HC Deb 10 March 2004 vol 418 cc1503-4
1. Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab)

What measures he is taking to increase the supply of affordable housing in Dorset. [159902]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper)

The Department has allocated £188 million to be invested in the south-west region over the next two financial years to provide over 6,000 new affordable homes in line with the recommendations of the South West regional housing board.

Jim Knight

I thank the Minister for her reply, and very much welcome that new investment in housing in my region. I look forward to learning what proportion is to be spent in Dorset, particularly as it has the highest ratio of wages to average house prices anywhere outside London. I should like to know how negotiations are going with the Department of Health over extra care housing in my constituency, particularly the Westhaven development, as it is important to provide affordable housing to rent, with extra care for elderly and vulnerable people.

Yvette Cooper

My hon. Friend is right, and I am aware of the pressures that his constituency faces. The need for affordable housing covers a wide range of supported housing needs. The amount of supported housing across the country has increased from 100,000 to 250,000 units in the past three years, and I shall certainly look closely at the proposals for his constituency.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)

In her research into the housing situation in Dorset has the Minister studied the report of the Halifax building society on first-time buyers? Does she agree that eight out of 10 towns are now unaffordable for first-time buyers?

Yvette Cooper

There are certainly housing market pressures across the country. However, the right hon. Gentleman's party wants to cut housing investment by £400 million and extend the right to buy to housing associations, although they do not want it. His proposals would therefore cut the supply of affordable housing and would not assist in reducing the pressures on the housing market.

Mr. Curry

So what are the Government going to do about the crisis of affordability that is spreading out from London like a stain and has resulted in fewer first-time buyers than ever before? In the south-west, for example, the average house price for first-time buyers is £123,000, and the problem is compounded by the perversity of stamp duty. Are the Government going to face up to their responsibilities or will they simply ignore the growing crisis?

Yvette Cooper

The right hon. Gentleman should face up to the failure of his sums. He is quite right that we need more access to affordable housing. We are increasing investment in affordable housing, and have doubled the levels that we inherited from the Conservatives. We have also increased investment to deal with the backlog of repairs that we inherited from the Conservatives, and commissioned the Barker review to look at the long-term issues surrounding housing supply. We have set out a series of proposals to address the problem, but the right hon. Gentleman's proposals involve cut after cut in the housing supply and affordable housing. Has he talked to the shadow Chancellor about any of that?

Mrs. Annette L. Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD)

What advice would the Minister give a couple in my Dorset constituency who live in unsuitable social housing? The husband earns £18,000 as a qualified social worker and they have no hope of a transfer for at least five years. What can they do?

Yvette Cooper

I obviously cannot comment on the individual case raised by the hon. Lady, but we recognise that there are specific problems facing key workers, which is why we are investing £1 billion in support for them and why the South West regional housing board has prioritised such support. We need to improve the standard of existing social housing, which is why we have made 1 million more homes decent since 1997. We must look at the supply of existing homes as well as the need for new housing.