any proposal is with the grain rather than against it.

Mr. Soley

Is not it a matter of some shame that, 13 years after the Government embarked on their absurd housing policy, Government-appointed bodies as well as Conservative local authorities in rural areas condemn them for failing to meet the need for affordable housing? Is not it a fact that in Devizes, the constituency of the hon. Gentleman who asked the question, many Government-owned houses have been lying empty for many years? Why does not the Minister transfer those houses to local authorities and housing associations? Why does he not recognise the Government's failure to deliver affordable properties for rent or purchase, especially in the rural villages of England and around London where there is the problem of the commuter belt? Why does he not use resources, especially from capital receipts from the sale of council houses, which are still unused?

Sir George Young

I do not accept the analysis to which we have just listened. There are 2 million more homes than there were in 1979. There are more homes per 1,000 population than in 1979. The Housing Corporation programme is increasing dramatically. Its output this year is some 54,000 homes—about three times the level of two or three years ago.

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are fresh initiatives on empty MOD stock, including those in the Conservative party manifesto. We are determined to put to good use any surplus stock that the MOD has. However, the MOD is bringing back a substantial number of troops from Germany and other places. Much of the accommodation that is now empty may be needed for those families.