HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc456-8W
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a further statement about the work of the Action Group on London Housing.

Mr. Channon

The action group has recently presented its third interim report on the London housing situation. Copies are available in the Library and are today being sent to London members and local authorities.

In its second interim report published last August the action group said that it would be following up the land availability survey carried out by the London authorities at the group's request. This has taken the form of visits to 14 of the London boroughs. These visits have provided the occasion for wide-ranging and frank discussions of the housing problems facing individual authorities, the policies being pursued to meet these problems and what more could be done to meet the particular needs of both individual authorities and equally important those of London as a whole. The opportunity has also been taken to revise and update the land availability returns made by those authorities.

In its third interim report the group presents revised land availability figures, comments upon the outcome of its visits. and gives its latest assessment of the London housing situation.

The most encouraging feature of the report is the announcement that since publication of the second interim report, additional land sufficient for some 24,400 dwellings has been identified as firmly available over the 10-year period 1972–81. Of this total some 15,600 dwellings are likely to be available in the critical period 1972–75; this has reduced the shortage of land needed to maintain the essential level of building required in the period from 32,000 to 16,400 dwellings. Since only half of the returns have so far been revised and updated, it is reasonable to expect that further gains will follow as the work progresses. The group also notes that further land gains can be expected from the study of the green belt presently being conducted at the invitation of my right hon. and learned Friend by the Standing Conference on London and South East Planning; this study, aimed at identifying areas from which 2,000 acres can quickly be made available without harm to basic green belt policies, meets a request by the group in its second interim report. The group also notes that the pressure to secure the release of the surplus land holdings of Government Departments and the nationalised industries has resulted in an improved supply of land from these sources.

The group reports that following its visits there is an increasing awareness among the outer London boroughs of the necessity to provide assistance to inner London and a greater willingness to do so. This is reflected in the increase in the number of authorities which are seeking to step up the rate of construction, both of rented accommodation and building for sale.

For the future the group will continue to monitor progress to ensure that the policy of co-operation that it has been advocating and which is beginning to show results works within a reasonable period. But increasingly it intends to turn its attention to the growing problems of older housing and the policies that are followed by London authorities in meeting this problem. The group has already met me to discuss the proposals in the recent White Paper "Better Homes: The Next Priorities" and it intends in the autumn to commence a further round of visits to London authorities concentrating on this issue.

The group's report comments on a number of issues that are of concern, both to the London housing authorities and to the Department. Whilst land availability appears to be assuming a lesser importance, other constraints may be becoming of greater importance. Perhaps the most important of these is the difficulties London authorities are presently facing in letting municipal contracts. An urgent inquiry is therefore being undertaken by the National Building Agency into the problems of public sector contracting in London.

The group also raises the question of the yardstick system, on which we are presently considering the representations of the local authority associations, and the current delays in arranging inquiries into compulsory purchase orders. On the latter point a drive to recruit additional inspectors has met with some success.

Finally, the group expresses concern at the growth of homelessness. I share its concern and I hope that action at present being taken, in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and the London Boroughs Association, to increase the effectiveness of the measures taken to prevent homelessness and to improve the lot of those who are homeless will prove effective.

I welcome the group's report and am glad to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the valuable and constructive work that it has undertaken over the past year. But many problems remain to be solved and a constant continuing effort on the part of all London authorities is required.