HL Deb 09 March 1993 vol 543 cc915-7

2.45 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they will take to promote the redevelopment of substandard urban housing, by compulsory purchase if necessary, in preference to the development of countryside areas.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, government policies already promote the redevelopment of inner city housing and thereby reduce the need to build in rural areas. Planning guidance emphasises the importance of reusing urban land for housing development, and mechanisms such as green belts discourage unnecessary encroachment on the countryside. Through housing and inner city programmes, large sums are spent annually to refurbish or redevelop inner city housing to regenerate the areas concerned and reduce pressure for greenfield development. A key task for the new Urban Regeneration Agency will be to tackle derelict urban land and buildings.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that most encouraging reply. However, is he aware that most urban areas, especially the larger ones, even today have many derelict and substandard houses, and considerable amounts of waste land? Will he give an undertaking that such areas will be developed before any open country is encroached upon?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, that is precisely one of the reasons behind the setting up of the Urban Regeneration Agency. It is to bring together under one organisation the various government bodies which already consider those issues so that they can be co-ordinated in an effective fashion.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, much of the urban substandard housing was built before it was compulsory to build an internal bathroom and toilet in a property. Nevertheless, the buildings are substantial. If the Government were to liaise with a number of our housing and building contractors to modernise such houses, that could make a large contribution towards resolving the housing problem.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the Government take seriously the refurbishment of local authority housing and housing association funding. That has been a general thrust of our housing policies for some years.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in order to protect the further encroachment of our countryside and to encourage people back into the urban areas, it is a good idea to look at some of the vast numbers of blocks of offices which exist at present and which are never likely to be occupied? Will the Urban Regeneration Agency be able to use some of its resources to carry out desirable conversions into residential units?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the Urban Regeneration Agency will be able to undertake many tasks. No doubt it will wish to take into account the noble Lord's point.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, the Minister has stated that the Government take seriously the refurbishment of older houses. In that case, will he tell the House why the Government's contribution to renovation grants will be cut next year from 75 per cent. to 60 per cent., thus ensuring that demolition rather than renovation will take place?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the whole point of our programmes for cities is that we are increasing spending. Next year we are contributing about £4 billion towards urban regeneration. The noble Baroness can pick certain programmes where funding has shrunk, but those funds are made up elsewhere.