Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Government announces Housing Market Renewal u-turn - An extra £1m expected for Woodnook

Much of my time in Parliament recently has been concentrated in campaigning for Housing Market Renewal (8) money to complete the 15 year programme which was axed (3) midway through in it's 8th year in the recent budget cuts. A decision which was condemned (7) by the Audit Commission.

Woodnook should have received around £35m and as contingency plans were drawn up for the area for £35m, £25m and £15m scheme's. The government axed the whole scheme leaving Woodnook with a residual £2m and a promised further £2.6m which the outgoing Conservative Council cruely offered (1) then withdrew (2) funding.

In Parliament I have asked all the affected MP's to come together to highlight the plight of people trapped in axed HMR areas. There has been an effective campaign at all levels, media, Parliament, NGO's and has put The Department for Communities and Local Government under pressure to deal with this issue with an problem that will not recede with time but will probably deteriorate. It has been important through the media to counter the Governments argument (5) that the New Homes Bonus is a replacement.

The government has come under increasing pressure. Of the ten HMR areas, East Lancashire requires some £20m to simply discharge it's current liabilities. In Hull, a developed has filed a 'Blight Compensation Notice' on the Council.

The Housing Minister's annoucement of a u-turn (6) and that he will now provide a further £30m to the five worst affected pathfinders is derisory. It should result in Woodnook getting an extra £1.5m, though details have to be confirmed, and there are strings. The Council must match fund this amount and with the Council being left in a dire financial state and money wasted on ill considered schemes it will be a challenge.

The campaign for justice for Council's with partial HMR programmes goes on. Without resources, Hyndburns New Homes Bonus being a paltry £63,000 - the11th lowets in the country - leaves the Council unable to find gap funding to leverage in private sector funding and return the area to a stable community where there is confidence in investment.

As the constituency MP I am proud to have led this campaign for the people of East Accrington and elsewhere. That as part of the campaign Caroline Flint MP, shadow DCLG minister came to Woodnook to see for herself the problems and through the media channels, BBC and Channel 4 particularly, and national media exposure, the Government have had to partially back down.

The campaign must continue. The Governments argument that Council's have the money, that they have the enforcement powers is innacurate, that the private sector will simply step in to abandoned areas as though they are investment opportunities. That argument must be shown to be wrong.

Today I will be touring Woodnook again as I have done with many guests, this time with the PPS to the Housing Minister (Grant Shapps), Jake Berry MP for neighbouring Rossendale.