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Social Housing

Volume 587: debated on Monday 10 November 2014

We are on course to deliver the Government’s programme of 170,000 affordable homes by March 2015. A further £23 billion of investment will deliver 165,000 affordable homes between 2015 and 2018. That will be the fastest rate of affordable house building for at least 20 years.

I thank the Minister for that positive report. Will he assure the House that the energy performance of new social and affordable homes will not be downgraded using any of the foolish loopholes in the Infrastructure Bill, and that we will get genuinely zero-carbon homes in the social and affordable sector?

The Government are determined that we will. We tightened up the energy efficiency standards for new house building in April and we have announced a commitment to zero-carbon homes from 2016. It is important, however, to get smaller house builders back into the market, which is why we are consulting on a modest exemption.

There is a chronic shortage of social housing in this country, not least in my constituency. Despite that and despite the cuts in the grants for building affordable homes, will the Minister confirm that £800 million of grants have not been bid for and are sitting, unused, in the coffers of the Homes and Communities Agency? Does he blame the providers for not putting in bids because they do not see the need for social housing, or does he blame Government policy, under which the amount of grant per unit has been cut to such a low level that providers no longer feel able to bid for the money?

In fact, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Greater London authority, which is responsible for this matter in London, have announced initial allocations of £1.3 billion under the next programme to deliver 62,000 new affordable homes from 2015 to 2018. We will open the bidding process for the next round soon.

Is the Minister aware of the concerns expressed by our national park authorities about the possible unintended consequences of introducing a threshold below which affordable housing would not be required under section 106 agreements? Is he aware that it could halve the ability of the authority for the national park that I represent, Dartmoor, to deliver affordable housing, including social housing?

Yes, I and my ministerial colleagues certainly are aware of the special concerns about providing affordable homes in national parks. That is why, in the consultation, we have proposed a different threshold for national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty from that for urban areas.

May I draw the House’s attention to my interests?

As the Minister will know from his own Department’s figures, just 100,000 new housing association and council homes have been built in the first four years of the life of this Government. Given that their record is an average of just 25,000 affordable homes being built over their four years to date, how will he miraculously deliver a further 75,000 in the Government’s last remaining year in office? It beggars belief that output will treble, as he suggests.

Some people may think that it beggars belief that a former Housing Minister can say that, given that in the 13 years for which his party was in office, with a rather different economic inheritance, the number of social and affordable homes fell by 420,000. This will be probably the first Government in my lifetime to leave more affordable homes in stock at the end of a five-year Parliament than there were before it.