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Building Affordable Homes

Volume 585: debated on Monday 8 September 2014

Almost 200,000 affordable homes have been delivered since 2010. A further £23 billion of investment will deliver 165,000 affordable homes between 2015 and 2018. This will be the fastest rate of affordable house building for the past 20 years.

As someone born and raised in an affordable home, I know the value of such homes. I also know that not enough units are coming on stream in my constituency at the moment. This Government have presided over the lowest build of new affordable homes in peacetime since the 1920s. Does the Minister regret slashing the budget by 60% on coming into government?

I respectfully point out to the hon. Gentleman that we actually inherited the lowest level of house building since the 1920s from the previous Government. In fact, as I have just said, we are about to get the fastest rate of building in the past 20 years. Just to be specific, in his home area of Greater Manchester alone, 5,724 new affordable homes will be delivered as a result of this Government’s investment in this period’s affordable homes programme.

The Minister has been keen to bombard us with statistics and to blame anybody but this Government, but it is they who have set affordable rents at 80% of private sector rents. In areas such as Hackney, that means that such rents are not affordable to the average, ordinary working person, while it also puts pressure on the housing benefit bill. When will the Government rethink this crazy and unfair policy?

To an extent, I am having to apologise for the previous Labour Administration’s failure to deliver the sufficient number of council houses that we need. It is good to see that, under this Government, building is getting going again.

Despite the awful inheritance that the Minister has had to deal with, the truth at the moment is that the public sector is continuing to hoard surplus land and buildings. May I urge Ministers to look at ripping up the financial rules of Government, ensuring that we penalise the hoarding of public sector land and buildings and incentivise Whitehall and town halls to get such assets turned into real affordable homes?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I know that one thing he previously worked on, and I am now working on, is to make sure that we can go forward and deliver the land, as we are doing, to deliver the houses that we so badly need in this country.

In an area with a very recently adopted core strategy that, because of the current severe shortage and a backlog of many years, requires 50% affordable housing, what advice would the Minister give planning officers determining new applications should there be requests for deviations from that requirement?

I would say to the right hon. Lady that planning decisions are obviously matters for the local authority, and it would be wrong for me to comment on the core strategy of a particular area. However, if she wants to come and see me, I will be happy to go through any queries she has.

I welcome the Minister to his new position. According to his Department’s own forecasts, housing starts are due to fall in this financial year. His predecessor admitted that that was due to an expected hiatus between the current affordable homes programme and the next one. Will the Minister explain what steps he is taking to avoid this? Does he think that there will be such a hiatus in 2015?

No, I do not. The more than 41,000 affordable housing starts in 2013-14 is an increase of 15% on the previous year.

Regrettably, the truth is that the Government have undermined affordable housing, not promoted it. With the 60% cut to the affordable homes programme, the watering down of section 106 agreements, and the hated and discredited bedroom tax, will the Minister now admit that for all Ministers’ talk on affordable homes—we have heard the same today—the number of homes built for social rent has dropped to a 20-year low and that simply changing Ministers will not overcome this Government’s failed housing policies?

I am slightly astounded that such a question has been put by the hon. Lady, who represents a party that oversaw a drop in the number of affordable rental homes of 420,000 between 1997 and 2010. Under this Government, house building has got going again. We need to keep on top of that to deliver the houses we need, and we are looking at an increase of 170,000 in this period alone.