Housing
Iain Wright MP

 Iain Wright MP

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

Milton Keynes South Midlands (MKSM) Conference 2008

Date of speech 30 October 2008
Location Aylesbury Civic Centre, Buckinghamshire
Event summary MKSM Conference - 'Success in a Cold Climate'

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

Thank you Hilary (Chipping, MKSM Director) - not just for that kind introduction, but for all the hard work of you and Ben over the past year.

Can I say how nice it is to be here in Aylesbury - this is actually my first visit to the town.

And I am very much looking forward to seeing more of the town afterwards.

It's a real privilege to chair the Inter-Regional Board - not least because every time I come, there is real progress and positive development .

Our last meeting was in the MK Dons Stadium, which was fantastic to see - though I do hope that no Hartlepool supporters noticed.

I just want to start with a brief announcement. I'm delighted to be able to tell you that John Markham - the former Chair of the Whitehaven Development Company - will be the new Chair of the West Northamptonshire Development Corporation. His experience in the private sector and on major regeneration projects will be invaluable. And I also want to thank John Weir for the work he's done as interim chair over the past few months.

Credit crunch

Ladies and gentlemen, as we meet here today, we are facing a very different situation to when we last met a year ago.

No-one could have foreseen the unprecedented global turbulence in the financial systems, and the collapse of confidence in the markets that we have experienced.

Nor the extra-ordinary measures designed to restore trust and confidence in the banking system.

And now we face a global recession too. We are indeed in a very tough economic climate.

Families are worried about the cost of food and fuel. Some are wondering whether they will be able to keep their jobs and homes. Some small business are struggling. And first-time buyers are finding it even harder to get onto the housing ladder.

Government commitment

But as the Prime Minister and Alistair Darling have repeatedly made clear, the Government is committed to doing whatever it takes to stabilise the banking system and to put it on a sound footing.

The £50 billion financial stability programme is testament to that.

In time, this will help to rebuild trust and confidence amont the banks. But it will take time to have effect.

In the meantime, we also need to take action to address the impact on other sectors of the economy - especially in housing.

We have focused our attention and efforts in three areas:

  • vulnerable homeowners, at risk of losing their homes
  • those struggling to get on the property ladder
  • and those in the housing industry who've been affected by the downturn

We all know that first time buyers are absolutely critical to the health of the housing market as a whole - they are almost the engine that drives it.

And yet even with falling prices, many are still cut off from the market, as they are finding it harder to borrow mortgages.

So we are supporting them with new ways of getting on the housing ladder.

Many more can now take advantage of the HomeBuy programme. Others may want to borrow a shared equity loan from government and developers to buy up a new build property. Others will want to take the new 'rent-first, buy later' option.

Its about offering people a real choice, depending on their individual circumstances, rather than a huge mortgage, or nothing. This is especially important for those who can't rely on family and friends to help them scrape together a deposit.

But support for the housing industry is equally important. Not only in order to support jobs in the short-term, but also in order to maintain capacity, to prepare for the upturn.

In the past, it has taken a long time for the industry to recover, and housing delivery remained low. Given the increases in housing we need over the coming years, we can't afford to repeat that mistake.

So we have looked again at our spending on social housing, and are bringing forward £400 million to invest over the next two years.

We've already spent more than £70 million buying up over 2000 unsold homes from developers - housing which can go straight into affordable housing programmes.

This is a substantial and proactive package, responding to short-term circumstances. Together with our long-term commitment and investment, I am confident that we will be able to successfully weather these more difficult times.

But as I said earlier, the Government is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to deal with the current situation.

And I personally want to work with you, to make sure these measures are having an effect locally. And if there is more that you believe we could do, I would be keen to hear from you.

But let me also stress that while we will respond rapidly to the day-to-day turbulence; we must also remember the longer-term trends.

Whatever the short-term turbulence, we still have an ageing, growing population. Demand for housing is still strong, and likely to remain so, though people aren't able to realise it at the moment.

That's why we will continue to invest in our long-term growth programmes - not just here, but right around the country. Yes, in the circumstances we have to be realistic, but we have to remain ambitious too.

Progress

And ambition is something you have plenty of. We're now seeing that pay off, with some major achievements over the past year.

The Bedford Western Bypass; the railway improvements at Milton Keynes, the flood mitigation works at Upton, and the regeneration going on in Corby are just a few.

And in just a few months we'll see the completion of the new rail stations at Corby and here at Aylesbury Vale Parkway.

Next steps

We need now to focus on maintaining this momentum, even in this more difficult climate. So where should we focus our efforts and attention?

Firstly, I think that transport must continue to be a priority. I've already mentioned a couple of important transport project links. And this is absolutely critical. No one wants to live on an isolated estate, cut off from the surrounding areas, and it wouldn't be sustainable for the economy. Construction will start next year on the £85 million Luton and Dunstable Guided Busway. And a further 10 transport schemes from across the area have been short-listed for Community Infrastructure Funding.

Secondly, in this current climate, you won't be surprised to hear that I believe value for money and efficiency will become even more important.

With the flexibility you have from our funding allocations, you will have the freedom to identify where it can be used effectively. The reverse of that, of course, is the responsibility to take the difficult decisions about competing priorities.

And we must continue to look for different solutions to finance growth. The Milton Keynes Tariff, for example, might have lessons we could learn from more widely.

And thirdly, I think that partnership working will be more important than ever.

Successful partnership is at the very heart of what MKSM is all about. It has to be. When you've got three regions and 16 local authorities, you either whole-heartedly go for partnership working, or you create a recipe for inaction and stagnation.

Work on economic development, on education and skills, on health and social care will only be effective if you get the right people working together and pulling in the same direction.

I know that work has begun on joint strategies across all these areas, and I look forward to seeing the results and the new Business Plan that has been published today will help take forward work in these and other areas.

When the new Homes and Communities Agency is up and running, it will become an important new partner, well placed to support your ambitions.

I know Sir Bob has already met Hilary and others to discuss the issues here. With John Lewis as part of his senior team, and Bob Lane on the board, MKSM will be well represented.

Conclusion

The current economic climate is uncertain. And that means understandable frustration and anxiety.

But I firmly believe that we are facing these challenges from a strong foundation.

And as I have said, with the longer-term challenges we face, it is really important that we do not compromise our ambitions - neither on quantity nor on quality. Both remain as important as ever to families across the area.

So I look forward to working with you during another successful year. Thank you very much.

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