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House Building

Volume 558: debated on Monday 4 February 2013

12. What steps he is taking to increase the number of housing starts; and if he will make a statement. (140760)

Over the past 15 years or more, this country has been building half the number of homes that we need. This Government are determined to reverse that trend, by reforming the planning system, expanding the private rented sector and by building 170,000 more affordable homes.

There are thousands on the housing waiting list in Rochdale, and homelessness is rising. Like Rochdale residents, does the Minister not regret his Government’s decision to cut the affordable housing budget by 60%?

In fact, the £19.5 million is an important investment, not least to try to reverse the fall in social housing under the previous Government of some 421,000 homes. We want to build those 170,000 homes, but there is a long way to go before we can clear up the mess that we have inherited.

May I draw attention to my interests as declared in the register?

Over the past few weeks, the Minister has answered some very interesting questions, and has provided data about the new homes bonus. He will have looked at the figures as closely as I have, and will therefore know that it is not only very expensive but a complete failure. Does he accept that the 17 local authorities that are receiving the largest amount of new homes bonus are granting substantially fewer planning permissions than they were—37% below the levels of 2005-06, and 6% below the abysmal levels of last year?

Some of the questions were from the right hon. Gentleman, though whether they were interesting or not is another matter. I would say to him, if I may, that he needs to understand that the principle of the new homes bonus is very simple: “The more you build, the more you get.” That is why we see that Manchester, Sheffield and Bradford have shown the way. They are willing to do that, which is why we recognise that there will be at least 400,000 additional homes as a direct result of the bonus.

Does the Minister agree that more authorities should take the approach of authorities such as Rugby borough council, which has allocated land in its local plan, with two sites coming forward, to enable the development of 7,500 new homes?

I very much welcome that. It is important that some authorities are being proactive in the way in which they handle their planning system and engage with the new homes bonus. We have a shared ambition to overturn something that has happened for the past 15 or 20 years. I wish sometimes that Labour would be a little more positive about it.

In the context of housing starts, does the Minister agree that planners and developers of grotesque schemes such as the proposed 1,600-homes estate in my constituency to be accessed by a 1 mile cul-de-sac should be forced to live there for a minimum of five years as a condition of any planning consent?

The safest answer for me to give is that that is a novel idea. I will reflect on it in due course.

The Secretary of State told the BBC that on house building “signs are encouraging,” boasting of building 132,000 homes. “Encouraging”? Far from encouraging, housing completions have fallen in both financial years since Labour left office, and housing starts have fallen to 98,000. Does the Housing Minister recognise those figures? He should, because they come from his own Department. Will he take this opportunity of correcting the misleading impression given by the Secretary of State? Does he accept that no amount of massaging statistics can conceal the fact that this is a Government who are presiding over the biggest housing crisis in a generation?

Gosh! What a lot of rhetoric, but not a lot of facts. The reality is that the net addition to the housing stock is up 11% on the last four figures that we have, at 135,000. That is the highest level in four years. Is there more to do? Absolutely. Do we want to make sure that we reverse the trend on affordable homes? Yes, but carping from the Opposition Benches will not help that process or the people whom the Opposition claim to represent.