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New Homes Bonus

Volume 530: debated on Monday 20 June 2011

5. How much funding his Department has allocated from the new homes bonus scheme (a) to Lancaster and Fleetwood constituency and (b) in total since the scheme’s inception. (60277)

The first new homes bonus allocations were made in April. Over six years, Lancaster will receive some £1.4 million and Wyre some £1.6 million. Across England, the allocations will total almost £1 billion during the spending review period. The next allocations will take place next April.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply on behalf of the two district councils. How long will it be before this policy and others of the new Government begin to address the failure over the past 13 years to get the right number of new houses that we need?

The policies are already having some impact. In the first year of this new Government, house building starts were up 22%. That compares rather favourably with the period during which the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who is now the shadow Secretary of State, was Housing Minister, when house building starts were a third lower than they are today.

The Minister will be aware that some Labour Members are rather sceptical about whether the new homes bonus will deliver more homes than were being built before the recession. Given that no research is being done into the effectiveness of the scheme, and that there is no evidence about such schemes in other countries, does he agree that it would be appropriate to have an independent review of the scheme’s effectiveness? If so, what period of time should the review cover?

The Chairman of the Select Committee is wrong to say that no research has been done into the scheme. Indeed, the impact assessment stated that it would increase house building starts and, as I have just said, there has been a 22% increase in house building starts in the first year of the policy. Let us compare that with the year before the policy was put in place, when house building under Labour was at its lowest level since the 1920s. There is therefore growing evidence that the new homes bonus is working rather well.

I make my usual declaration of an indirect interest.

The new homes bonus is paying out taxpayers’ money but it is not delivering. Planning permissions fell by 17% on year for the first quarter. Let us not confuse that with starts, which took place as a result of investment by the previous Labour Government. The Town and Country Planning Association, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Royal Town Planning Institute are clear that the changes in the Localism Bill will enable developers to buy planning permissions. Are those professionals wrong?

The idea that one quarter can be judged against an entire year’s evidence is, of course, nonsense. The evidence for the entire year is that house starts are up by 22%. I would rather take a year’s figures than one quarter’s. We know that councils right across the country, including Labour councils, are welcoming the new homes bonus money, which is now starting to make a real difference. Yes, it is right for local authorities and local people to take fully into account the economic benefits of building more homes in their areas.