On the Politics Show, Sunday 15 July 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed The Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper.
JON SOPEL: Well the minister responsible for housing is Yvette Cooper and it was a sign of Gordon Brown?s intent on this issue that she?s one of the new faces round the Cabinet table. I spoke to her just before we came on air and asked her if Britain should follow German?s example and build on more green field sites.
YVETTE COOPER: Well, we do need to build more homes because we need to help first time buyers and also people who are on council waiting lists and who need homes for the future, but we do think the priority should be around brown field land. We?ve already seen a big increase in the proportion of homes being built on brown field land, over the last ten years and we think that?s important but ultimately, local councils need to decide what the best location is in their area.
JON SOPEL: But you?ve had a review on this, the Barker Review, that looked at what the availability would be of brown field sites, came up with a figure of just under being able to create a million new homes, your estimate is that you need three and a half million new homes.
YVETTE COOPER: That?s right. And the thing about brown field land is that it comes, it becomes available all the time because you have you know, maybe a factory that closes or maybe use that changes in a particular area, so brown field land does develop and change. But ultimately, it is for local councils to decide what is the best location in their area, and they have to look at all the areas you know, around the town, the town centre, in their communities, because they?ll know best where these homes should best be built to meet their local needs.
JON SOPEL: You keep saying brown field sites, but brown field sites are also our playing fields our parks, our gardens.
YVETTE COOPER: No. That?s not right. Parks and playing fields have special protection and we have also given local councils greater powers to differentiate between different kinds of brown field land, so that they can introduce much stronger protections on perhaps garden land in an area, where they?ve got alternative sites available.
But the bottom line is, that people do need to identify where the homes should go. It?s no good just saying, here?s all the areas we?re going to protect and oh, there?s nothing left, you know, we?re not going to build any homes anywhere. We need to build the homes but of course, we?ve got to protect the urban green spaces and make sure, that you know, those are the parks and the play areas for the children to play in as they grow.
JON SOPEL: Because one of the things we saw in that film there, in Germany was that people that ? person saying, look, you can?t just worry about fossilizing the countryside and keeping that beautiful and then just cramming everybody tight in to cities and towns. They?ve got to have quality of life too.
YVETTE COOPER: Well you?ve got to improve both the towns and cities but also rural areas. We?ve been working for example with the affordable rural housing commission on the need to build more affordable housing in rural areas because sometimes you get small villages and areas where they are in danger of becoming fossilized if they don?t have small numbers of affordable homes and other homes being build in those communities too. So this is about you know, recognising the different character of different communities but every single community recognising that more homes do need to be built.
JON SOPEL: You keep stressing that it?s up to local authorities, local councils to decide what is the best thing to do. What do you do with the local council who say, well frankly, we don?t think we want to build that much.
YVETTE COOPER: Well we do have a serious problem with Conservative local councils in particular across the south east region in particular, but not just there, who are opposing increases in housing... the south east Regional Assembly indeed has been arguing for cuts in the level of house building over the next few years, which I just think is bonkers, given the needs that we have. But I think it?s, you know, it?s not on really for councils to simply turn their backs and say, well we don?t want any new houses round here, build them somewhere else. Build them in another community, build them in another town.
Every town, every city, every community has first time buyers who can?t get on the ladder, has sons and daughters who are still stuck living at home with their mum and dad because they just can?t afford anywhere to live, that is not fair and every community needs to recognise its responsibility to do something about that.
JON SOPEL: But you just said at the start, it?s up to councils to decide. Councils could decide they don?t want to build extra houses ? then, what are you going to do about it.
YVETTE COOPER: No, we?re clear that the way that the regional planning process works and the way that local councils have to wait together, they will all have to accept their responsibility to deliver more homes. Where they have to have the flexibilities around where within their community the homes should be built, you know, what the best location is, whether they?ve got good brown field sites available and what kinds of homes.
You know, they may need more family homes in their area ? to look at those sorts of issues as well. What they can?t do is turn their backs on their responsibility to deliver more homes and interestingly, we had forty towns and cities came forward over the last twelve months to say, well we want to increase the level of homes in our area.
We want to do so very substantially and we want to work with the government to do so. We believe more towns and cities will come forward, you know with ideas like eco towns so you really improve the environmental standards of the new housing as well.
JON SOPEL: You singled out Tory councils but I would suspect there are Liberal Democrat councils and maybe Labour councils as well, very mindful of the number of new houses...
YVETTE COOPER:...There are certainly a few Lib Dem councils who are doing the same thing.
JON SOPEL: Yeah, but what do the Tories say ? it?s actually not a question of it?s not in my back yard, it?s a question of that if we?re going to do this, we need to provide extra hospitals, extra schools, extra GP surgeries, space for building supermarkets so that you?ve got the whole infrastructure and government needs to help us with that.
YVETTE COOPER: Well we agree, we do need infrastructure, we are putting more investment in to infrastructure and we are looking at other ways to raise more from planning... I think it?s a bit disingenuous for the Tories to say that when they?re actually talking about cutting public investment, so they?re really just calling for additional resources, simply as an excuse not to build the homes because across the board nationally, they want to both cut taxes and cut that spending as well.
JON SOPEL: Now could I ask you about something which I?m sure is of huge interest to a lot of Labour councils. Gordon Brown spoke about the role of councils in supplying the additional housing and he said, to give a bigger role for local authorities than they?ve had before. What does that mean?
YVETTE COOPER: Well we think that there?s a lot more that local councils could be doing to support more affordable housing in their areas, particularly using local council land both to support shared ownership housing and to support social housing, that does include council housing, it also includes working in partnership with Housing Associations, with private developers, we want mixed communities in these areas so you have different kinds of housing all along the same street, but we do think local councils have a stronger role to play.
JON SOPEL: A lot more council housing.
YVETTE COOPER: Well, this is not about a return to the old sort of ?50s council estates. I don?t think that?s the right approach and I don?t think anybody would support that, where you have, you know, the council estate on one side of town, the executive estate on the other. This is about developing mixed communities and that means a lot more working in partnership, you know, with other organisations, be they housing associations or developers or others.
JON SOPEL: You say that?s not what people want. That?s exactly what a lot of local Labour councillors would love to see. The ability to build...
YVETTE COOPER: No, I don?t think that?s right. What they want to see is mixed communities.
JON SOPEL: So there?s no desire, what happened during the Deputy Leadership campaign, when we had candidate after candidate talking about the need for more council housing.
YVETTE COOPER: Well of course, we need more social housing, we need more shared ownership housing and we need more private housing. We?re completely clear about that. We need more of all of those three and we need councils to be playing a much stronger role than they are at the moment.
But what I don?t think anybody is calling for is a return for the old traditional estates where you had a particular kind of housing, all of one kind of housing in area, and complete segregation between those different sort of estates. I don?t think that is a good thing for local communities, I don?t think it?s what any town and city wants. What people want is for the housing to be mixed.
The housing to be you know, different kinds of homes along side each other, so you can?t tell what kind of housing it is, when you walk along the street. That?s why you need greater partnership working, but as part of that process, we do think that councils have a much stronger play, role to play, particularly using their land in the process.
JON SOPEL: Sure, but you could have a block of flats that was built by a housing association and next to it maybe a big block of flats that?s a council bloke.
YVETTE COOPER: Well you don?t really want a single block of flats, a big block of flats that?s only got one type of housing in it. What you want is within every block, within every development, along every street, to have a mix of different kinds of housing and that means working in partnership, so it does mean, you know, councils doing more but it means working with other organisations as well.
JON SOPEL: And has, I?ve seen it reported that you?re going to let councils borrow from the private sector so that they can build more. Is that right.
YVETTE COOPER: Well councils can already use their borrowing in order to do all sorts of investment in their area. There are certain difficulties around the way that the housing revenue account works and the way that technical rules work and we are looking at greater flexibility for councils. Of course it?s got to be within proper responsible public borrowing frameworks, but we do want councils to play a stronger role.
JON SOPEL: And in this vision, you say councils play a bigger role, I?m just trying to get the simple answer to the question, will there be a lot more council housing.
YVETTE COOPER: We do think councils should be able to build council housing, we also think that they should be able to work with housing associations, with private sector organisations, in partnership because that?s what you really need. We want greater flexibility, but we want that partnership development.
JON SOPEL: Yvette Cooper thank you very much indeed.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH YVETTE COOPER
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The Politics Show Sunday 15 July 2007 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.
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