With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement about housing supply. May I start by supporting the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and joining the many Members of the House who have expressed their sympathy to the thousands of families whose lives have been turned upside down by the unprecedented flooding affecting wide parts of the country.
The Government are today publishing a housing Green Paper on affordable housing supply, setting out proposals to deliver the homes that Britain urgently needs today and for the future. The House should be proud of the huge steps forward that this country has taken in improving housing since 1997. There has been a two-thirds cut in rough sleeping, a £20 billion investment in social housing that has helped lift over a million children out of cold, poor or damp conditions, and economic stability that has given over a million more people the opportunity to become homeowners—but we also need to respond to new challenges.
Demand for homes to buy or to rent is growing faster than supply, and homes are becoming less affordable as a result. Already many first-time buyers rely on the help of friends or family to get a foot on the ladder. It simply is not fair that their chance of owning their own home should depend so much on whether their parents or grandparents were homeowners before them. It is also not fair that children are still growing up in overcrowded or temporary accommodation, waiting for a settled home. Without further action, housing could become one of the greatest sources of social inequality in the next 20 years.
In addition, we need to respond to the challenge of climate change. Our homes account for more than a quarter of national carbon emissions. We must provide greener, better designed housing for the future. As recent events have highlighted, it is vital to take steps to protect all our communities from flooding, and from the consequences of climate change in the future.
In the face of these challenges, we propose strong action. First, we will build more homes to meet growing demand. The level of house building is at its highest for 17 years, but it is not enough. Moreover, without firm action there is no guarantee that growth will continue, as short-term market pressures mean that some developers have slowed starts this year. We believe that a total of 3 million new homes are needed by 2020, and we need to deliver 2 million of those by 2016. This must include new homes in the north as well as the south, as every region is seeing demand outstrip supply. In parts of the north we need additional affordable homes alongside areas of housing market renewal.
Already locations for 1.6 million homes are identified in current regional plans, with up to a further 200,000 emerging in the new regional spatial strategies and in future revisions to them. This includes 650,000 homes in the growth areas such as the Thames Gateway and Milton Keynes. In addition, 45 towns and cities have already come forward with proposals for additional homes over the next 10 years in new growth points. Today we are inviting more councils to come forward to be new growth points, including, for the first time, councils in the north of England. We are also inviting bids for councils and developers to come forward with proposals for at least five new eco-towns.
No one should be in any doubt about the historic scale of this vision. We are proposing the first new towns in 40 years, but with substantial improvements in environmental standards across the board. Further changes are needed to support the delivery of these homes. Providing enough land is vital, and councils need to identify 15 years’ supply of appropriate land for housing, with continuing priority for sustainable brownfield land. We will not change the rules on strong greenbelt protection.
We will introduce additional funding and incentives for councils and communities that are showing a lead in delivering growth through a new housing and planning delivery grant, a new £300 million community infrastructure fund and additional funding dedicated to high-growth areas.
We are consulting on proposals to deter developers from seeking planning permission and then sitting on land without bringing forward new homes. We will also work across the Government to bring forward more brownfield land. I can announce that the Ministry of Defence has agreed to bring forward six sites with the potential for 7,000 homes, including sites at Aldershot and Chichester. The Department for Transport has also identified hundreds of potential sites for new homes.
We will support local councils in setting up new local housing companies with partners to use their own land to build more homes. I can announce that 14 councils have already come forward to support that scheme. They estimate that in their areas alone they have the potential to deliver 35,000 homes on their land, with at least 17,500 of those homes being affordable homes. Better use also needs to be made of empty homes, including those left empty long-term by investors and speculators. Councils already have powers to take action, and we will look at the potential for additional incentives for them to do so.
Secondly, although building more homes is crucial, they must also be better homes and more sustainable homes. In the 1960s, quality was sacrificed in the name of speed, and we must not make that mistake again. Today, our new homes must be part of well-designed and mixed communities with excellent local facilities, which means more family homes as well as parks and green spaces. With the urgent challenge of climate change, they must be greener homes built to the highest environmental standards.
I confirm today that from 2016 all new homes will need to be zero carbon. We are the first country to set such an ambitious timetable, and I welcome the support of councils, green groups and developers across the country who have committed to working with us to make that happen.
As well as helping to prevent climate change, we need to ensure that our homes are resilient to its consequences. Over centuries, many homes have been built in high-risk flood areas, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has set out immediate action to support the families suffering dreadfully from the extreme weather.
Since 1997, we have progressively strengthened the rules on planning to protect homes from flooding, with much higher standards brought in last year. The new rules require councils to consult the Environment Agency, and where the Environment Agency says that the risk is too high and councils persist against that advice, we in government will be prepared to take over those decisions ourselves. We will also look further at what needs to be done to be ready for future challenges. Later this year, we will publish a new planning policy statement, which will require councils to plan more widely for the consequences of climate change.
Thirdly, we believe that a decent home should be for the many and not only for the few. I can announce that we will invest £8 billion in increasing affordable housing over the next three years, a £3 billion increase compared with the previous spending review. That is on top of continuing investment in decent homes, including more than £2 billion on the arm’s length management organisation programme over the next three years.
We have listened to the evidence from Shelter and the National Housing Federation, which says that we need 70,000 affordable homes a year, of which 50,000 should be new social housing. I can announce that by 2010-11 we will deliver more than 70,000 new affordable homes a year. By 2010-11, we will deliver 45,000 new social homes a year with a goal of 50,000 homes in the next spending review. That is a 50 per cent. increase in new social housing over a three-year period, and it will more than double the amount of social housing in a six-year period. We will also deliver 25,000 new shared ownership homes through expanding existing programmes. In addition, we will look to support tens of thousands of additional shared ownership homes through public sector land and local housing companies, and we will set out further details later in the year.
As rural areas face particular pressures, we will set a specific target for increasing affordable homes in rural areas later this year after consultation with the regional assemblies. We want to see more work by local councils, housing associations and the private sector to increase affordable housing both to buy and to rent. We are announcing today the first 10 arm’s length management organisations—ALMOs—and local authority special venture vehicles approved to bid for social housing grant in order to build council homes. We are also consulting on changes to the rules on the treatment of rents and receipts from new homes, which would give councils more flexibility to build on their land, within responsible public finance rules.
We also believe that first-time buyers need more flexible and competitive products. The Treasury is consulting on new ways to support more affordable long-term fixed-rate mortgages. We have also commissioned further work, led by Bryan Pomeroy, on expanding private sector shared equity products, and we will launch new shared equity products next year. In the meantime, we will, from today, offer a new 17.5 per cent. Government equity loan for key workers and other priority first-time buyers.
Taken together, these proposals represent not just the most significant programme of house building for decades but an ambitious, positive response to the growing challenges that many people face in their day-to-day lives. To deliver, we will need a expanded skilled work force, and the new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills will lead work to expand construction apprenticeships and work with partners in the sector to raise skills.
We know there is no quick fix to the issues that we face: building more homes takes time. However, this must be a shared endeavour. Central Government are today setting a bolder framework for the future, but we will achieve our goals only if those at regional and local levels, in the public, private and third sectors, and in local communities, all play their part in supporting the homes we need. Building the sustainable homes needed by young people today and by future generations is a test of our commitment to supporting people’s aspirations and to achieving social justice. I commend these proposals to the House.
I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of her statement, and I join her in expressing sympathies to all the thousands of victims of flooding in recent days.
The last housing Green Paper in 2000 pledged to be the
“first comprehensive review of housing for 23 years”
“action to help first time buyers”
and “decent homes for all”. That rhetoric has not exactly been matched by reality. Home ownership has fallen for the first time since records began, numbers of first-time buyers are at their lowest since 1980, housing waiting lists have grown by 60,000, and less social housing is being built every year under this Government than under the Major or the Thatcher Government. The Prime Minister’s higher taxes have made it harder than ever to get on the housing ladder. The Minister cannot deny that the average first-time buyer now has to pay £1,500 in stamp duty, but is she also aware that the average first-time buyer in London pays £8,000 in stamp duty? Meanwhile, her own Department’s research into the Conservative right-to-buy policy praises it as
“one of the most successful housing policies in increasing owner occupation and creating mixed communities.”
However, right-to-buy discounts have continued to be squeezed. Will not her ongoing refusal to offer the right to buy to housing association tenants undermine her own goals of creating a greater social mix within communities?
Today’s Green Paper talks about 70,000 more affordable homes, but why should we trust the Government when their own social homebuy scheme, which is meant to help social tenants to get on to the housing ladder, is failing? On page 82 of the Green Paper, the Minister admits that of 1,400 housing associations, only 78 have offered the scheme. In April this year, she came to the House and told us that only 33 houses had been sold under the scheme. Perhaps she can give us an update today.
We absolutely accept the need to build more houses. [Hon. Members: “Where?”] I will come to that in a moment. We will lend our cross-party support to measures that build sustainable eco-friendly communities on brownfield sites. We welcome the use of surplus public sector land. However, does the Minister accept that with the NHS in London already conducting estate audits with a view to closing hospitals and selling off land, the public will be worried that more homes will come only at the expense of fewer hospitals? Does she accept that her Government’s policies of closing accident and emergency and maternity departments will in any case hinder sustainable growth of local communities?
We heard last week that regional assemblies are to be sidelined, but is not criticism from regional assemblies the real reason why their powers are being seized? Page 30 of the Green Paper says that regional spatial strategies will be reviewed by 2011. Will the Minister promise the House that none of those regional plans will involve the deletion of green belt protection?
In my constituency, we are running a campaign called “No Way To 10k”—in other words, no way to 10,000 houses. However—[Interruption.] Wait for it. We fully back the building of 6,000 houses, and have already undertaken to start building them. It is simply the case that 10,000 will overload our local infrastructure, at a time when the local hospital is being closed. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the local Labour party is wrong to back my campaign.
We are concerned that the Government’s regional building targets are unsustainable. Has the Minister read the Roger Tym report, commissioned by her own Department, into increasing building targets in the south-east? It says that the Government’s building plans will
“have a negative impact on the character of the countryside”
and the green belt. Trunk roads will be unable to cope, leading to congestion, pollution and soaring carbon dioxide emissions—[Interruption.] Labour Members may say, “Rubbish,” but I am talking about the Government’s own report. There will be increased
“pressure to develop in these areas of flood risk”,
so we can expect more flash floods of the type that we have experienced in recent days and weeks.
Yesterday, the BBC reported that the Green Paper stated that it is “not realistic” to prevent development taking place in areas at risk of flooding. Will the Minister confirm that that wording is no longer in the Green Paper, and how does that square with the 2005 agreement struck between insurers and the Government that areas at risk of flood will be insured only provided that the Government limit such developments?
Labour is not planning the eco-towns of the 21st century; it is planning the sink estates of tomorrow. The Conservative party has been responsible for most of the progressive housing policies of the past 50 years. We built more social housing, spread home ownership and created mixed communities. Does the Minister agree that to solve the housing crisis, it is vital to end the ham-fisted nature of top-down, Whitehall-driven targets? Instead, we should switch to the empowering of local communities to build the homes that stand the test of time.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. I congratulate him on his appointment to the Conservative Front Bench, and his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. He was not here for our oral questions two weeks ago. We wondered where he was—and I understand that he was masterminding the by-election in Ealing, Southall. I congratulate him on that particular result, too. My guess is that some of his colleagues sitting behind him might wish he had taken his parliamentary responsibilities a little more seriously, and joined us in the House instead.
I look forward to debating the issues with the hon. Gentleman; I know that he has a long-standing interest in housing. He referred to his “No Way To 10k” campaign against additional housing in Welwyn Hatfield. I am sorry that his new appointment has forced him to change his website. Before he took up his new post, two weeks ago, it read:
“We believe you cannot build your way out of a housing crisis.”
He has deleted that since, and the website now says:
“whilst building more properties is obviously vital”.
That is a rather rapid turnaround in one paragraph, in the space of just a couple of weeks.
The hon. Gentleman raised a few points, and criticised our record. However, to have lifted 1 million children out of bad housing—cold and damp homes—through the decent homes programme is something of which the House should be proud, and of which his party should feel ashamed. His party left more than 1 million children in appalling housing by failing to deliver proper decent homes, and the council housing improvements that were needed.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Association of British Insurers, which backs the new guidance that was introduced last year, with new, tougher requirements on flooding and planning for flooding He mentioned the Roger Tym report, which was commissioned to inform the planning process. The process needs to be properly informed if sensible decisions are to be taken.
In the end, we must recognise a national collective responsibility to provide for the homes that the future needs. The hon. Gentleman gave us warm words. He said that his party accepted the need for more homes; but will he back 240,000 zero-carbon homes for 2016? Now, across the country, the LGA, house builders, councils and green groups back that target. The challenge for the Conservative party is to back their commitment; otherwise it will be letting down first-time buyers.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of the Green Paper, although as I had 55 minutes to read 128 pages I am sure that I will have missed some of the detailed nuances of policy. I have a few points on which I request clarification.
I want, first, to welcome the intent of the Green Paper. At last, after 10 years, the Government recognise the scale of the housing crisis over which they have presided: with 71 per cent. home ownership—the highest rate in Europe—our market is under-supplied with land and houses and overheated in terms of demand and reckless mortgage lending. We approach the dangers of another wave of negative equity, such as we experienced in the ’80s and early ’90s. Mortgage debt is up 150 per cent., people are falling behind on mortgages at a rate double that of last year, and repossessions have trebled since last year. That is just the start: 2 million people on fixed-term mortgages with low interest rates will experience a hike in rates in the next 18 months. First-time buyers and key workers cannot get on to the housing ladder in 93 per cent. of urban areas. The Minister spoke of the highest rate of building for 17 years, but she failed to point out that that is from a record low base, with the 2001 rate one of the lowest on record.
If the ownership crisis was due to Government neglect, the rented housing crisis is directly due to dogmatic Government policy. In the past 10 years, the Government have ended council house building and starved councils of funds, despite tenants’ choice to stay with the council. Housing associations have managed to build only half the stock that is needed to replace right-to-buy losses, and only about a third of what the Barker review says is needed. The result is that waiting lists have soared from 1 million to 1.6 million.
We welcome the Green Paper’s proposed increases in social housing, but will the Minister confirm that despite all the media trailing by her and by the Prime Minister, the small print means more of the same for the 140 councils whose tenants have democratically chosen to stay with them? Will she confirm that the small print says that any extra money will go to housing associations and 60 arm’s length management organisations, and that just a small number of councils will be able to launch partnerships with the private sector on the basis of special Government selection? Will she confirm that it is still proposed to rob the 140 councils that have retained their housing stock of 75 per cent. of right-to-buy money, and that most of those councils will lose up to an average of 25 per cent. of their council rents, whereas a housing association taking over that stock would be allowed to keep the entire sum? The housing and regeneration Bill is supposed to put tenants at the heart of social housing; why, then, in the Green Paper, is the Minister ignoring and punishing those very tenants for exercising their democratic choice to stay with the council as landlord?
The Barker review said that 56,000 new social houses a year would be needed if we were to make any impact on the growing waiting list for social housing. Currently, housing associations have managed an average of about 25,000 houses a year. The Green Paper proposes an increase, by 2011, to only 45,000. Will the Minister explain such poverty of ambition after all the hype, in the face of desperate housing need?
Hon. Members: Come on.
Will the Minister say why councils are not allowed to set higher environmental energy standards for private developments, as they are on affordable housing? That gives private developers an unfair financial advantage over affordable builders and produces fewer sustainable buildings. Why is the Government’s aim for all new houses to be zero carbon by only 2016, when a target of 2011 is perfectly attainable in this country and has already been achieved in Germany?
Finally, will the Minister explain why, despite all the talk at other times in recent weeks of restoring democracy and autonomy to local authorities, the Green Paper represents the imposition of yet more central control, with the Government dictating what houses will be built, where, by which councils and in partnership with whom? Why not simply restore autonomy to local authorities? Why not allow them to decide what they will build in their areas and get the benefit from that, and restore financial control to them?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to support the delivery of 240,000 zero-carbon homes by 2016, because it is important to increase housing in this country. He is missing the point on affordable housing. We have set out proposals for 70,000 affordable homes by 2010. That is a substantial increase in social housing and includes councils, too, being able to build homes. However, many areas will find it more cost-effective to do that in partnership with housing associations or private developers. We have said specifically—it is in the consultation paper—that we are approving ALMOs and councils with special venture vehicles to build council homes and bid for social housing grant in order to do so. The important issue is about providing the additional homes that we need. We want the flexibility for housing associations, councils and private developers to be able to contribute to the building of more social and shared ownership housing. Local housing companies offer a great opportunity to do so.
The decent homes programme continues in its current form, and all bar one council have now identified ways of meeting that standard, including as a result of the substantial investment that has gone to individual councils. We have the most ambitious target to get to zero carbon of any country in the world. The target includes standards not only for heating and power, but for appliances in the home. The standards are extremely ambitious. We will need improvements in technology and strong co-operation between local councils and private developers to meet them. They are ambitious standards, but we have a dual aim: to be able to deliver more homes that are both affordable and sustainable. That requires a little hard-headedness, not just the flaky sums that the Liberal Democrats often provide.
Order. I repeat the plea that I made during the earlier statement. This statement is important, but there is a further important statement and the main business of the House to follow. I ask hon. Members to discipline themselves to one supplementary question and a brief response; otherwise, I am afraid that many of them will be unsuccessful in catching my eye.
I am pleased that the Minister has taken up the recommendation that was made by Shelter and endorsed by the Communities and Local Government Committee to increase social rented housing, but I am still not clear about how the Government’s proposals will ensure that social rented housing is provided in response to local needs, particularly in areas where councils are rated relatively poorly and have therefore not been allowed the rights of more highly rated councils.
We are clear that we need to increase social housing in all areas of the country. We are concerned that the level of social housing has not increased in some areas, perhaps in part because housing associations in those areas did not bid for new developments. That is one of the reasons we want local councils to play a stronger role—including through local housing companies and by using their own land—in delivering mixed communities and, potentially, high levels of new housing in their areas.
In addition to the work of housing associations and the partnerships that are possible between housing associations and local councils, we are saying that local councils should be able to build council homes, where it offers value for money to do so. We are identifying certain ALMOs that will be able to bid, and consulting on proposals to enable councils to keep the rents and capital receipts from the new homes that they build. We are opening the next round of pre-qualification to ALMOs that have a two-star rating and to local authorities, so as to widen the number of organisations that can apply, but they will need to ensure that they have the appropriate skills in place to carry out the necessary development work.
This is not about returning to the old council estates. It needs to be about mixed communities and about developing, in partnership, communities that people want to live in. There is a range of different ways of doing that, and we will work closely with local councils and housing associations to take this forward.
But none of this is going to happen if the planning system does not permit it. The Government are making it easier to build conservatories, granny annexes and nuclear power stations, but they are not doing a lot to make it easier to build houses. Would not it be a good start to abandon and rule out definitively their ill-conceived proposals for a planning gain tax, and to concentrate on getting more out of the devil that everyone knows—section 106 agreements—or on moving to a roof tax? At least we would then have some certainty.
I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to the Green Paper proposals that set out a series of alternatives to a planning gain supplement. We think that a planning gain supplement has the potential to raise the most resources for infrastructure while not deterring development, because it is value sensitive. We are prepared to consult on and discuss a range of alternatives before we bring in a planning gain supplement Bill, but we will require councils and other developers to make serious proposals on how they would make those alternatives work. As I have said, we believe that there are advantages to a planning gain supplement.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her announcement and on the Green Paper. I give my wholehearted support to the commitment to expand the housing programme, which will be warmly welcomed by sane people throughout the country. The lesson from the past that everyone should learn is that the mono-tenure estates that we created in the last century—in the owner-occupied sector and in the public housing sector—were a serious mistake. Will my hon. Friend remain adamant about maintaining mixed communities involving a partnership between different providers, and not be tempted by the blandishments of the back-to-the-future Liberal Democrats, who appear to want to take us back to some kind of failed response, which would be a serious mistake?
My right hon. Friend is right. Mixed communities are hugely important in sustaining those areas and providing opportunities for the people who live in them. Establishing such communities was one of the aspirations of the post-war generation, but it did not manage to achieve it. It is crucial that we get those partnerships working, and we believe that there is potential for local housing companies to develop exactly that kind of approach, to ensure that we do not have mono-tenure estates involving unfair segregation, with social housing estates on one side of town and the executive estate on the other.
I, too, welcome the proposals to increase the supply of housing. I note the announcement of a £3 billion increase in the budget for affordable housing. Will the Minister confirm that she was successful in getting all that money out of the Treasury, and that she has not had to raid any other part of her Department’s budget to find it?
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomes the increase in affordable housing, and in housing across the board. I know that, as a former housing Minister, he takes a strong interest in these matters. As part of this investment, we are getting greater efficiencies from housing associations—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] In addition to the £3 billion additional public sector investment going into social housing and shared ownership housing, we shall get efficiencies from housing associations, because we believe that many of them are not using their assets sufficiently effectively. We want to ensure that we get better results and better value for money.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there used to be an excellent firm in my constituency called British Mohair Spinners? Unfortunately, it went down the tubes many years ago, but it is good to know that its factory site is now being used to create many apartments, which will be of great use to my constituents. Is my hon. Friend quite sure that firms that are not keen on developing such brownfield sites are being allowed to use greenfield sites only when there are absolutely no brownfield sites left in the area?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to regenerate brownfield sites and the need to require developers to consider them. Local councils must decide how land should be identified in the area, to determine which sites are appropriate and to set their own brownfield targets. PPS3, the new planning policy on housing, gives local councils the flexibility to set their own brownfield targets and to take action if they think that developers are cherry-picking on greenfield sites.
Does the Minister accept that we have a housing crisis because of this Government’s failure over the past 10 years? Paragraph 40 of her policy statement refers to the building of council homes. Will the Minister clarify how many of the 2 million new homes envisaged by the year 2016 will be council homes?
That will depend on the decisions that councils take, including about ALMOs. It will also depend on what proposals they make in connection with local housing companies or bids for social housing grants. What we can say is that we believe that, by 2010, 70,000 new homes need to be affordable and 45,000 of them should be social homes. The proportion of council homes will depend, as I say, on decisions taken by councils, developers and housing associations across the country. We believe that, in many cases, housing associations will be able to bring in additional private sector resources and additional borrowing. We also think that the best results are likely to happen where there is partnership between the different organisations.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that today’s statement provides opportunities for the 13,000 families on my local authority waiting list if, and only if, local authorities take full advantage of the opportunities to ensure decent homes for these people?
My hon. Friend is right that there is a huge responsibility on local councils to do more to improve and increase housing in their areas. We are giving local councils more flexibility and more powers—different options, different ways forward, different ways of using their own resources, different ways of drawing in additional resources either from central Government or from the private sector. We are giving local councils a much stronger role in housing in the local area, but we need them to rise to the challenge and do their bit to deliver the homes that their communities need.
Two weeks ago, Scarborough council’s planning committee refused permission for 300 new homes opposite Filey school because it believed that the main drainage and foul drainage were inadequate. The drainage system overflowed and was proved to be inadequate in the Filey floods last week. Will the Minister use this new planning policy statement as an opportunity to place greater emphasis on the importance of adequate drainage and foul drainage, which are the cause of so much suffering during the current floods?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about drainage. Some terrible events over the last month are due to poor drainage or drainage simply overflowing as a result of the level of rainfall and water. We think that more can be done to improve drainage. There are some good examples, as in the design of Milton Keynes, which had very good drainage proposals ensuring the use of balancing pools into which water can flow. There are also new designs, which improve drainage by providing sustainable urban drainage systems that do not take all of the water into existing mains drains. The hon. Gentleman is also right that there are other ways of using the opportunity of new development—by accessing section 106 money, for example—to improve the infrastructure, including the drainage. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is looking into a wider range of issues surrounding improving drainage in response to flooding, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are looking into taking proposals forward, not just as part of the new planning policy statement on climate change, but as part of a wider programme of work to deliver more sustainable housing.
In welcoming my hon. Friend’s statement, may I draw her attention to one of the problems in areas such as inner-city Manchester? An awful lot of new houses have been built that it was hoped would be affordable, but the process was frustrated by the speculative buying of many people from this country and outside Britain who bought to let, pushing prices up and putting houses out of the reach of ordinary people? Will she look specifically at that? There is nothing wrong with the rental market, but there is something wrong with speculative purchase, which pushes prices up and up.
My hon. Friend will agree that affordable private rented housing is important, but we need to ensure that it is both affordable and of an appropriate quality. I have particular concerns about some of the investment that is not buy to let, but buy to leave, whereby flats or new developments are left empty as a result of investors or speculators sitting on properties. Local councils should think carefully about using some of their empty homes powers to bring some of those properties back into use. They have the powers to do so, but we are looking at more incentives as part of the Green Paper to support that.
Last December, the Minister and her colleagues endorsed a housing development that would result in the concreting over of 1,500 acres of green belt land in my constituency. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister promised at that Dispatch Box that such land will be robustly protected. Will the Minister confirm that her previous policy has changed and that that land is now safe, or are we not to trust the new Prime Minister’s promises?
The hon. Gentleman will know that we do not comment on individual planning decisions in the House, but our policy on the green belt remains precisely the same as it has always been. We have made that clear both in the planning White Paper and in the House as part of the Green Paper.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement and the increase in funding for housing. My area has a thriving private sector market, mostly on brownfield sites, and a successful ALMO, which has hugely improved the number of decent homes, but there is still an acute shortage of social housing. Will she ensure that there are new models of working between local authorities, ALMOs, housing associations and funders such as local building societies to assess housing need and secure the models that will deliver those houses for people?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. His local council is under a responsibility to assess housing need in the area, but it needs to draw together different organisations to ensure that it can respond to that need. We are giving councils greater flexibility to do so, and I hope that they will be able to find partners to join them to rise to that challenge.
The Minister set forward the aim of creating more affordable homes, but does she not recognise that there are a number of contradictions in the Green Paper? The standards that will be required—higher standards and new designs and technologies—will involve extra upfront costs. The green spaces that will be required for greener homes and green spaces will involve less intensive land use. All those factors, along with the fact that the £3 billion is not even an extra £3 billion, will make it very difficult to deliver homes that are more affordable and not more costly.
No, the £3 billion is extra public sector funding for affordable housing. On top of that, we will get additional efficiencies from housing associations. That is what allows us to reach the figure of 70,000 additional homes that we will provide. In addition, it is true that we are raising standards at the same time as we deliver new homes. That is challenging to the industry, housing associations and developers across the country. It is an opportunity for us to raise additional resources through planning gain, which can contribute to that. Some of the higher standards, particularly in environmental technologies, will be delivered and will have the potential to deliver economies of scale, which, over time, should drive the costs of those new technologies down. I do not think that we have a choice. We cannot simply choose between quantity and quality. We have to provide both.
I welcome the part of my right hon. Friend’s statement that emphasises partnership work between local authorities, the private sector and housing associations. In my constituency, there are some excellent examples of that already, which are delivering affordable homes and regenerating former coal-mining villages. However, that work is under threat from the regional spatial strategy, which will put an artificial limit on the number of new houses that can be built in Durham. When the regional spatial strategy is agreed, will she ensure that these artificial limits, which will kill off communities and not do what she wants, are not allowed?
I cannot comment on the detail of the regional spatial strategy at this stage of the process. We need additional house building in the north and the south. The approach taken in the previous regional planning guidance and the previous restrictions that were in place contributed to the lack of affordability across the north. We have to make sure that that does not happen again.
The Minister said:
“I can announce that the Ministry of Defence has agreed to bring forward six sites with the potential for 7,000 homes”
including in Aldershot. Is this, perchance, the same scheme that has been up and running for the past three years—Project Connaught—or is it a brand new scheme? In either case, who will decide the mix between affordable and other forms of housing? Thanks to the former Deputy Prime Minister’s garden-grabbing policy, we have a surfeit of apartments and flats, when what we need in Aldershot and Farnborough is more family homes. I would like an assurance from the Minister that we will get them.
We are announcing today additional land agreed in partnership between the Ministry of Defence and English Partnerships, with 50 per cent. affordable housing on those sites. The local planning authority will decide the appropriate mix to ensure that there are sufficient family homes. He is right to raise the issue of family homes. There are many areas where we need more family homes to meet the needs of the local community. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make representations to his local planning authority.
My constituents will welcome the Government’s commitment to build more affordable homes, as did those in my neighbouring constituency of Ealing, Southall last Thursday. What can my right hon. Friend do about Tory councils such as Hammersmith and Fulham that have adopted policies to cut by half the amount of affordable housing being built and to cut the number of affordable rented homes to a quarter of the amount achieved by the previous Labour council?
The Minister announced that Chichester, in addition to Aldershot, will take extra houses on a MOD site. How many will Chichester be expected to take? Is it realistic for Chichester to cope with those houses in view of the fact that the Government are intending to downgrade St. Richard’s, the major hospital there?
I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would take the opportunity to welcome the possibility of additional affordable homes in his constituency. Around 50 per cent. of the new homes on MOD sites will need to be affordable, including social housing and shared-ownership housing. I am sure that first-time buyers in and around his constituency will welcome that. At this stage, we cannot anticipate the planning process. We need full assessments of the level of housing on a particular site and the level of infrastructure required. The Government are investing substantial sums in additional infrastructure and although Opposition Members call for more infrastructure, they are never willing to back the extra money for it.