Housing and Regeneration 28th April 2008

Lord Mawson: My Lords, I, too, welcome what I perceive the Government are attempting to achieve in this Bill. The creation of the Homes and Communities Agency could have enormous potential and be a key delivery partner in building successful communities. The aspiration behind this legislation is laudable and presents enormous possibilities for the investment that will follow, particularly in some of our poorest communities. But, as a practitioner who has spent the past quarter of a century attempting to improve housing conditions and to regenerate local communities in some of the most deprived housing estates in Britain with some success, I know that the devil is always in the practical details. For example, giving tenants a vote laid down in statute about transfer seems very reasonable. But when you have watched the political knockabout in one estate that I know well, which resulted in a nine-year delay in new housing for very vulnerable families, you know that there are unintended consequences. I would encourage the Minister to look very carefully at this clause.

I fear that this Bill does not learn from what is working well on the ground and build on it. It seems to fly in the face of the modern enterprise culture that this Government have done so much to encourage. I am confused by much in this Bill and I look for a more balanced approach. I welcome the aspirations, but I am concerned about the practical consequences on the ground. The housing association movement was begun by the social entrepreneurs of their day who used their independence from the state to pioneer new and innovative ways of creating social housing.

In a small and specialist housing association where I was secretary 30 years ago, we pioneered high-quality social housing for people with drug-related problems. Alongside the accommodation we also developed a social programme for addicts, which pioneered new ways of working, and gained wide recognition nationally and internationally. Until the late 1980s, the first duty of the housing corporation was to promote housing associations. It is only in recent years that it has moved from promoting a new way of working to regulating and controlling.

This Bill takes this direction of travel to its next logical stage and, for me, it is a step too far—not that one is against some regulation. Some regulation has contributed to the success of housing associations. It is important in relation to the first-line service to tenants and to protect public investment. The Government are right to legislate to ensure a high quality of housing service for tenants. These are the core things that this legislation should be about.

In the USA, housing has often been the driver behind a great deal of social renewal and innovation. We have learnt from that approach in East London, and over the past nine years have successfully built with partners an award-winning £300 million housing company called Poplar HARCA, in which I must declare an interest as a founding director. The company is predicated on the idea of using the housing capital programme as a tool to stimulate a change in culture among tenants which is moving us all on from a culture of mediocrity and dependence