Hurst calls for more build for sale

LOCAL authorities should be encouraged to build houses and offer 100% mortgages to combat the shortage of affordable homes, especially in East Anglia's chocolate-box villages, an Essex Labour MP told the Commons.

By Graham Dines

LOCAL authorities should be encouraged to build houses and offer 100% mortgages to combat the shortage of affordable homes, especially in East Anglia's chocolate-box villages, an Essex Labour MP told the Commons.

Alan Hurst (Braintree) called on the Government to return to basics and encourage local authorities to build homes to buy as one way of combating the housing shortage.

He pointed out that the average price for a home in his constituency was £153,000, which made it nearly impossible for key workers to move into the area. The difficulty was exacerbated in villages, where desirable homes had been so improved they were now outside the price range of local people who had grown up in them.

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"One of the schemes run by the old Witham urban district council involved houses for sale. The council would build and sell the houses, and grant 100% mortgages on them so that people sot that people could move in straight away to work in the town," said Mr Hurst.

"The right to buy has created mental paralysis and low cost housing is not constructed in sufficient numbers. If councils were empowered to build low cost housing for sale, backed by 100% mortgages, we might begin to create decent houses for people on lower incomes."

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Replying to the adjournment debate, Barbara Roche – the Minister for Social Exclusion – admitted that in recent years, governments of all political complexions had failed to face up to the implications of economic success, population change, and the need to provide adequate levels of housing, especially in London and the south-east.

"The Government is giving authorities the freedom to borrow to invest in public services, provided they do so prudently. We want to free up local authorities," said Mrs Roche, who said councils would be required to establish a level of debt prudent for it to take on before they were given the go-ahead.

LORD Phillips of Sudbury has claimed a major victory after the Government climbed down on plans to force organisers of village fetes to obtain a licence from the local council.

When he moved an amendment to the Bill in the Lords on Tuesday, the Government told the Liberal Democrat peer it would deal with matter. "I was pleasantly surprised and naturally pleased that ministers will not press ahead with forcing private fetes attracting fewer than 500 people to become embroiled in the long tentacles of the Licensing Bill."

DAVID Willetts, a key member of Iain Duncan Smith's parliamentary team, heads for Ipswich later this month to talk to local Tories having successfully established an expert advisory group which aims to take politics out of pensions and savings policy.

Mr Willetts, the shadow work and pensions secretary, says he has had an "extremely positive response" from the pensions industry.

The group will meet quarterly and advise shadow Treasury and Work and Pensions ministers on the problems confronting the pensions sector.

"This is an opportunity to forge links with industry, pensioners groups, policy units and think tanks," said Mr Willetts.

"Above all, we must take the politics out of pensions and savings policy. It is the only way to prevent the short-term thinking, the tax disincentives that penalise savers, the extra layers of bureaucracy, and the aggressive regulation, all of which have strangled the life, dynamism and innovation out of the pensions and savings market."

One of the first decisions of Gordon Brown when he became Chancellor was to raid pensions funds which has cost the industry – and those of us with private pensions – billions of pounds a year.

DEPUTY Prime Minister John Prescott is cracking ahead with his plans to build thousands of "affordable" homes across the south-east. To ensure smooth progress, he has seconded one of his ministers, Barbara Roche, to oversee development on the Lea Valley-Stansted-Cambridge corridor while Tony McNulty will take charge of the Thames Gateway in southern Essex.

And it seems Mr Prescott's long arms reach very deep into the East of England – it's been revealed he's responsible for 34 offices of regional bodies and agencies across the six counties. Statistics gleaned by Bedfordshire South-West MP Andrew Selous in a written Commons detail five in Ipswich, two in Bury St Edmunds, four in Chelmsford, one in Witham and one in Brentwood.

THE Devil's Punchbowl at Hindhead is one of the great beauty spots of southern England – but it is bisected by the single carriageway A3.

All other sections of the 70-mile trunk road from Portsmouth to Wandsworth are dual carriageway, and the Hindhead bottleneck is being polluted by increasing numbers of heavy vehicles heading for the Portsmouth ferries.

This sensitive area could not withstand a dual carriageway winding its way around the Punchbowl and fortunately the Government has come to the aid of this part of south western Surrey by agreeing to bore the road through a tunnel under Hindhead Common and Tyndalls Wood.

The project has been held up for years because of the cost, but at last the go-ahead has been given. It's a rare victory for the environment – when the road opens in 2009, it will be one of the few trunks roads in the UK to be buried underground rather than despoiling one of our most under-rated scenic assets.

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