Yvette Cooper: You Ask The Questions

The Housing minister answers your questions, such as 'How will three million new homes reduce carbon emissions?' and 'Do you argue with your husband over politics?'
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As an army officer, I cannot afford to buy a home for my family. How are you going to reduce planning controls to make more land available for homes? NICK TORRINGTON, Iraq

It's not fair that families like yours are finding it so hard to get on the ladder, Nick. Across the country loads of first-time buyers are facing similar pressures because not enough homes have been built and house prices have gone up too fast as a result.

There's plenty of disused public sector land still owned by councils or government departments that we want to bring back into use.

I don't think it's about reducing planning controls, because of course some sites and areas need to be protected. But it is about speeding the planning process up and forcing planners to find more good sites for housing, rather than just always saying no.

As an army officer, you may also be entitled to extra help, as the forces are included in some of the key worker schemes. Visit www.housingcorp.gov.uk website to get the name of the nearest Home Buy Agent (a housing one-stop shop) to your home base.

How will you encourage people to set up home away from the South-east? NIGEL MORISH, Glasgow

They already are, Nigel. The number of households in the North has been growing much faster than many people realise - partly as a result of economic growth. Surprisingly the gap between the level of household growth and the number of new homes being built is actually bigger in Yorkshire right now than it is in the South-east. The result is that every region needs more affordable homes.

Do you think the only reason for the problems with housing affordability is the lack of new housing, or are there other factors at work? PHILIP HOWARD, by email

Lack of homes is a big part of it. But there are other factors. I'm concerned that there is some evidence of speculators buying properties then keeping them empty to wait while the price goes up. If you get "Buy to Leave" happening, that will also push up house prices. That's why councils need to take tougher action on long-term empty new homes.

How will three million new houses contribute to reduce greenhouse omissions? SOREN AGERHOLM, by email

By 2016 all new homes will have to be zero carbon - so that means at least a million of the new homes shouldn't contribute to carbon emissions at all, and standards will be tightened until we get there. We are the first country to have set such an ambitious target, but we can't I don't think we can afford to choose between protecting the environment and building more affordable homes. We have to do both.

What are you going to do to encourage people to invest in energy-saving devices like solar panel roofing? DANIEL PRITCHARD, Cardiff

We can take away the need for planning permission - that slows lots of people down. There are certain government grants to help people install microgeneration technologies like wind turbines, solar panels and heat pumps. This doesn't really solve the price problem though. That's why we want the zero carbon programme for new homes to drive up production and drive down costs of these technologies too.

Do you think that the question of life-time tenure for social housing tenants should be reviewed? RACHEL PATRICK, Brighton

The John Hills Review has already looked at this, and though it was misreported at the time it did not call for changes in life-time tenure. What it said was that people on it should be offered more options, including shared ownership and not just traditional social housing. We will respond to the Hills Review later this year.

What do you think the future holds for Home Information Packs? JOHN, by email

I think Home Information Packs are just the start of much bigger changes to home buying and selling. With supermarkets getting into estate agency, and with most people looking for homes on the internet, the process of buying a home could be about to change significantly for the first time for 20 years. But the big deal will be the Energy Performance Certificates. For the first time you will get an energy rating for the home you want to buy - just like you get on a fridge. Over time I think this will have a big impact on attitudes, especially if we can link the certificates to grants and loans to get the work done to improve your home. Several years ago, if you went into Currys or Comet you'd find all kinds of energy ratings on the white goods, now most of the fridges and washing machines are A rated.

Do you admit that the Government has made a mess of HIPs? DIANA COULTON, Truro

Well we can't claim it's gone as planned. And that's not been easy for many of the people training as energy assessors. It was a great shame that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors chose to take court action against the Energy Performance Certificate - especially as I think that's the most important part of the pack. That created delays. We also had delays getting energy assessors in place. But things are in place for roll out from 1 August.

Why is there so little discussion of the ever-increasing tendency for people to buy multiple homes? STEVE FORROW, by email

In most parts of the country, the impact of second homes is very limited. In some areas however - such as the Lake District or parts of Cornwall - it can cause particular pressures.

We have given local councils the option to reduce the council tax discount on second homes. We're also looking at what more could be done in those areas to make sure new affordable homes for local people are a priority.

How do you manage to juggle a young family with a ministerial post, particularly given that your husband is also a high-flying minister? SACHIN TAYLOR, Fulham

Like most working families we manage... most of the time. I think grandmas are completely under rated. I don't know how working families survive without them. There have been some mad moments in the past few weeks, trying to wrestle pieces of Lego from squabbling children in the middle of a telephone discussion with the Prime Minister on the planning rules for new homes. If the work/life balance gets too out of kilter, I can always ring up the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and get him to sort things out!

Do you and your husband [Schools Secretary Ed Balls] ever disagree about politics? If so, in what areas? SHAUN PETER, Swindon

Never, honest. Well, sometimes. Usually in private.

Are you disappointed by the small number of women in Gordon Brown's Cabinet? LUCY GARRICK, by email

By my calculations there are eight women sat round the Cabinet table. To give some comparison, the Tories only have 17 women in the whole parliamentary party. It's great to have the first woman Home Secretary and the first woman Attorney General. And of course we have a woman deputy leader.

Gordon Brown has reversed policy on casinos and cannabis. What part of the Blairite legacy will be thrown out next? TINA WELLING, Portsmouth

Of course there are areas where policy has changed - we have a different Prime Minister. But there are others where policy continues in the same direction, and some where it is accelerating.

How has your experience of working as a journalist at The Independent been useful in your political life? MARY HOLLINS, by email

The thing about journalism is that you deal with such a mix of issues and you have to get on top of them fast. Politics is similar. One minute you are taking a decision on planning policy, the next you are trying to help a constituent who wants to apply for a Pension Credit. Both have tight deadlines too.

Why was it all right for you to smoke cannabis but it's not all right for the rest of us? BEN CAMPBELL, Hereford

Who said it was all right? I just answered the question honestly about what I did 20 years ago.

Gordon Brown has written a book about courage. To whom would you attribute this quality? BILL REEVES, Glasgow

To many people all around us every day. Look at the response of the emergency services to the dreadful flooding at the weekend - and of ordinary people who stepped in to help as well.

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