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Affordable Housing

Volume 603: debated on Monday 14 December 2015

13. What recent progress his Department has made on increasing the provision of affordable housing. (902675)

We have successfully delivered 270,000 affordable homes since 2010. More specifically, the 2011 to 2015 affordable homes programme delivered 193,000 affordable homes, exceeding expectations by some 23,000.

It is no surprise that the Minister is so keen to crow about his numbers of affordable homes, but I can assure him that, in Sheffield, £250,000 is not considered affordable. Will he therefore introduce a statutory definition of affordability based on average income, not market rate?

I think the hon. Lady is referring to the maximum price for a starter home. If she looks, she will see that the average paid by first-time buyers is dramatically lower, which, along with the 20% discount we are introducing for starter homes linked to Help to Buy, makes buying a home affordable again for more people.

In Worcester, according to city council figures, 260 new affordable homes were delivered in the last financial year, a record for any year since 1997. That record was delivered by a Conservative administration the year after a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition delivered just 76 new affordable homes. Please can the Minister advise us how he will support well led councils such as Worcester to keep delivering more affordable homes?

My hon. Friend gives a good example of a good, well run local authority delivering housing for its constituents. We are determined to stand by those authorities and work with them. That is why I am delighted that the Chancellor committed a further £8 billion in the spending review to deliver 400,000 affordable homes across the country.

Given that average property prices in London have exceeded half a million pounds, first-time buyers will need to earn at least £70,000 a year to buy their first home. Does the Minister consider that affordable and, if not, what effective action will he take to put home ownership within the reach of the many and not just the few at the top?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is now joining our call to build more homes that are affordable for people. Starts are up some 57% in his constituency since 2010, which is a good start, but we want to go even further. That is why we want to deliver more shared ownership, giving people a wider opportunity to get on the housing ladder, along with the 20% discount on starter homes through Help to Buy on just a 5% deposit.

Some Opposition Members believe that homes can be made more affordable, particularly in London for example, by returning to the bad old days of rent controls. Will the Minister assure me and many other Members of the House that the Government have no intention of giving powers to any future Mayor to reintroduce rent controls in London?

As my hon. Friend will know, we are very keen to see more and more localism and devolution of power, but I am happy to tell him that this Government will not allow us to fall into the trap that Labour often encourages people to fall into. The reality is that rent controls simply drive supply down and end up increasing rents, so we are very much against them and they will not be allowed under this Government.

The Minister has talked about extra housing investment, and I would not want him or the Chancellor, who has said the same thing, to mislead the House. After the Chancellor’s autumn statement, the annual housing investment from the Government will be £1.7 billion. Under the money inherited in 2010 from Labour, it was £3.1 billion—not an increase, but a cut; not a doubling, but almost a halving. Does the Minister agree, therefore, that this must be the reason why his Government have built 30,000 fewer affordable homes to buy via shared ownership than Labour did in our last five years?

I am somewhat surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should ask a question of that type, bearing in mind that he was the Minister who oversaw the lowest level of housing starts in this country since the 1920s. What the Chancellor has now done has meant that this Government are overseeing the biggest building programme in about 30 years.

The Minister is wrong on the big picture as well. Under our national affordable housing programme, the number of homes built each year was bigger than under the last Government when he was the Minister. The hard truth is that for so many people, the dream of buying their own home is totally unaffordable and out of reach. Now the hon. Gentleman plans to fiddle the figures again by changing the definition of “affordable” to include so-called “starter homes” that can be sold at up to £450,000. Will he at least agree with Labour and the Building Societies Association, whose members will lend for these homes, that the discount on these starter homes should be permanent, not a cash windfall at the end of five years, but there for the next generation of first-time buyers as well?

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman and I have a big disagreement on this. He seems to want to stop property owners having the right to deal with their property in the way that any other property owner would, but we want to support people who aspire to own their own home. That is why we want to keep building more homes generally and keep building more homes for people at that discount rate for first-time buyers. We are proud that under the Conservative-led coalition during the last Parliament, we oversaw an increase in affordable homes—unlike the loss of 420,000 that we saw under 13 years of Labour.