§ 3.7 p.m.
§ The Earl of Carnarvon
rose to call attention to the case for additional housing in London and the South East and the Government's proposals for achieving their targets; and to move for Papers.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, has decided to make his maiden speech in today's debate. His experience as an Oxford City councillor, both in housing and in planning, will be extremely valuable and no doubt noble Lords will take a great deal of interest in what he has to say.
This debate on housing involves everyone in the country, not only those in the South East and in London. I must declare my interest, which is a non-pecuniary one, as chairman of SERPLAN—until it is disbanded in April of next year and its responsibilities transferred to the Mayor of London and two regional assemblies.
1127 I have been involved in planning for housing for nearly 50 years. It is a very emotive issue. I fervently believe that every individual or family should have a home, a house or a flat. Those of us who fought in wars mostly thought at anxious moments of our homes, as well as our loved ones. "The Englishman's home is his castle" is not a fantasy. It is as true today as it has always been. That is why local and central government have done their best to provide a level of housing provision which can be achieved in London and the South East in the next 16 years.
We must ensure that everyone has the opportunity of a decent home. That is what I said in your Lordships' House on 15th December last year. That debate followed the publication of the Crow report. Since then the Government have published their proposals for future development in the South East. It is SERPLAN's response to those that I shall speak about today.
The Government have retained a good deal of the vision of the local authorities, their approach to achieving a more sustainable pattern of development and promoting urban renaissance, but I fear that the Government have disregarded the wider policy framework proposed by SERPLAN. Sustainable development cannot be achieved by the land use planning system acting alone. It is critically important that all decision-makers contribute to the process. Urban renaissance, for example, requires a coordinated approach by all relevant agencies. This was visible when some noble Lords, members of the All-Party London Group, visited Tower Hamlets a few weeks ago and were able to see for themselves the impressive Stepney Ocean Estate and the work of the Asian-led housing association, LABO.
Public transport will only become a realistic alternative to excessive use of the private car through large-scale private investment. The role of individuals and organisations therefore needs to be clear, as does the relationship between the different strategies and delivery mechanisms operating within the region.
SERPLAN has set out in some detail the expected contribution of these other bodies and mechanisms, including central government, and called for new mechanisms where these were needed. This approach is consistent with the concept of spatial strategies developing throughout Europe and reflected in guidance given by the Government.
The Government's consultation document, Proposed Changes, is stronger in the presentation of good intentions than in setting out the means and policies whereby these are to be implemented. The Government have failed to give local authorities the necessary powers, particularly in relation to housing type and tenure issues and the whole question of affordability. Similarly, in relation to wider housing issues, the Government have not acknowledged that existing mechanisms are inadequate to deliver the urban component of housing provision on the scale required.
I know that many people living in the South East fear that excessive development will affect their lives and ruin the countryside which they love. Housing 1128 provision is a subject which is too often considered in isolation. It must be seen as part of an integrated, spatial planning approach and considered alongside, and in close relation to, economic issues, employment and transport.
The Government's specific policy, as set out in Proposed Changes, for the overall level of housing provision in the South East is that,Housing should be provided at the annual average rate of 23,000 dwellings in London and 43,000 dwellings in the rest of the South East".No specific rationale is offered, either in Proposed Changes or in the accompanying housing technical note, for the lievel of housing provision proposed for the rest of the South East (ROSE). The Government argue that it should be possible to provide more housing, with proportionately less impact on land and other resources. The Government believe that ROSE can provide 43,000 dwellings per annum between 1996 and 2016.
The approach to housing provision for ROSE put forward by SERPLAN was based on "plan, monitor and manage". To summarise—the proposal was to plan for a supply side baseline level of provision with the strategic authorities demonstrating how they would increase this in line with a higher indicative range; to monitor key housing trends; and to manage additional housing provision through the development plan system. SERPLAN's approach was based on "managing up" to a total level of housing provision.
The level of housing provision proposed by the Government for ROSE does not recognise he real practical difficulties in achieving these targets. Some 43,000 dwellings per annum is an annual average relating to the period from 1996. We are already well into that period. The most recent available information indicates that additional housing since 1996 has been running at around 39,000 dwellings a year. The new regional guidance is unlikely to be put in place before 2001. Following publication in its final form, additional housing provision cannot be increased to the proposed level quickly. Even with speedy reviews, revised development plan policies will take some time to put in place. This means that the real scope for increasing housing provision through the plan-led process will be post-2006.
One important aspect of housing provision is affordable housing and the Government have suggested a target of not less than 40 per cent. SERPLAN's recent work has indicated that only 20–25 per cent of planning completions are affordable. SERPLAN supports the Government's target for affordable housing but in order to achieve it it will continue to press the Government strongly for increased power over size, type and tenure—an important issue which I stressed in my speech on 15th December last year.
Local authorities in both London and the South East are concerned about additional housing in parts of the South East without jobs being available to sustain the population, and such housing being occupied by long-distance commuters.
1129 I know that local government wish to engage in constructive dialogue with central government on the future provision of housing in the South East. I look forward to hearing noble Lords' views and the Government's response at the end of the debate. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for raising this urgent and persistent problem and, in passing, giving me the chance to make my maiden speech.
Housing, and planning and transport with which it is inevitably intertwined, has been a particular interest of mine—as the noble Earl was kind enough to point out—since I was an Oxford City councillor serving on the housing and planning committees. I was elected to that council in 1972 just before the noble Earl became chairman of Hampshire County Council and just as house prices in the South East were really taking off for the first time. I remember that well because I had struggled to buy a small terraced house in east Oxford for £8,500, with a salary at that time in my new job of £2,500.
It was a good salary and it was certainly a very interesting job. I was a research assistant and speech writer; "chocolate soldier" as we were called because we were paid by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, to which we on these Benches owe a great deal. My boss at that time is my now noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. One of my first tasks was to help him with a speech on housing and transport. A generation later, at the peak of yet another house price boom in south-east England, I thought that I would start by taking a look back at what we said then:At the end of June 1972. the typical modern house in London and the South-East was selling at £11.000. Only six months earlier its price was £8,800. Fifteen years before it could be bought for £2,500.The problem in London"—the speech went on—is particularly acute. It is already hard to retain teachers for London schools or probation officers for London courts because when they want families they can find nowhere adequate to live. If we can provide housing of varied standards and prices near to the areas where people work, we are not only preserving our cities, we are also relieving some of the transport problems. If part of our problem stems from mass daily travel, part of the solution is to reduce the need for it".It was a radical speech. It called for a system of compulsory purchase by local authorities to force owners to release land which the country needed for housing. We saw our planning system then as the key protector of land use against immensely strong market uses, which have never been properly tamed. If left alone, they would produce,one great sprawl, neither city nor country, neither field nor place, where life without a car is impossible, yet roads and parking space will take up two-thirds of the area of these non-cities.1130 Well, we have moved a good deal down that dismal road already in the South East since 1972.
We are no more likely to solve the housing problems of the South East by greenfield private development than we are to cure traffic congestion by building more motorways. We cannot trust market forces to produce the right housing balance for society in this richest and most congested corner of England where land supply is tight and demand can be almost infinite. No, if one is serious about keeping vital services going in London, or Oxford, or Horsham, or our villages by giving nurses, policemen, teachers or bus drivers some chance of a decent home that they can afford, one has to be firm and tough, year in and year out, using the planning system quite deliberately in conjunction with higher grant rates to housing associations. I very much agree with the noble Earl that we must target new developments throughout London and the South East strongly towards affordable housing. This will help key workers who would expect to buy but are now priced out of the market near their work, and also the many people who—let us never forget this—will always need homes to rent long term because their incomes are too low or too uncertain for a mortgage.
The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions issued two important housing papers in March and April: the new Planning Policy Guidance Note 3 and the housing Green Paper. Both contain plenty of sound sense. But on the key point of affordable housing, what do they say, what will they do, and when will they do it?
The Green Paper talks about,assessing and delivering an appropriate amount of new affordable housing, a significant proportion of which becomes available through the operation of planning policies".It points out that,insufficient amounts of new affordable housing have been developed in areas of acute housing pressureand that,in areas of high demand there tend to be higher than average levels of overcrowding and use of temporary accommodation".Finally, on page 71, we learn:in London and many southern urban and rural areas, high demand for housing coupled with high house prices has placed acute pressure on the social housing stock".That is all very worthy, but it hardly starts to recognise the scale and urgency of the problem.
I am delighted to hear from the noble Earl that the Government are moving towards a target of 40 per cent affordable housing in new developments in the South East. If so, it is certainly rapid movement since last year when we were told that PPG3 was a statement of policy rather than a guidance manual. Now, on page 74 of the Green Paper, we are promised good practice guidance next year on helping local authorities secure appropriate affordable housing within new developments and improved arrangements for finding out what is going on. I am bound to say that when one reads these documents one gets the feeling that the DETR is moving ahead about as fast as traffic on the M25 on a Friday night.
1131 The shortage of affordable housing is acute throughout south-east England. I would argue that in the present situation of extreme housing shortage we should have a general presumption that for at least the next five years at least half of each new development on greenfield sites in south-east England should be affordable housing. That 50 per cent target should not be eroded by the so-called planning gains and Section 106 agreements invented by the last government. After all, these are basically just ways of selling planning permissions to the highest bidder.
A maiden speech is not the place to discuss all the changes in planning and taxation which are essential to transform access to affordable housing both to rent and buy. It is the place, I hope, to point out that the developers have gobbled up green fields for a generation but housing need in London and the South East is just as acute today as it was 30 years ago. Housing, planning and transport policy in London and the South East will be a hard test of "joined-up government". Is it just a slogan, or will it really work on the ground?
Although we are life Peers, other maiden speakers have talked about their fathers. We heard that the noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, is a hereditary civil servant. My noble friend Lord Greaves produced a policeman's whistle. Luckily, the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, spared us the butcher's cleaver on Monday. My father was a diplomat. I do not really know what the tools of a diplomat's trade are—perhaps a bagful of foreign languages in his case. He was very proud to be the first boy from his local school ever to get into Oxford. That was possible even in the had old days before the Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed himself admissions tutor of Magdalen.
I thank the officers and staff of the House, who have been universally kind and helpful to me both before and after my introduction. It is heartening to see so many old friends here. For example, six of us in the latest list of new Peers are old comrades from the SDP—three on these Benches and three on the Benches opposite. I look forward to working with them and with all noble Lords, wherever they sit, in the interests of the whole House.
§ 3.27 p.m.
My Lords, on two occasions this afternoon the conventions of the House have been gravely abused. The time has come for a halt. I suggest that we pay courtesy to the noble Baroness paying tribute to the maiden speaker by listening to her speech.
§ Baroness Uddin
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, on his very 1132 passionate and informative maiden speech. It was a pleasure to listen to someone with whom I hope to work very closely.
For the benefit of your Lordships who are not informed about the noble Lord, I should like to give a brief résumé of his background. He has an extensive reputation, being economic adviser to several foreign countries as well as having been a special adviser to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—"a chocolate soldier", as we have learnt. The noble Lord has an independent company, which he set up a number of years ago, and is an ardent campaigner in Lambeth. I look forward to working with him and to hearing him speak on many occasions. He certainly has not lost the skills that he used in speechwriting for others, as he demonstrated in his eloquent speech this afternoon.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, before my noble friend continues, after her very appropriate and well-earned tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, I should like to remind Members of your Lordships' House that when a maiden speaker rises to speak, and during the tribute to the maiden speaker, no one should enter or leave the Chamber. Perhaps I may explain that I did not intervene because I think that it is nerve-racking for a maiden speaker to have noble Lords calling "Order" as he or she rises. I hope that in future all noble Lords will observe the conventions. I apologise to my noble friend Lady Uddin for intervening, and, as the Whip, assure her that none of the time that I have spent will be taken from her speaking time.
§ Baroness Uddin
My Lords, I am delighted about that. I feel slightly relieved by my noble friend's intervention.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Carriarvor, for initiating this timely debate. It gives us an opportunity to contribute to the first comprehensive review of housing for 23 years. I am delighted to have this opportunity proudly to discuss this within the context of the Green Paper, Quality and Choice: A decent home for all.
I welcome the statement in the report that,People who are decently housed have a stronger sense of security and place. Decent housing strengthens communities and provides a better setting in which to raise families. It improves health and educational achievement and provides a long-term asset that can he passed on to future generations".If it is the view that proper housing can begin the soul of a community, does not the rationale for the decay of inner cities over decades become plainly obvious?
I last spoke on housing during the discussion on the English House Condition Survey for 1996, when I drew your Lordships' attention to the plight of housing issues in our borough of Tower Hamlets. As a resident of long standing in the borough—some 27 years—I do not share some of the rosy pictures painted by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon. I shall explain why.
1133 During the debate I explained the desperate shortage of housing for the local community. I also spoke about the devastating impact of embracing race to deploy housing policy, particularly under the Liberal administration in Tower Hamlets in the 1980s. I believe that at that time the issue of additional housing—or simply housing as a serious political discussion—was not firmly on the Government's agenda.
There has of course been a significant change, and the recognition of addressing the need for increased investment in housing is now a central part of all the regeneration initiatives. The release of capital receipts by the Government represented the first substantial increase in investment in housing in decades. There is much still to be done, but housing now has a greater prominence in the political agenda and there is a growing awareness—as evidenced by the Green Paper—of the importance of good housing as the basis of a civilised, decent society.
It has been recognised that access to housing is crucial to addressing the growing "residualisation" of large sections of the population within cities such as London, in particular within areas such as Tower Hamlets. The Green Paper specifically acknowledges the need to find ways to reform the process of allocating social housing.
Equally important is the need to create greater opportunities for affordable home ownership in areas where land values and housing costs are prohibitive. My own back yard of Wapping is a prime example. On one side of the street are houses which are in desperate need of modernisation; on the other side are family houses which cost up to £300,000 to buy or £300 per week to rent. I regret to say that there is apartheid in the community due to decades of poor planning. The division between rich and poor is blatant.
In my area of Tower Hamlets there is still an acute shortage of good quality, affordable accommodation, and a desperate shortage of large dwellings. There remains also an overwhelming demand for accommodation from the council and local housing associations. As stated before, it is simply not possible to meet the demand. I believe that, to a certain extent, the opportunity to do the right thing in social housing was essentially missed during the days of building the Docklands dream town.
The housing needs of Tower Hamlets are well researched and frequently cited. They include: 16,000 households which are in need of a home from the council; double the London average of overcrowded families; 70 per cent of its population on low income or dependent on benefits while the remainder earn on average £600 per week; and a faster-than-average growing population of young people. Within this picture of multiple deprivation there are large areas of more severe disadvantage—such as Spitalfields ward, where unemployment is the highest in London. This is despite huge amounts of investment in the area. In close proximity there is disparity in the amount of luxury private developments in Docklands and on the City fringe.
1134 This is a clear example of poor planning and bad management of resources over a long period. Of course, the area must attract a new population to the borough, but the cost has been that it has failed to address the existing needs and demands of many in the local community, thereby creating ghettoization.
Thus the need for good quality, affordable housing is growing at the same time as the polarisation of rich and poor accentuates. We need to find ways in which to increase the supply of rented accommodation of the appropriate size and type. Those who have experienced facing the wrath of the private sector and the private landlord in my area will tell you that the new rules for housing benefit are likely to have a dramatic impact on the quality of housing provision available to their families.
We also need to find ways in which to retain within our cities, especially London, families in low-paid employment with aspirations to home ownership. This is another concern of the Government's housing Green Paper, particularly in relation to key public sector workers. I should like to see the key workers scheme extended to our talented young professionals to enable them to remain in the area where they were born. This would act as a catalyst to other young people in the area. In our area we are desperate for our successful young people, our role models, to be able to work and to remain living in the local area. That would assist and contribute to the development of our community.
The new strategy must also consider ensuring that housing associations sell properties at a reasonable cost to their tenants. I believe that the DIYSO scheme is worth re-examination in this regard.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to some recent initiatives in Tower Hamlets. I believe that many small and large housing associations in Tower Hamlets have been leaders and have inspired many initiatives throughout Britain. I should like to pay tribute to the individuals involved.
From the outside one may observe that, within the past decade, the local council has successfully regenerated a significant number of estates—not, I hesitate to add, because it was willing, but because it was compelled by pressure from the community and the commitment of its leaders, who had the foresight to realise that large amounts of social housing would be required by the population.
Some of the good examples have been achieved through the Estate Action and Single Regeneration Budget programmes—although a cursory walk around the borough would demonstrate the need for much more. Again, it needs to be stated that the parts which most require attention are populated by the Bangladeshi community. The question that needs to be asked—and must be asked—is why the most deprived areas remain the poorest. I should like to see any further resources targeted for additional housing for areas of prolific need.
During the days of my involvement in the community work arena, many of us argued with authorities that simply improving bricks and bollards 1135 is not enough to build the fabric of a confident society, a point recognised in the Green Paper. It is necessary to address the soul of the community, as demonstrated by last Sunday's programme "Soul of Britain". Therefore I was pleased to host a meeting last Monday of an initiative supported by the Housing Corporation Faith in Regeneration, which is a project to be undertaken in conjunction with the Social Exclusion Unit and which is to examine good practice in taking into account the faiths of a community in the provision of housing and other regeneration schemes. This is a welcome trend.
In my area, the aims of many of the housing associations have, in essence, acted to fill the gaps created during the dark days of nearly 20 years of Conservatism, when housing policies were essentially discrirninatory. During that period, much of our good land was put into the hands of outsiders, who had no commitment to enhancing good social housing or to the participation of, particularly, the Bangladeshi community in any decision-making process, thus leading to the huge deficit in both adequate housing and leadership which is prevalent today.
How have we fared since coming to power? In simple terms, we have in our approach maintained the status quo, with the same people running the local show-—with not a single quango—in housing or otherwise, and led by members of the local community. Leadership in housing and regeneration is critical to the development of a sustainable community. If the new housing policy is to address sustainable development, I should like to see the development of clauses to ensure local leadership in the delivery of all newly proposed boards and funding mechanisms.
With its partner, the Housing Corporation, the council is trying to link housing with wider regeneration initiatives. Tower Hamlets was one of the first councils to set up a "local labour in construction" scheme to ensure that 20 per cent of the work on Estate Action programmes in the borough went to local people. I should like to see this extended to management and leadership as well.
The council has also set up an innovative arm's-length company to deliver the Stepney SRB programme; it was recently declared a Pathfinder authority in the New Deal for Communities initiative; in addition, the council has assisted in attracting more than £100 million-worth of private and public sector funding through the setting up of local housing companies in Poplar and Bethnal Green.
Here again, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the unacceptable levels of lack of participation in the decision-making process. I do not want to see the same "Hobson's Choice" continuing year on year. To address social exclusion, we must begin to accept that the community must take the lead in the provision of its services.
In conclusion, additional housing is critical if we are to achieve sustainable and confident communities. In places like Tower Hamlets these needs must be accompanied by intelligent responses to assisting the 1136 empowerment of the people themselves, facilitating leadership and confidence. I do not want to see choices in housing available to people on the same basis that education is available to our community; namely, that there is no choice.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Hanham
My Lords, I follow on with congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. I do not know whether it was his experiences on Oxford City Council that enabled him to withstand the diversion of various Lords a-swirling but he certainly dealt with it with extreme aplomb. That will be a very valuable asset in this House. I congratulate him on the content of his speech. I am sure we look forward to hearing from him in the future.
Housing is, of course, one of the most emotive of subjects, as has already been said, particularly in London and the South East of England where there are enormous pressures.
I know more about London than I know about the South East, so I shall concentrate my short remarks o n that area. Perhaps the housing pressures in London are easier to diagnose than to resolve. Some of those pressures and difficulties have been outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, who comes from a different part of London from myself, and there are differences in every area.
The housing pressures are brought about for a number of reasons. The first pressure is the high property values that are now prevalent in London. In the Daily Telegraph recently there was an article which was headed "Is property becoming unaffordable?' There is something to be said for that observation. A lot of the property in central and west London is now well beyond the reach of anybody on a reasonable salary. Therefore, a lot of the property is now in the hands of investment companies. A lot of the property is in the hands of companies which are buying it for the purposes of letting it to their overseas staff or buying it so they do not have to use hotels. That property, on an international market, is now virtually inaccessible to anybody who is on a normal London salary. Therefore, a vast slice of property has been removed in that way.
The corollary, of course, to that is that the improvement in that property is vast. We have all been aware that over the years the standard of property in London has deteriorated. But the investment of money within it has now raised the standards beyond the normal reach of most people.
We are therefore driving away people in the middle income bracket, who are unable to live within London. My son has recently invested what must be his every last penny for the next 150 years in buying a small property. It is a major investment that young people are having to make and is well beyond many of them.
It is not only the purchase of property which is becoming impossible for people on middle incomes and young people; it is also the renting of property. We are again in a very high rented market, and we are also seeing within the statutory sector, under the Rent Act 1137 provisions, people who are statutory tenants finding that rents are being raised well beyond what they expect and can afford.
The improvement of property affects many areas. There is pressure on property in one area which then begins to affect the adjacent area and there is then a rolling programme of what one could call "the Notting Hill syndrome". There is a move to gentrification. People who can afford property in that area move back, but then people who were previously able to afford that property have to go elsewhere. This again puts pressure on the available property and the affordability of that property.
As we have discussed, people on lower incomes, of course, rely very heavily on affordable housing. As I am well aware, most local authorities can provide affordable social housing, but that is on a variety of tenures. It is very difficult to be able to provide that housing in London now. There are fewer and fewer available sites for housing.
We talk rather glibly about brownfield sites. In many cases now brownfield sites are a good investment. But then we return to the problem of the unaffordability of such property. If the state cannot afford a site then it cannot afford to provide property at a reasonable value and it will not do so. That then puts pressure on us.
There is also the difficulty of who is moving into social housing. Is it the homeless? Of course. But we do not want all our estates made up of people who do not know each other. One of the big problems in the past with social housing has been that very often vast areas of London were cleared for redevelopment. What happens then? People from the waiting list, people off the homeless list and asylum seekers are put into that redevelopment, not one of whom knows each other. There is no community. There was no community from the start. So in big developments great care should be taken with regard to how the tenures are sorted out in order to try and build a community from the outset. But the sites must be available before building can begin.
The general increase in London's population is caused, first, by the immigration of people who come to work here, and, secondly, greater pressure is caused by people who come because London is attractive. It is a mecca to which people come to live and it must now be a great disappointment because when they arrive it is so difficult to find somewhere to live.
I do not bandy figures around very often because I usually get them wrong, but I think the increase in the population of London between 1983 and 1991 was at a rate of about 16,000 a year. Between 1991 and 1998 it was 42,000. It does not take very long to rack up the sort of figures that SERPLAN talks about as the requirement for new properties when you work on that basis.
What do we do about it? It is easy to stand here and explain the problems, but what are we going to do about it?
1138 I understand that VAT is still charged on brownfield sites and is not charged on greenfield sites. Not only is it charged on brownfield sites but it is also charged on anything that is developed on brownfield sites. This seems to me to be a nonsense. It must be one area that needs looking at. The encouragement must be, of course, to develop within the city if we can. But that also increases once again the value and the cost of property.In the public sector, local authorities, local health authorities and private developers must work together. We are clearly well past the days when local authorities can work on their own. They need to work in co-operation and co-ordination with others. By doing that they will achieve the mixed tenure about which I spoke.
To include a percentage of affordable housing in each development is not easy. We tried it in Kensington and Chelsea. We said that a certain proportion of every site had to consist of affordable housing. But land costs made that almost impossible to deliver. We have achieved that on some sites, but we have to accept that we will have to provide it elsewhere on others. The "elsewhere" is the problem. It is very difficult in London.
I think that probably even more emotive than issues regarding the green belt are issues regarding the provision of housing. As I said in opening—and I agree with much of what has already been said—housing is probably the one security that people need. To have a secure home is an essential. Not everybody has a secure home. It is becoming less and less easy to have a secure home. I think that central London will be the worse for it. If we cannot resolve some of these problems, we will be left with an investment city. I do not think that anybody really wants that. I do not think that housing should be traded, if I can put it that way. We need to find a way to resolve the problems of housing, but property values at the moment are making life extremely difficult.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, my childhood home was a small privately rented house. It had been rented by my grandparents before my parents took it over. The rent was small. Indeed it was so small that when my father asked for some repairs to be done the landlord suggested that he bought the house, which he did in the 1950s for £900. For all its inadequacies—and there were many—it was our home. That was as true when we rented it as when we bought it. It was in that house that my parents created our family. It was in that house that we loved each other and fought each other, welcomed our wider family and community. We prayed together and we broke bread together around the table. That is where we grew up to be the people we became. It was a house, but it was much more: it was a home. It was there for us, offering us security, as, along with so many others in those years after the war, we struggled to make ends meet and to keep the family alive.
I am president of the Churches National Housing Coalition. We support the National Housing Federation campaign with its wonderful slogan, "Our 1139 homes our future". In the South East the NHF has produced an important report on housing needs in the region to the year 2016. That report is called Who needs Housing? Of course the people need housing. They need homes in which they can fulfil their vocations in marriage and family, work and leisure, politics and religion. That reality is the basis for the moral and spiritual dimension of this issue, which is that if we leave people without homes or living in homes which are not fit for their human dignity, we are offending the fundamental moral principles of God's goodness to us all.
We have a particular kind of housing crisis in the South East. It is borne of economic growth and development. The fact is that London and the South East is the motor driving our national economy and shaping our future. History—and indeed experience around the world—tell us that people will gather where there is economic opportunity. If people gather, they will need housing. History also tells us that we would be foolish to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that that is not the case, or leave it to market forces to sort out. We need a strategy for dealing with growth in London and the South East.
The NHF report points out that while there are significant numbers of people who are doing extremely well—and we have heard about some of them this afternoon—in the region, there are also many people on average or below average incomes. It is they who are feeling the crisis in our housing policy. The crisis is one of cost. As others have said, we do not have sufficient affordable housing in the region. If you want to buy a house in Surrey this year, you will need a lot of money. In the year to March 2000 the price of a small three-bedroom semi-detached house in Guildford rose by 22.5 per cent. You would be fortunate in the summer of this year to buy such a house for anything less than £160,000. To afford such a house you would probably be a double-income family, taking on a large mortgage, possibly supported by inherited or family wealth. Many people just cannot afford this.
If you then look at the rented and social sector of housing, the news is equally bad. Affording the rents of social housing—either local authority or independent social landlord housing—is very difficult for those on low or modest incomes, many of whom do not qualify for housing benefit. The average rent in Surrey for social housing is approximately £50 per week higher than in the private rented sector.
The NHF report suggests that we shall need at least 360,000 social houses with affordable rents by the year 2016. People in local government have suggested to me that it is important that we set percentage targets for affordable housing in the region and that the provision of social housing is crucial to achieving that target. We must also bear in mind that many local authorities still have large accumulated reserves from council house sales. We need to know what the intentions of the Government are with regard to investing those in the housing needs for the region.
1140 The issue is about people. The issue is about teachers and nurses, people in public service, police and those serving the social needs of the community, those who run our transport systems and who service us in many ways. It is they who, if they are not already adequately housed, are struggling to meet the cost demands of all sorts of housing in our region. I know of people in our churches with children who are in despair because they cannot afford the housing costs in Surrey. I am certain that that is true in many other parts of the region as well.
There have been many and various estimates of what the actual housing need is. Many of them talk in terms of 800,000 or more houses. No doubt there will be considerable debate around such figures. I suggest that it is not enough to approach this challenge simply by thinking in terms of finding brownfield sites and building houses on them. Yes, indeed, we need to use our precious land appropriately. But houses are homes for people. People have many needs if their lives are to have security and hope. Good schools and churches, community facilities, leisure opportunities, transport and a clean environment, local shops and services are necessary. When we build houses, we are either building community or destroying it.
One of the features of life for people in the South East is stress. Huge demands are made on people and families to meet the challenges of growth and development. If we do not build houses with a view to building homes and communities, we shall simply be adding to that stress. Building houses on brown field sites solves nothing if we do not address what homes should mean for people in their humanity.
I came to Surrey over five years ago from South Yorkshire. I observed one thing in common between the derelict sites of South Yorkshire and the wealthy estates in some parts of Surrey. It was not that both had inadequate street lighting. It was also that none had any community facilities, except possibly golf courses. There were no shops, no schools, no places of meeting, no financial services. There were just houses with people locked in them.
If we are to have the levels of development in the South East such as have been talked about in this House today, then we must not make those mistakes. As we develop housing in our region, we need a mixed economy of housing and the issue of affordability must be addressed. But we need to ensure also that when we build houses, we build homes. I believe that in building homes, we are building communities for our future where people care for one another. Only by such means can we begin to meet the moral and spiritual demands of this issue.
We must not allow this matter to sink into a political argument about numbers. We must address the issue of what housing means and begin to do something about it at this moment of development.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Carnarvon for allowing us the 1141 opportunity to debate this most fundamental of issues today. I declare my interest as a commercial and residential landlord in London.
There is a chronic shortage of temporary and permanent accommodation for single people in London. The system is silted up from top to bottom. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has drawn attention, as have previous speakers, to the high rents in London. I want to concentrate on that special area.
There is a shelter for young homeless people in Berwick Street. Five years ago, young people who were homeless were allowed to stay for a maximum of 10 days before moving on to more appropriate accommodation. Last year, one young person was there for more than 150 days. That is 10 times more than the architect had in mind when he built the place.
Moreover, many young people are being put into inappropriate bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Elderly single homeless people are being put into supported accommodation and are staying there and staying there. Therefore, no new people are able to use that very important facility because the people there are not moving on.
There is a street shelter for 15 to 16 to 25 year-olds in Soho. Young people are allowed into their rooms on their own only at ten o'clock at night. Some of those young people are extremely troubled and the staff do not wish them to harm themselves. Each room is shared with one other occupant. During their time in the hostel, they will have very little time for any privacy.
There is a great mix of young people. The short-term homeless are either at risk of permanent homelessness or they have been on the streets for a few nights. Even so, some have had experience of being in a psychiatric hospital, residential care home or prison before coming onto the streets. Others are asylum seekers who were previously happy until they faced that traumatic experience of war.
For example, I saw one young asylum seeker working at her homework the other day. Another resident said to her, "What are you doing that for? What is the point of doing that? I have never studied and I do not see the point of it". That hostel is designed as a clearing house and it should be used for that purpose. There should be accommodation to which those young people can move.
Young people at risk are being put in Bamp;Bs. They are being put into bed and breakfasts in Earls Court. It may be the intention that they are there only for a month but there have been cases when they have been there for eight months. The accommodation is overcrowded and filthy. There is inadequate security and a high level of theft by other residents. Young people who may have been in residential care or prison are staying there. They are given £40 a week from which they are supposed to pay for take-aways. It must be a great temptation to return to crime.
Facilities for older single homeless people are extremely valuable. Many older homeless people have low-level mental health needs which go unrecognized 1142 by the statutory authorities. There is a single homeless project providing 500 beds in London which has available a psychiatric nurse who can advise on appropriate treatment for those people. But if beds are not made vacant, then the new people who need that help will not receive it.
I recognise that planning for housing in London is now the mayor's responsibility. Will the Minister undertake to convey my concern and that of other noble Lords about the need for low-cost rented accommodation in London?
My other concern is a strategic one. Some time ago, I lived for 16 to 18 months by a housing estate—one of the largest housing estates in Europe—in south London. I have worked with young people from housing estates, organising activities and excursions for them on several occasions over periods of three weeks or so.
There is now £19 billion of repairs needed to be made to social housing. How did we come to that pass? What is to prevent us from returning to it? We need to bear in mind the figures produced by the Rowntree report on social exclusion. The problem is worsening. Between 1995 and 1998, the numbers on very low incomes rose from 4.3 million to 5 million. So the poorest of the poor are becoming poorer.
Primary school children are becoming increasingly polarised in schools with very high numbers on free school meals compared with schools where few of the pupils are on free school meals. So child poverty seems to have become increasingly polarised in particular primary schools. Society is changing. It may be that we cannot now talk of the privileged few but we have the affluent majority, the privileged many. The danger is that the experience of politicians and the public will diverge greatly from those who are socially excluded. The very welcome policies now being put in place will not be seen through to completion. The general public will not demand that; they are busy with their own business. The socially excluded are in a minority. Many do not vote. Many vote only one way and so perhaps their vote is disregarded. Fewer and fewer politicians come from working-class areas. That was an issue raised earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. As I said, it reflects the way in which society is changing.
While it is good that people are better off and can expect more from life than they did in the past, we must have regard to the side effects of that affluence. The experience of the underprivileged is less well represented. At the moment we are living in an exceptional time. After many years of a Conservative administration we now have a Labour government. The Chancellor has a large war chest. However, what will happen when the economy takes a downward turn? What will happen when the expected reaction against the many positive interventions currently being made by this Government takes place?
How can we sustain these improvements? Can we achieve an all-party and national consensus that those who are socially excluded should receive the help they need? I make that point in this debate because if the 1143 excluded do not receive the help they need, I am concerned that the low-rent, social housing we are discussing today will, over time, degenerate. Even if that housing is well designed—which was not the case in the past—if people are neglected, their communities tend to degenerate and their homes degenerate along with them. I agree with the right reverend Prelate when he pointed out that it is not enough to have merely bricks and mortar; communities and stable homes are also of vital importance. I am concerned that we may lose touch with the grass-roots experience of people living in sink estates.
My father had an answer to the problem of how to sustain the momentum. He would recall the absentee landlords of Ireland in the 19th century—my forebears. They lived away from Ireland during the famine. They would send over a few pennies to support the starving farmers. My father would say that if those landlords had spent more time on their estates, perhaps they would have paid more attention to the needs of their tenant farmers. My father worked in Toynbee Hall and brought that experience to bear on his opinions, like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who also has important experience of working with the socially excluded. My father would say that we must ensure that we acquaint ourselves personally with those on the margins and that we must understand their experience of daily life.
recall once being taken by four or five primary school children to watch their home being demolished. They had lived in a tower block on a Deptford housing estate. The blocks were destroyed because of their poor architecture, but we must be careful that we do not make even more mistakes which could lead to a similar experience in 20 years' time from now.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, it is a joy and a pleasure to speak once again in a debate on housing. We have too few of them. We are indebted to the noble Earl for having been successful, lucky and fortunate in securing the time. In the life of a Parliament, time is the most important commodity. Sadly, however, the House is not as full as it has been on other occasions when debating different topics.
We have heard several powerful speeches and I should like to congratulate all contributors. Speakers have brought their own experiences to bear on their contributions and we have some powerful lessons to learn from them.
My experience lies in having been a Member of Parliament for the constituency of Edmonton. For 10 years, the "flavour of the month" at constituency surgeries was housing problems. Although issues regarding education and pensions were often raised, concerns somehow always returned to housing. My successor, Andy Love, who is a first-class constituency Member of Parliament, last week told me that housing continues to be the primary reason why his constituents come to see him. Without wanting to cause offence to anyone, I would say simply that unless one sits in an M P's surgery every two weeks or perhaps 1144 even more frequently, listening—I did it not because I had to, but because I wanted to—to the accounts of lives made wretched as a result of poor housing, one cannot understand the problems.
Many of the problems concerned council housing, some concerned private sector housing, but also many problems stemmed from having no housing at all. That certainly was the case in the 1970s. Perhaps it is a little different today. Having heard such stories, I would sometimes cry as I left my constituency. As I have said, many people led truly wretched lives.
I now have the pleasure of living in Loughton, a place not unfamiliar to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, who well knows that it is a completely different place from Edmonton. Nevertheless, even in a place like Loughton, there are pockets where the housing provision is wretched.
The noble Earl has provided the House with an opportunity to assist the Government. I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Whitty and his ministerial colleagues that they would be doing the nation a service if they sought to raise up in the political agenda the need for more and better housing. I do not want to make a political point here, because that would not get us anywhere. However, I sense that there is within the Government a commitment to do something about housing, a commitment perhaps driven more by the points covered so well by the right reverend Prelate, who said that we should not become bogged down in political dogma or statistics. It is people who matter.
I am not competent to argue the exact figures; those who want to do that are entitled so to do. I look upon the question of housing provision as a matter of giving ordinary people—poor people—a better opportunity to lead a good life.
The opening statement in the document produced by the Government entitled Quality and Choice: A decent home for all says:Our aim is to offer everyone the opportunity of a decent home and so promote social cohesion, well-being and self-dependence. This Green Paper sets out our strategy for housing covering housing policies and links with our broader social agenda in England and Housing Benefit in Great Britain".I do not believe that there is any Member of this House who would not want to see that become a reality one day. Those who, like myself almost 40 years ago, have been leaders in a London borough realise that however hard we struggle this will always be a problem.
In my view, what is needed is political will. It would not be impossible for the Government to spend twice as much money as they do now on subvention to the Housing Corporation and to ensure that that money is spent more effectively than it has been in the past. Nothing need stop that except for political will. Any issue can be prioritised and raised in importance.
I am not criticising this Government or any other administration for deciding to keep housing at its present level in the political agenda. When I was active in local politics, the issues were housing, education, pensions, transport, hospitals and the health service. We should not forget that housing remained at the top of the list of social needs. Furthermore, we should 1145 remember that this is National Housing Week, during which an attempt is being made to focus on the problems we face.
I should like to congratulate the Deputy Prime Minister on, in effect, sticking his neck out and producing a set of targets for housing. I repeat that I am not competent to comment on whether those targets are right or wrong, but it is right that we should set specific aims to focus on and strive for. I read in today's newspapers that certain councils have objected to the fact that they are being asked to extend their provision; one region has been asked to build 162,000 units, but it wants only 146,000. Quite frankly, although I respect the fact that individual regions have studied the problems and know what they are talking about—I respect, too, the professionals who are involved in housing—the precise figures do not turn me on at all.
When I was active in this sphere, the great aim was to move people out of the slums and into decent homes. The panacea of the day was the tower block. If my memory serves me correctly, it was possible to produce twice the density of housing by using tower blocks rather than semi-detached houses, which could yield only 70 to 80 habitable rooms per acre. I recall an occasion when a tower block was opened by my late and very good friend Bob Mellish, then Minister for Housing. The tenants cried. They were overjoyed that they were going to be given their own flats—perhaps on the 17th floor of Angell House in Edmonton. They would pay the rent, whatever it was; those tenants were happy that they were going to get a place of their own. I have seen times when tenants have been angry: sometimes at the behaviour of other tenants but, in the main, at the lack of planning for the community in which they lived. We can learn from those times.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, talked with a great deal of passion and common sense. She hit a nail on the head when she said that people want to be involved; they want to participate in the management or the ownership of where they live.
I have statistics from Shelter which show that at the end of March this year the average cost of a house in the capital was £163,317, an increase of 23 per cent on the same period in 1999. The average weekly private rent for a two-bedroom property in London is £285. I found that hard to believe, but I have to believe those figures.
I realise that wages and salaries have changed, but I talk about those ordinary people—young couples starting out without a hand-out, such as a home inherited from a deceased parent or grandparent—for whom the enormity of the gap is daunting. The greatest aid they could receive from the Government, besides money, is a sense that the Government want to solve the problem. It is a matter of political will, and I hope very much that they will do it.
In the period 1992 to 1999, the funding available to registered social landlords to provide affordable housing was halved. Registered social landlords (RSLs) built fewer than 3,200 new homes in the 1146 capital. That is a derisory figure and is a result of the fact that the money made available to them was cut in half. I hope that my noble friend Lord Whitty can tell us the good news that he intends to double the present figure. I cannot see him shake his head. Yes, I can, but it is going the wrong way: he is confirming that he cannot say that, even if he might want to say it!
As noble Lords may know, I am the chairman of a body called the United Kingdom Co-operative Council. We think that co-operative housing has a great deal to offer in terms of a solution, by providing the opportunity for tenant management which is meaningful; namely, people having a say not only in the kind of house they occupy but the kind of community in which they live. I should like to see that extended.
Looking at what the Government are trying to do, I see in the Green Paper a reference to,tackling cowboy builders and increasing confidence in the industry amongst consumers by developing a Quality Mark scheme".We have gone beyond the point where we were clearing hundreds of thousands of slums; we are now in the position of trying to improve both the quality of housing and the quality of life of the people living in it. I certainly applaud the Government's intention to try to give value for money in a great many of the things they are trying to do in housing. It is an enormous task but a worthy one for a Labour Government to tackle, and I wish the Minister well.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Oakeshott on his excellent maiden speech. As a councillor for many years, the point touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton—namely, the heartbreak of casework, of people with housing problems—will resonate with him. The passion which he brings to this subject and which he has shown this afternoon is a result of that experience.
It is particularly welcome that we have someone with housing and planning expertise joining us on these Benches at a time when my noble friend Lady Hamwee will inevitably be somewhat involved in dealing with these issues on the GLA.
I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for introducing this debate. Given his immense expertise and experience both on SERPLAN and on Hampshire County Council, I would have some trepidation in trying to wind up a debate introduced by him.
I am very heartened by the contributions to the debate. I was slightly nervous, given its title, that we might have a regional, parochial debate about how people did not want housing in the South East and that it could go anywhere else. The debate has not turned out to be anything like that.
The Government must take on board the comments made that this is a case for a robust regional policy. While the South East remains the economic magnet of this country, its housing problems, and increasingly 1147 those of adjoining areas will magnify. The areas of the North will simply be places to leave. In such a scenario, housing policy will never cope.
Housing policy follows jobs; it should follow jobs. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford pointed to the need also for well-planned communities where people wish to live in the housing provided.
Providing a decent infrastructure is the responsibility of government. This Government have clearly said that they wish to devolve more responsibility for assessing housing need, and planning how to meet that need, to local authorities. That is welcome and all very well; but the macro environment that drives demand, or the lack of it, has to remain the responsibility of the Government. One has only to look at such issues as investment in regional airports, train links, and all sorts of infrastructure, to see why there are areas of this country where housing, far from being unaffordable as it is in London, can barely be given away.
The sort of pilot that the Government are running in the North West and the North East to allow the social housing grant to contribute to wider regeneration of an area is a start but a rather back-to-front one because many other requirements have not yet been met.
Many speakers have touched on the lessons from the past—of post-war council houses built as ghettos on their own, and swathes of large executive homes on the edges of towns and villages, also built on their own, leaving city centres abandoned. The lesson we have learned from that is that mixed housing is very important.
There is, however, a very marked reluctance on the part of the private sector to become involved in a mixed housing economy. Any requirement to include social housing—the noble Lady, Baroness Hanham, touched on these points—it often tries to avoid. If that is not possible such housing will tend to be put in the most sunless corner of the site or the area nearest the road so as not to affect the sale of private houses. If mixed housing developments are designed so as to "ghettoise" the social housing, nothing will be gained in terms of community.
Many speakers have said that the additional homes we should be building must be affordable. The Government have still not given a definition of affordability. This not only applies to the rented sector; it also means what is affordable for people trying to purchase houses.
Will the Minister confirm the figure cited by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, that there is a target of 40 per cent? My noble friend Lord Oakeshott pointed out that, to the best of his knowledge, the target is substantially lower.
Many people do want to get onto the housing ladder and buy their own home. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, pointed out the value of schemes like the DIYSO scheme, which has enabled people to start on the ladder. Shared ownership is one way to lessen the divide between the rented sector and the purchased sector.
1148 How can we make better use of brownfield sites? That is another issue which has been widely debated. How much progress have the Government made with the scheme mentioned in Planning for the Communities of the Future, which they published in February 1998? Their stated intention was to set up, as a high priority, a national land use database, with the aim of establishing which brownfield sites could be recycled. Are the Government content with the speed at which brownfield sites are being recycled?
Solutions to many of the questions raised in the debate were well presented in the excellent report by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, Towards an Urban Renaissance. I do not believe that we have debated the report. Not to do so would be a loss to this House. Through the use of satellite pictures, the report shows the extent of housing sprawl across the country. It shows, more graphically than any other means I can think of, the reason why we need to contain housing. It also spells out brilliantly how we might begin to revive our cities and large towns by creating places that are desirable to live in.
Perhaps I may quote from the recommendations in the report, which come under the heading, "Sustaining the Renaissance"—and we have not yet arrived at renaissance. The report states:A balanced national economy will allow for more even distribution of economic opportunity and income within cities, between cities and between regions. Key social indicators, such as educational achievement, health, crime and poverty, will have improved".Many noble Lords touched on the point that housing is not a subject unto itself and that we must move away from the point where housing is considered simply in land use terms, divorced from other issues.
The recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Rogers, on how to achieve a desirable urban environment in which to live and bring up children are not a pipe-dream. But such schemes require adequate investment. They require a planning system that can be imaginative and responsive to the needs of communities, rather than one that is driven by the fear of appeals. If local authorities are free to deliver housing that is fit for the 21st century, they must be free to negotiate the kind of planning gains, in consultation with their communities following exercises such as Planning for Real, which can produce a community response on the kind of housing and development that people want to see. Local authorities need to be able to assemble land for development, using compulsory purchase orders that do not rely solely on the economic case. They need to be able to present the wider case. They need also to be able to remove greenfield sites from development plans it they are able to look again at brownfield sites. Local authorities can do a huge amount, but only if they are free to deliver.
Finally, I have to say from these Benches how thoroughly disappointing the Green Paper was in finding no new resources to address the chronic lack of affordable housing. We agree that the freeing up of councils' capital receipts is an extremely good step forward. Encouraging stock transfer as a means of 1149 bringing in private investment is another way in which some goals can be achieved. Nevertheless, the Government should not begin to imagine that a substantial amount of affordable housing can be delivered, or that the huge backlog of repairs for social rented housing and sub-standard housing can be addressed in the absence of any new resources. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to say whether in the foreseeable future some of the Government's "war chest" is likely to be redirected towards affordable housing.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, first, I must declare an interest as a farmer and landowner in the county of Essex, where the possibility of land coming up for development is an ever-present reality.
This House must be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for once again focusing our attention on the issue of development in the South East. This a vexing and thorny issue and will undoubtedly continue to be a matter of controversy for the foreseeable future, and even beyond. There is presently a serious difference of opinion between the Secretary of State, who has overall responsibility for strategic planning matters in the region, and many of the local authorities which are responsible for implementation. The noble Earl has unparalleled expertise and experience in dealing with the subject.
It is a pleasure also to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, who is yet another Member with long and intimate experience of local government. When I first came to this House, local government was not strongly represented. I am glad that in the intervening years that matter has been put right.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, began his remarks with a discussion of a report published in 1972. I was struck by how immensely familiar the content of the report was. Indeed, if it were merely redated, it could have been written today. If one thought that that was all that had happened, one might become rather depressed and assume that society had learnt nothing in the intervening years.
In fact, many local authorities across the region have had very successful development plans, and those plans have produced communities. I well remember when, in Essex, we were opening a major education project every 10 days in order to provide school facilities for the new communities that were coming onstream. In the same period, shopping centres and libraries were being built, and other services, such as the police and the fire services, were being expanded, together with the necessary communications infrastructure.
It is true that, in those days, estate development tended to comprise only one type of housing. However, if we look at more recent projects, we see good, integrated estate development going on—required by planning authorities. So we do not have cause for absolute gloom, although the problems are 1150 always with us. I do not think that we shall find a solution today. I sympathise with the Minister to the extent that we might be able to have exactly the same debate in 2015!
In the past, we have seen huge investment in regional expenditure and strategy in an attempt to attract housing and employment to other parts of the country. That has been successful to a degree. However, what it has not done is reduce the "honey-pot" effect of the South East. The South East is the engine that pulls the national train—and I am bound to say that we cannot afford to stop that engine.
The background to this debate has been exposed to public discussion for many months. As we have heard, SERPLAN, the South East's regional planning body, representing all the south-eastern planning authorities, published its report in anticipation of new planning guidance from the Government. The report was examined in detail by government-appointed inspectors during May and June last year. Their examination was followed by a controversial report from the inspectors which this House debated on a Motion introduced by the noble Earl in November last year. Now, six months later, we have the opportunity, again on a Motion tabled by the noble Earl, to debate the Government's conclusions and recommendations, which were announced in March.
It comes as no surprise that the Government have satisfied very few members of local government, whose views had already been voiced through the original SERPLAN report; nor have the Government brought immense pleasure to the communities in the region because this is an extremely sensitive matter. Public expectations are intimately involved, and there is a very real concern about maintaining the quality of life in the region as a whole. One could have an argument as to whether it is possible to satisfy the community in this matter; personally, I doubt whether it is. It has always been my experience of life that the most passionate objectors to phase three of a development are those who move in during phase two.
I draw attention to three particular points. First, the Government are depending on achieving a high proportion of their development on brownfield sites in order to reduce the land-take in other areas and justify what are perceived to be very high allocations. Even disregarding the question of whether this faster building rate they are targeting is actually achievable, they have done nothing until now to create a real incentive to encourage such urban brownfield regeneration.
We have heard again today about the difficulties that result from the fact that new houses do not have VAT attached to them while repairs and renovations to existing buildings do. In effect, that is a 17.5 per cent financial disincentive against urban renewal and redevelopment in inner-city areas. The case has been argued in this House on other occasions, and I thought that the principle had been accepted. However, the Government have still not found it possible to do anything. It remains the fact, however, that for so long as these matters are ignored, there will continue to be 1151 pressure for greenfield sites to be allocated for development because they can provide cheaper housing, they are generally easier to develop, and they can be brought forward more quickly.
If the Government are really serious about this matter, they could perhaps even go further than the VAT question and create specific regimes of taxation for brownfield developments to provide real incentives for developers to overcome the hurdles of land reclamation costs with all the high risks than can be involved. That is hugely important in this region where we have about 30 per cent of the national population, but only about 7 per cent of the national supply of brown field land.
My second point concerns the practicality of confirming the house building targets for the next five years only. I accept that one can never be certain about the housing market. The only thing one has to say about the existing level of the housing market is that it would not be at that level if people could not afford it. It is people who make house prices what they are, and one has to supply housing within that. As the opportunities for small in-fill sites across the region have disappeared under relentless pressure over the years, increasingly one is looking for large new developments.
Finally, I come to the matter of social housing—it is vital for the development of a proper community—and to the question of affordable housing. I was depressed to hear the matter of Section 106 agreements being described as "bribes" to the planning authority to obtain planning permission. The fact of the matter is that Section 106 agreements on large developments can make a really major contribution to the availability of social housing at no cost to the authority at all because, in effect, the cost is loaded on to the rest of the development. The virtue of Section 106 agreements is that they retain in the community that generates the demand the benefits, such as social housing, which also go with development.
We have had a good debate. The right reverend Prelate touched a chord with me when he began by saying that homes are more than houses. He is, of course, absolutely correct, but one cannot have a home at all if one does not have a house.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, for initiating this debate. I think that the range of opinions expressed has indicated its importance. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott—whether he is writing his own speeches, or delivering the speeches he has written I should say—for it is not everybody who can find a text from 1972 and recycle it; I know that I could not. His knowledge of housing, and many other areas, will bring lucidity and calm in the face of what amounted to robustness in your Lordships' House as he rose to speak. I appreciate that he has experienced robustness of different sorts at various stages in his career., so I expect he can put up with that.
Things have moved on considerably since we debated this issue on 15th December, again at the instigation of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon. We are 1152 in the middle of consulting on our proposed changes to the draft regional planning guidance for the South East, one of the first to be prepared under this Government's new process. Therefore, we are at a delicate but important stage.
Stepping back from the RPG, it was opportune for my noble friend Lady Uddin and the right reverend Prelate in particular, to remind us of the importance of housing, as it covers every aspect of our yes, our security, our life chances, our health and the nature of the communities in which we live. The Government's vision on housing is guided by central principles of sustainability, economically and physically, and also as socialists. It is the spatial dimension of that approach to housing that is reflected in the regional planning guidance. As the noble Lord implied, I think we share this vision largely with SERPLAN and the Regional Planning Conference for the South East. It is a vision that is based very firmly on the principles of sustainable development.
The social aspect of housing was emphasised by my noble friend Lady Uddin, who made particular reference to the situation in Tower Hamlets. But throughout the South East and London enormous problems still remain in relation to housing of various descriptions. There are deep social problems Those problems have not improved hugely over the past 20 years. Therefore, one of the key issues is housing for the future. There are those who say that the figures that even SERPLAN, Professor Crow and the Government are producing means concreting over the South East. That is not the case. It is not the Government or SERPLAN that are putting pressure on the South East. The economic pressure is there; the demographic pressure is there; the pressure of migration is there already. The important question is how we manage it.
The housing needs in the South East outside London derive, in very large part, from the needs of the people who are already in the region as well as these additional pressures. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, there are very serious external pressures on the housing market within London, much of them international. They affect the prices and the whole nature of property development so that almost every property in London is now described as a luxury flat and is beyond the reach of many middle-income families. She is absolutely right. That has its knock-on effect down the property market, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, indicated, when we come to look at the relatively poor provision of accommodation for young single people in our capital.
In the context of SERPLAN, we have proposed an annual increase of 43,000 homes outside London and 23,000 inside Greater London. The regional guidance process that we have adopted leads to an agreed regional target for net additional dwellings SERPLAN's estimate, which was subject to public consultation and examination, was reassessed by the panel chaired by Professor Crow. We agree that a figure above SERPLAN's estimate is necessary but not as high as that suggested by Professor Crow. In implementing the new approach we have proposed an 1153 annual rate of growth for ongoing development. That will be reviewed at least every five years but sooner if there are signs of major over- or under-provision. We have also had to consider in this context how the provision should be distributed across the South East. We are not satisfied that a pro rata housing distribution based on SERPLAN's proposals is appropriate, which is why we have not put forward such a distribution in our proposed changes, Instead, we have put forward an illustrative distribution and invited comment on how it can better reflect the spatial strategy. I hope that SERPLAN will be able to respond positively to that dimension of our proposals.
I turn to the situation in London itself. The adoption of a planned, monitored and managed approach with the provision of 23,000 additional dwellings per year in London is very much in line with what the London Planning Advisory Committee believed could be achieved. As the noble Earl indicated, in view of the new local government structure in London we shall need to give careful consideration to the views of the mayor. It is very important that the social housing dimension of the mayor's planning responsibilities is co-ordinated with that of the London Boroughs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, implied, to see how the overall level of provision should be distributed and delivered within London. The mayor will want to keep under regular review both the housing requirement and the capacity to meet it.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton pointed to the problems in the area of social housing and called for additional resources. We have provided no less than £5 billion. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, regarded that as not real money, but those funds were not previously available for this purpose and are now being deployed on a priority basis for the improvement of the housing stock, principally local authority housing.
With regard to brownfield land, we strongly support the strategy of SERPLAN for an urban renaissance that focuses development on existing urban areas and brownfield sites throughout the region. We have set a recycling target of 60 per cent which is underpinned by our new policy guidance PPG3. I accept that there are problems in connection with recycling land in the South East and elsewhere, but we believe that there is substantial land available. As to the urban parts of the South East and London itself, the Urban Task Force has set a number of objectives which will be turned into a White Paper later in the year. We have also recently published a draft strategy for neighbourhood renewal. All of this has a bearing on how we mobilise the brownfield sites that are already available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether the database on brownfield sites had worked. I can assure the noble Baroness that the results of our first survey have been published. The survey represents an audit as of two years ago of land available for recycling, and that will be updated next year.
1154 The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about VAT in relation to brownfield sites. Regrettably, that is a matter for the Chancellor, not me. Nevertheless, the Chancellor has said that, where appropriate, he will consider the use of economic measures to underpin urban policy. That is where the matter lies at present. A number of proposals have been put forward for changing the VAT regime and perhaps equalising the rate. The Chancellor will be looking at these and other suggestions in the fiscal field by the task force headed by the noble Lord, Lord Rogers.
Research shows that often local authorities underestimate urban capacity in their areas. That tends to reinforce existing restrictive planning policy rather than contribute to urban renaissance. Part of that issue is density. In the South East we have been building at some of the lowest densities in the whole country. On the one hand, many say that land is so precious that we cannot build on it as many houses as we need; on the other hand, local authorities and developers make little attempt to build more economically and provide lower density housing, let alone affordable or social housing. This means that to meet housing requirements one uses far more land than is necessary.
We need to plan for a wider range of housing, more smaller units and less lavish provision for the car in residential layouts. We also need to look at more sustainable patterns of development and movement. This is not a call for what some refer to as town planning; on the contrary, it is a call for an urban renaissance and more efficient use of land in town, suburb and country. Many local authorities are beginning to heed that call in a very creative way in both the South East and London. In the case of the latter local authorities have led the way on the basis of the work of the London Planning Advisory Committee. We place even greater emphasis than SERPLAN on better urban design and layout. As the right reverend Prelate indicated, it is very important that in the urban renaissance we regard housing as provision for the totality of the community, not simply the physical provision of housing and housing sites. In the urban renaissance we need to provide for the wider community. There is a clear element of design and build in this. Recently we published further guidance on this matter in the document By Design—Urban Design in the Planning System: Towards Better Practice. The noble Earl and others expressed concern about the difficulties in implementing the broadly-agreed strategy, in particular the mechanisms available to local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, rightly, that there had been much good practice in local authorities in past decades in providing effective and often affordable housing. We seek to strengthen the ability of local authorities to achieve a more balanced housing provision in their areas. Some of the main delivery mechanisms range from new measures to ensure that there is affordable housing—I shall mention those in a moment—to possible new CPO powers and financial incentives. Those matters are being examined at national level in the context of 1155 overall policy. It is unrealistic to expect them to be reflected in a particular RPG, but they are being addressed.
As the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, we have recently published revised guidance on housing in PPG3. In addition, we have recently produced a White Paper on housing which provides a way forward, despite the disappointment expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. As to that, I have already addressed the issue of resources. We are also looking at how compulsory purchase powers can assist regeneration initiatives. We are using some of the £5 billion referred to earlier in particular to regenerate areas of local authority housing, and the forthcoming urban White Paper will clarify policy and other mechanisms to achieve an urban renaissance. In parallel, in July we shall announce a 10-year transport strategy and, later in the year, a rural White Paper which will be important milestones in the delivery of RPG. In particular, we are putting forward proposals in the South East for a new strategic partnership in the Thames Gateway area. We believe that that is an important contribution to the attempt to deal with pressures in the South East.
As to affordable housing, I hear the concerns of noble Lords on all sides about the problem of delivering the appropriate proportion of affordable housing. There are already very robust provisions in planning policy which allow local authorities to seek affordable housing as part of residential developments on suitable sites. That is an important tool which is available to local authorities. The proposed changes will emphasise the need for local authorities to undertake a rigorous assessment of housing need to ensure that sufficient affordable homes are provided.
There is a case for more flexibility in planning for affordable housing in parts of the South East, and PPG3 and the housing Green Paper provide a lead on this. For the purposes of planning policy, while definitions in this area can be fuzzy, affordable housing is low-cost market and subsidised housing that is available to people who cannot afford to rent or buy houses that are generally available on the open market. That definition is deliberately wide in order that local circumstances can be met. Local authorities are able to seek an element of such housing to be provided on all sites of 25 dwellings or one hectare or more. Thresholds are lower in inner London and, exceptionally, may be lower elsewhere.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked whether there was a 40 per cent target for the whole of the South East. In line with our general approach, an overall affordable housing target is considered inappropriate. Nevertheless, an indicator has been included in the Government's proposals that an annual average of 18,000 to 19,000 houses be provided within the total figure for the South East outside London. However, in order to contribute to that, specific targets should be made locally. Broadly for the period as a whole, the figures add up to those mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. However, as I said, as part of that requirement we want local 1156 authorities to make an assessment of their local housing needs and their ability to provide affordable housing.
Of course, it is true that questions of balance arise between the regions in this respect and the south-east region is under particular pressure. It is not so true, as is often alleged, and as, I believe, may have been implied by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the problems in the South East relate to those of low economic performance in the other regions of England. The migration from the rest of the South East is net outwards from all other regions except London. The migratory pressure on the South East comes almost exclusively from London. The movement from regions outside London into the rest of the South East and, indeed, even into London itself is relatively small.
However, it is important that the new regional instruments in each of the regions address the pressure on housing as well as they do on the rest of infrastructure. Therefore, I agree totally with the noble Baroness that these matters must be considered together by all regions so that a compatible approach can be produced across the board.
Perhaps I may return to the SERPLAN figures. I hope that we shall be able to consider this matter maturely and reach a cross-institutional and cross-party consensus on what is a most important issue for the whole of the South East, including London. We hope that SERPLAN will consider the implications of simply reverting to its original numbers. I believe that to do so would be to ignore part of the process that has taken place since those figures were produced and put at risk some of the key elements of the economy of the South East and London. In particular, it would not address the problem of the lack of suitable housing for those who already live or need to work in the South East, in particular those examples referred to in the debate, such as teachers, nurses and so on. We can make more effective use of urban and brownfield land in meeting those targets.
However, I agree totally with the noble Earl that the vision for the South East can be achieved only through a co-ordinated partnership. The Government's proposals for the South East set out clear guidance to local authorities on preparing development. They also identify a number of mechanisms which, between us, we can bring into play on this matter. For our part, the Secretary of State will give serious consideration to comments which we shall receive shortly on an official basis from SERPLAN, including comments on the housing figures, before we decide finally whether to make further changes to the RPG.
We want to resolve the problems of pressure on the housing market and the social consequences that they create. I can assure my noble friend Lord Graham that we give a high priority to housing improvements and housing policy generally. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is not literally accurate in saying that the arguments and the situation at present are precisely the same as they were in 1972. I do not believe that they are. For some people the situation is better; 1157 for some, it is worse. However, there are elements of continuity. With all due respect to the noble Lord, I certainly hope that he is wrong when he says that we shall be having the same debate (at least, I hope that he and I will not be having the same debate) in the year 2015, although my noble friend Lord Graham may well be!
As a government, we are committed to tackling the housing problem. We are committed to putting in place effective and consensual planning arrangements region by region. Probably the first in which we have encountered problems is in many respects the most difficult. However, we hope that we can resolve the issues between ourselves, SERPLAN, the local authorities and the other key players in the South East.
Again, I thank the noble Earl for initiating this debate and thank all other noble Lords who have contributed.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ The Earl of Carnarvon
My Lords, I believe that the debate began at 3.7 p.m. Therefore, I have approximately 90 seconds in which to reply. I believe that it produced a very important message to both SERPLAN and the Government: that strategic planning for housing is about not only numbers but, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said, it is about homes. He changed the word "houses" to "homes", and I thoroughly agree with and underline what he said. "Homes" mean community facilities, transportation, leisure and affordability.
With regard to affordability, the point was made—again, I underline this—that that means affordability for renting and for buying. I referred to the five-bedroomed houses in Tower Hamlets, built by the Asian housing association, which rent at £85 per week. When I visited Tower Hamlets I was struck by figures which seemed to me quite incredible. The average earned wage in that area is £600 per week, but one-third of the ratepayers of Tower Hamlets have a yearly income of under £10,000. That is an incredible diversity.
I believe that this has been a useful debate. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.