§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress he has made in his discussions with local authority associations and other bodies concerned about public expenditure on housing; and whether he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Freeson
I had a full and constructive discussion on Tuesday 3rd August with representatives of the Association of District Councils, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the London Boroughs Association and the Greater London Council about the next steps that will be needed in relation to public expenditure on housing in 1977–78. I explained to the associations that it was necessary both to compensate for the prospective overspending on housebuilding and on subsidies, and to make a contribution to the overall cut of £1,000 million in public expenditure. This meant that in addition to reintroducing controls over public sector house-building, other housing investment programmes had to be trimmed, and the Government had had to impose a cut on local authority home loans.
I explained to the associations that it would be our main aim, on housebuilding, to ensure that first priority was given to the needs of stress authorities. The Department had drawn up a list of such authorities, partly on objective data derived from the 1971 Census about overcrowding and basic amenities and partly on information from our regional officers. I attach a list of the authorities which we have selected. We shall make it clear in the circular which we will be issuing within the next week or two that we will be prepared to consider representations from other councils not included in the list.
The circular will make it clear that we will give second priority to programmes designed to deal with more localised stress in the areas of other authorities, and that we will also pay special regard to local requirements such as those arising from industrial investment and particular social needs. The remainder of the programme will be allocated in respect of general needs.
We shall aim, during the remainder of 1976, at a tender acceptance rate of about 985W 6,000 dwellings a month. This rate will be increased during 1977, and the total for that year should be about 90,000. Starts in 1976 and 1977, taken together, should average about 100,000 a year in England.
It will not be possible to give approval to very expensive schemes without much clearer evidence than has been required in the past that there is pressing need which cannot be met in some more economical way.
The Department's regional offices will be contacting local authorities immediately to find out in detail just how many schemes are in the pipeline. This will take another week or two, but the new arrangements will be brought into effect immediately thereafter.
The local authority associations are naturally concerned about the administration of these controls on a scheme-by-scheme basis. In the short term, this is unavoidable. But I have assured the associations that it will be our intention to move, as soon as possible, towards a control based on local authority programmes rather than on individual schemes. I hope that, from our work on the review of housing finance, we shall subsequently be able to devise a system which will allow local housing authorities a much greater degree of flexibility, within a total capital allocation, to adjust their various programmes to meet the particular needs of their areas.
Similar arrangements will operate fox new housebuilding by new towns and housing associations.
I agreed with the local authority associations that we would discuss further with them in the Working Party and the Study Group on Programmes of Social Ownership and Renovation of Council Dwellings, which meets under my chairmanship, the relative priorities of the programmes for municipalisation, private sector improvement, grants and local authority improvements so that we are able to give local authorities allocations for their programmes during the autumn.
We discussed the cut on local authority home loans, and agreed that there should be further discussions about the allocation of the £100 million available in 1977–78. But we could best do this after we have reached preliminary conclusions 986W with the building societies as to the best way in which they can help to fill the resulting gap.
I told the associations that I propose to tell local authorities that they could commit a further 25 per cent. of their allocations for home loans from October. Added to the 60 per cent. already authorised this will make a total for 1976–77 of 85 per cent. of their original allocations.
- Greater London Council
- London Borough Councils
- Newcastle upon Tyne
- North Tyneside
- South Tyneside