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Housing (greater London)

November 11, 2008

Housing (greater London)

 Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Thank you very much for your guidance, Mr. Bayley.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) on securing this very important debate and on sharing with us his heartfelt thoughts. 20 years ago last month, I moved to his constituency. As is my wont, I recently walked around that area?Birnam road, just off Tollington park?and judging by the new development on the Durham road estate, things have been spruced up. However, that is not to take away from what he was saying. I am sure that there are some major problems within those estates.

Housing has been an issue close to the heart of London Members since the Great Reform Act. I am reading a quite fantastic book, which all Londoners should read: Jerry White?s ?London in the Nineteenth Century?, which deals with housing crises back when London did not extend much beyond the boundaries of my constituency, and perhaps that of the hon. Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). It discusses the problems of the rookeries and the slum clearances. Back then, housing was a major issue. The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that, in the aftermath of the second world war, and in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a united front politically in providing more housing in the capital. Although there are some disagreements?I am sorry about the tone of the comments of the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter), who is not in favour of the work of the Conservative-run Hammersmith and Fulham council?there is much broad agreement on some of the concerns that we all share.

I receive a huge postbag of letters from constituents on many subjects. After immigration and the antics of parking regulators in Westminster city council, housing
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is the third most commonly raised subject. Many poor working families in Westminster have lived there for generations, but are regarded as not being poor enough to qualify for council or other social housing. The waiting lists in inner London?I am sure that this applies equally to Islington, Westminster and Hammersmith and Fulham?are mind-boggling. The area has become over-polarised. One must be unfeasibly rich or unfeasibly poor to live in so much of central London. That has been a perennial problem in the centre, but it is now extending to much of the capital.

I do not want to say too much about The Times article yesterday. I have some sympathy perhaps with what the Government are trying to do. The notion of a secure tenancy for life that can be passed on down generations seems very much at odds with London mobility and diversity?the idea that those in the public sector would have security, but those in the private sector would not. However, that will be further explored in times to come.

Last month, I met representatives of the G15?a group of London?s largest housing associations, which house one in 10 Londoners, or some 700,000 people, and manage more than 400,000 homes. The group develops most of London?s new affordable housing each year, and aims to create balanced and sustainable communities. It offers a range of homes to ensure that estates do not concentrate poverty, but contain a vibrant mix of people and incomes.

The lack of capital liquidity to fund new housing schemes, the collapse in the financial viability of house builders and an acute lack of mortgage finance for those buying new homes are starting to cause real problems for London?s housing providers. Although affordable housing production is progressing, it centres only on schemes that were either in progress when the crunch arrived or could not be stopped. That will mean a reasonable number of completions this year, but a collapse in the programme next year and, conceivably, no programme at all in 2010-11 unless there is an engineered flow of mortgages for first-time buyers.

I will not say very much more. I hope that the Minister will tell us what will be done about the gap that I mentioned. There is a risk of us being complacent today because work is going on, but the effect of the credit crunch will have a major impact in three or four years? time unless action is taken now to put some of the work in train. It is fair to say that many housing associations are building homes for all sections of the housing market, from social rented and shared-ownership homes to the intermediate market rent and market sales. As all hon. Members will agree, we need to maintain that broad mix in London?s communities. As well as offering homes for the poorest in society, we also need to provide better options for the people who are too rich to be able to rent socially, but too poor to buy in the market. That middle group has become ever larger in the communities that we represent. We want to have cohesive communities in which people do not feel the need, or desire, to move away from places in which they have lived and worked for some decades.

I have overstepped my time, but thank you, Mr. Bayley, for allowing me to make my contribution. I know that it is a very important subject to which all of us will return before too long.