Caroline Flint: You Ask The Questions
The Housing Minister answers your questions, such as 'Will house prices fall by 10 per cent?' and 'Who's Westminster's sexiest man?'
Monday 26 May 2008
Do you regret not having a handbag big enough to carry your briefing notes in?
I'm not the first politician to be caught out in this way, and I am sure I won't be the last. At least there was nothing in the briefing note that wasn't already in the public realm. I'll be using a red folder from now on.
Do you think the media overstepped the mark by snooping on your notes?
Not really, if you walk down Downing Street you're fair game for photographers.
Do you think house prices will fall by 10 per cent?
Over the past five years, prices have gone up by 45 per cent. There are a range of predictions as what might happen to house prices in the coming months. We are prepared for all eventualities.
Have you ever been on the wrong end of one of Gordon Brown's temper tantrums, described by Frank Field?
No, I don't recognise that description of the Prime Minister. When I've met him recently to talk about our housing plans, he has been focused on delivering our targets to build three million homes by 2020.
Gordon Brown seems to be a burden already. Should he resign?
In turbulent times, Britain needs a leader with experience of running a successful economy, and the best qualified person is Gordon Brown.
Did you agree with the "toff" campaign carried out by the Labour candidate in Crewe?
All parties run stunts against their opponents in by-elections. I well remember the Tories chasing Sean Woodward round St Helens, and we all remember the chickens, foxes and various other costumes in political campaigns.
I suffered from negative equity the first time round. Should I fear it happening to me again? Brian Flynn
No serious commentators are making comparisons with the early 1990s, when we had high unemployment and high interest rates contributing to problems in the housing market. Today, we have low unemployment and interest rates, and demand for housing is high. For families who are concerned, we've just announced a £10m package of advice on debt.
I'm not a "key worker" – just a hard working woman trying to bring up two kids. What help is there for me to get on the housing ladder?
All households earning under £60,000 and unable to buy on the open market are now eligible to apply for our HomeBuy schemes, which help first-time buyers.
Will you make local authorities provide more public housing as a result of pricey mortgages?
Over the next three years we are investing £8bn into new affordable housing. By the end of that time we plan to be providing 70,000 affordable homes a year – 45,000 will be social homes.
Shouldn't we be building more housing outside the South-east to encourage people out of the crowded region?
Absolutely, we need more housing across all the regions. As part of the "growth points" programme, major developments are planned in areas with housing pressures, like Birmingham, Lincoln and Plymouth.
Will you consider a cap on the number of immigrants getting council housing? It isn't fair on Brits.
We've introduced an Australian-style points system to ensure that people coming here bring skills to help our economy. Most foreign nationals coming to Britain from outside Europe are not eligible for social housing. Those who are eligible have to join the queue. A recent study showed that migrants are not getting preference over UK citizens.
As banks now seem to be public institutions, why can't they be forced to lower interest rates for mortgage owners?
We're working closely with banks through the Council of Mortgage Lenders, and they are very aware of their responsibilities to their customers. The Bank of England has recently lowered its rates and I hope that lenders will follow suit and pass these cuts on.
Don't you agree eco-towns are no good if they eat into green belt land?
No new houses will be built on green belt land in eco-towns. There's a public consultation on all the proposed 15 locations at the moment for people to have their say. But I'm really excited about the potential for these developments to help solve the housing shortage, as well as pioneer greener ways of living.
Will the Government invest in more energy efficiency measures for council houses in order to cut carbon dioxide emissions?
On average, social housing is already more energy efficient than homes in the private sector. Since 2001, over 800,000 local authority homes have benefited from improvements in their central heating. Over 600,000 have had work to improve insulation. From 2016 all new homes, whether private or social housing, will be built to the zero carbon standard.
I'd love to have a solar panel or a mini-windmill on my home, but can't afford it. Will the Government subsidise them more heavily please? Rhodri Jones
We've cut the red tape so that it's easier to get planning permission for these technologies. We're also making grants available so people can install them – more information is available at www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk.
The UK is turning into one big car park. Will you do something to stop the Tarmacking over of drives?
Local authorities have always had the power to turn down applications for inappropriate housing development in back gardens. New planning rules that came into force in April have strengthened those powers. Councils now have the ability to set local policies that specifically protect gardens.
Do you think that old fashioned, large estates encourage gangs and the antisocial culture among young people?
Some estates do have real problems because of high unemployment and deprivation. We've got programmes to regenerate areas, tackle antisocial behaviour and help people back into work. We are also making sure that new developments are mixed communities, with private housing, social housing, rented accommodation and sheltered housing all built together.
You've worked with both Peter Hain and John Reid. Should they both be back on the front benches?
Who's on the front bench is a matter for the Prime Minister, but I respect both of the men you've mentioned, and enjoyed working with them.
Have you ever taken illegal drugs?
I've said before that I tried cannabis once when I was younger.
Hazel Blears seems relentlessly happy. As a boss, does she ever get angry?
No, Hazel is naturally optimistic and great fun to work with.
You've been voted Westminster's sexiest female. Who do you think is its sexiest man?
Who is the sexiest MP? Goodness – so many to choose from.
You always look so well turned out. What tips would you give me on dressing to impress?
I think the main thing is to be comfortable with who you are and what you look like, and wear clothes that give you confidence.
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