I beg to move,
That this House believes everyone deserves a decent, affordable home to live in; regrets that many people are priced out of the communities in which they grew up due to rising house prices and rents; acknowledges the achievements of the Coalition Government in implementing Help to Buy, bringing empty homes back into use and increasing support for self-build; condemns the present Government’s housing reforms which will lead to fewer new affordable homes for rent and breakdown in communities by selling off affordable homes with no guarantee of replacement; further notes their devastating impact on supported housing of the most vulnerable including those with learning disabilities; recognises the need for a huge increase in the supply of homes due to decades of under-delivery by successive governments; notes that an increase in apprenticeships and other skills training within the construction industry is required to meet that need; further notes the particular challenges of affordable housing in rural areas; regrets that the average cost of a home in London is now over £500,000; endorses the proposal of London Mayoral candidate, Caroline Pidgeon, to convert the Olympic precept into a funding stream that would enable 200,000 new homes to be built in London; acknowledges the benefits of building sustainable homes; and calls on the Government to set out a long-term housing plan to meet the housing needs of future generations which includes lifting the borrowing cap for councils and at least ten new garden cities.
Nothing robs people of their freedom more than poor housing, unaffordable housing or insecure housing. Housing is fundamental to our liberty and it is the entry point to a civilised society, yet despite being one of the world’s richest countries, we have a housing crisis in Britain that stunts freedom and crushes aspiration for many millions of people who want nothing more than to have a decent, secure and affordable place to live.
House prices are now almost seven times average incomes. In my constituency in Cumbria, house prices are 10 times average local incomes. Home ownership is falling, especially among those below the age of 40, and a majority of those who manage to get on the housing ladder have had to rely on the bank of mum and dad. Britain needs an approach to housing that provides people with a genuine opportunity to access the housing they need at an affordable cost, but this is not happening for too many people. That is why I have made housing a key priority for the Liberal Democrats and why we have chosen to talk about housing in our first Opposition day debate of this Parliament.
For decades successive Governments have not built enough homes, leaving the UK with a crippling undersupply and an industry producing only around half the houses that we need. This desperate lack of supply has fuelled rising house prices, with millions now priced out of the communities in which they grew up or the places in which they work. At the same time the lack of affordable housing to rent is at crisis point, with 1.6 million households on the social housing waiting lists and 100,000 homeless children, the most vulnerable people in our society, being let down. I wonder whether it is a coincidence that those sections of society most in housing need are those sections of society least likely to cast a vote.
None of this will be fixed by accident or by blinkered ideology. Put simply, we need house building on a scale not seen since the post-war housing crisis was alleviated by Harold Macmillan, whose wise, effective and dogma-free pragmatism saw the building of 300,000 homes a year—the same number, incidentally, as Liberal Democrats have been calling for and continue to call for to tackle our present housing crisis. However, the Government have not yet demonstrated a Macmillan-style commitment to solving this crisis. They have introduced a short-term target of building 1 million homes by 2020, but even that falls well short of need. Of course, setting even an inadequate target is no guarantee that that target will be met.
As a matter of urgency, the Government must give us a long-term plan for fixing the problem of housing supply. We need to know how many homes their current strategy is set to deliver in 20 or 30 years’ time and how those homes will be delivered. Unless we build enough homes to meet demand year after year, housing costs will spiral further out of reach. For those with aspirations of getting on to the housing ladder, their dream will become less and less likely to become a reality.
The coalition Government made a good start on tackling the housing crisis. They inherited a situation in which house building across the UK had dropped to its lowest level since the 1920s, and a waiting list that had increased to 1.7 million in England alone—even higher than it is today. We brought 70,000 empty homes back into use, released enough public sector land for more than 100,000 homes and oversaw the building of 700,000 more homes. We made a start on Ebbsfleet garden city and got rid of 1,000 pages of planning guidance. There was a sincere commitment on the part of the coalition to bring housing back from the brink and to provide homes to buy and to rent. Before anyone jumps in, let me add that that record was far from perfect, but it stands out as a rare example of where a Government took real action to tackle housing need.
Since May 2015, however, without the influence of the Liberal Democrats, the Government have moved in the wrong direction. They have brought forward a Housing and Planning Bill that will all but destroy social housing, that will prevent the building of affordable homes for rent and that merely tinkers around the edges in an attempt to increase supply, rather than pushing forward the ambitious, radical plan for housing that Britain desperately needs.
Before the hon. Gentleman gets carried away with this Manichean view of how wonderful things were then and how terrible they are now, let me point out that he is right in the sense that the income needed to buy shared ownership housing in London in April this year will be £90,000. However, under the coalition Government, it was £85,000 for three bedrooms or more, which is not really affordable either, is it?
The hon. Gentleman makes the point that I made a moment or two ago, which is that the coalition’s record was far from perfect. What I would say, however, is that those years were the only time since the 1970s that a Government saw a net increase in the social housing available. It was a matter of a few thousand houses, which is small beer, but that is significantly better than the record of the previous Administration. Perhaps one of the greatest shames that hangs over the 13 years of the Labour Government is that Labour somehow managed to build fewer council houses than Margaret Thatcher, which is quite an achievement.
The reality is that the Housing and Planning Bill will tinker around the edges. It will not bring forward the ambitious, radical plan that Britain desperately needs. Indeed, it has redefined what an affordable home happens to be—apparently, it would include houses of £450,000 in London under its starter homes initiative. There is nothing wrong, by the way, with the idea, at least, of starter homes, but they are for better-off renters. Shelter has calculated that someone would need a £40,000 deposit and a £50,000 salary, and much more in London, to afford one.
There is a place in the market for starter homes, but the way they are being introduced has three fundamental flaws. First, they will not be kept affordable in perpetuity so that future generations can benefit, and the lucky few who get one will make a huge profit. Secondly, they will be instead of, not as well as, other forms of affordable homes. Thirdly, they will be exempt from the community infrastructure levy and section 106 requirements.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that although a discount in perpetuity is very attractive in theory, the problem has been that mortgage lenders have not been so keen and have, historically, insisted on quite large deposits for those rare schemes where such a discount applies? That would be a barrier.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. In my part of the world, many of our homes are local-occupancy and have covenants that affect their long-term value.
If this is the Government’s only way of trying to tackle this problem, they will not succeed. Their flagship policy on providing affordable homes is narrowly based on a group of homes that are really affordable only for people at the higher end of the private rented sector. That would be fine if it were part of a panoply of offers, but it is not. Those houses are provided at the expense of more affordable homes that would have been provided through section 106 instead. That is why my criticism is fair, and it stands. The houses that are built under this scheme will be exempt from the community infrastructure levy and from section 106 requirements. That means that the families who live in them will, quite rightly, make use of the schools, the roads and the infrastructure in those communities, yet the developers will not have paid a penny to contribute to the upkeep of any of those parts of the vital local infrastructure.
The Bill fails to guarantee that homes sold off under the right-to-buy extension to housing associations will be replaced, and we know from experience that that is unlikely to happen. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who is now leaving the Chamber, criticised the coalition. He could have criticised the fact that so far only one in nine of the homes sold off since 2012 have managed to be replaced. Even a Government who were keen to replace homes that are sold off find it hard to do so.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling argument. Does he agree that there is an ideological irony in the right-to-buy scheme in that what are, in effect, charitable organisations are being, in some sense of the word, renationalised by this Government?
That is a very interesting observation. Given that this will be counterproductive in trying to tackle the housing crisis, it can only be ideological. It is massively ironic, as well as totally and utterly counterproductive, that outfits such as Lakeland Housing Trust, which looks after 100 or so affordable homes, many of which are gathered through bequests from very well-meaning, decent people who want affordable homes in their communities, will be put under Government diktat that means that, in future, we will be unable to recruit the benefactors who will enable us to provide affordable homes in places such as the Lake District.
The right-to-buy extension is being funded through the sale of high-value council houses. That is an outrage. It will again reduce the homes available for social need without a guarantee of replacement. If this is to happen, councils should be allowed to retain 100% of the sales of those homes to reinvest in housing in their communities —but they will not be permitted to do so.
The Government have stopped councils and housing associations from building thousands of homes that they were planning to build. A 1% cut in social rents is a good thing if it is done fairly, but the Government did not do it fairly; they chose instead to be generous with other people’s money. A rent cut is right, but to make housing associations and the often vulnerable users of their services pay for it is pretty mean and massively counterproductive. In Hampshire, for example, 400 fewer new homes will be built than planned, as a direct result of this policy. At a time when councils should be expanding their building projects, they are being forced to cut back. Consequently, the housing crisis is set to get even worse. At a time when new homes should be encouraged from every direction, the Government are relying on a broken market to deliver, skewing the building of new homes away from being affordable. While we should make home ownership an option for as many as possible, we also need to ensure that there are homes available for those for whom that is not within reach.
Rural areas such as mine in Cumbria face particular challenges in housing. Land for building is hard to find.
The hon. Gentleman has been talking about fewer homes being built as a result of the change to the relationship with the housing associations. When four leaders of housing associations were before us in the Communities and Local Government Committee, I asked them whether more or fewer homes would be built as a result of these changes. Three out of four said that more would be built. Would the hon. Gentleman like to comment on that?
The idea that the income and borrowing of a housing association is reduced and it can then therefore build more utterly beggars belief. That is not the experience of housing associations in Cumbria or those anywhere else that I have spoken to. I would be very keen to look at the Select Committee report and see the angle that those folks come from.
I have had conversations with housing associations in my constituency, two of which are merging. Housing associations now face a challenge and an opportunity to scale up, make back room efficiencies and continue to drive delivery. That is what is going to happen. We are not going to see the terrible scenes that the hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting. The housing associations are going to rise to the challenge, as evidenced by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight).
The hon. Gentleman is basically saying, eloquently, that, despite the Government’s attack on housing associations, they will somehow muddle through. Many of them will, indeed, have to increase their efficiency; otherwise, people will be hit, including those in supported accommodation, young people who are attempting to get back on the straight and narrow after a difficult start in life, and people living in sheltered accommodation. Others will also be affected by the lack of investment resulting from the reduced income. Good, decent, responsible housing associations will not just sit and grump and sulk; they will make the best of things, but they will do that despite the Government, not because of them.
May I update my hon. Friend on the conversation I had with a local housing association? It had put in place investment plans to build new homes, but all of a sudden those plans have been blown apart because their income is going to fall as a result of the rent cut. It therefore has to readjust its investment plans downwards.
My right hon. Friend makes a perfect point that is relevant to my experience in Cumbria. None of this is to say that a reduction in social rents is a bad thing—it is a good thing—but, as I have said, there is something utterly mean-spirited and counterproductive about being very generous with other people’s money.
Rural areas such as mine in Cumbria face particular challenges in tackling the issue of affordable housing. If we consider the fact that some 8% of homes in rural areas are affordable, compared with 20% across the country, we will realise how difficult it is for children who grow up in rural communities to cling on, make a living there and raise their own families when they get older, and, indeed, for key workers to live in the areas in which they work.
On the positive side, when councils have been empowered and supported to deliver homes, they have proven that they can do so. South Lakeland District Council has delivered hundreds of new affordable homes, bringing the waiting list down by 18% in a single year. It is a fantastic example of a council with the right priorities delivering to meet the needs of its community. So many communities are under threat. The growth in second home ownership means that communities can be hollowed out as the result of a diminished resident population and the subsequent loss of schools, post offices, shops and public transport links.
The increase in stamp duty on the purchase of second homes is good news, but mostly for the Treasury. When communities such as Hawkshead have roughly 50% second home ownership, why cannot those funds be redirected to those communities, to support local services and to help provide new affordable homes? Why will the Government not support Liberal Democrat plans to allow second homes to be charged double council tax, to tackle the immense damage that excessive second home ownership does to towns and villages in places such as the west country, Northumberland and Cumbria?
Councils have a valuable part to play in providing the homes we need to tackle the crisis of supply. They could play an even greater role in providing homes of all tenures, by which I mean not just social homes, but homes for sale and private rent, improving the quality of homes in that sector. Yet councils are being hit with cuts and extra taxes from every side by this Government in what appears to be a war of attrition aimed at putting councils out of the business of providing homes.
Councils are not the whole answer to the housing crisis, but they are part of the solution, as are starter homes. We must trust our democratically elected councils, which know and understand local needs, to deliver for their communities. That is why we are calling on the Government to lift the borrowing cap to enable councils to borrow to build. That could lead to an extra 80,000 homes over four years, each providing a secure home for a family to bring up their children. That has been called for by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Local Government Association and others. Most solutions to the housing crisis are long term, but where immediate action can be taken, the Government surely must take it. Ideology must not be allowed to get in the way of supplying the homes that are needed. It is time to trust councils again.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman remembers as well as I do the days when parties stood for election with housing targets for the number of council houses that they would build each year in government. More importantly, I agree that allowing councils to borrow to build council houses would take the pressure off prices for young people who want to buy homes and get a start in life. There is an imbalance in relation to housing.
The hon. Gentleman makes a great point. Demand and supply are at the heart of our housing crisis. All the evidence suggests that it just makes sense to provide more social housing—people who believe in the free market should understand this—because it will take the heat out of the bottom end of the bought market and make houses more affordable.
On my hon. Friend’s point about giving councils greater borrowing powers—this also relates to his earlier point about borrowing powers for housing associations—does he agree that any entity, whether it is a housing association or a council, can be given the right to borrow money only if it has a reliable income stream? That is why when the previous coalition Government cut social rents, they gave a guarantee to housing associations that their revenues would remain stable for a decade and a half. That reliable revenue stream has been torn apart by the new Government.
It rather plays into the pattern over the last nine months—since the coalition Government ended and the Conservatives came into power alone—of short-termism and a lack of a long-term thinking. The long-term plan appeared to leave office with my right hon. Friend. Instead, we see short-termism over green energy cuts, for example, and over providing the certainty that businesses of any kind need to plan. That includes housing associations, which are charities but which have, in many ways, the acumen and the outlook of the private sector. If we reduce their income, their certainty and their confidence in their balance sheets, they will build less and provide fewer services. Society as a whole will end up picking up the cost for vulnerable people whom we cannot support, who become more costly to society in later life.
Other reforms are needed to boost supply on the scale that is required. That cannot be left to the social housing market or to the starter homes initiative. That is why we are calling for at least 10 new garden cities in areas where there is local support to create thousands of new homes in thriving and sustainable communities with effective transport links and schools, providing hundreds of jobs in the process. In addition, we are calling for many more garden villages—not building in people’s backyards, but building beyond people’s horizons, with consent, and giving a sense that there is a long-term answer to the crisis. The Government must create the conditions for those garden cities to work, by empowering councils to buy land more cheaply and providing incentives to make the plan a success.
Given that in my area of south Somerset the council’s local plan has failed to deliver a five-year housing land supply, would the hon. Gentleman ally with me in searching out a site for a suitable garden town in south Somerset to provide the infrastructure and homes that he is talking about?
The hon. Gentleman is talking about creating more garden towns, and it is important that we take a cross-party approach to creating more garden villages, garden towns and garden cities. The danger is that if somebody comes up with bold ideas, others will knock them down. I will not play party politics, but towers and towers of Conservative leaflets have been delivered across south Cumbria over the past 10 years, all aimed at stopping the building of affordable homes. It took bravery from my Liberal Democrat colleagues on the council to stand up against that and build affordable homes. As a result, hundreds and hundreds of families have a place to call their home. Sometimes it is right for local and national Governments to do the right thing, even when it is difficult.
The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way. He mentions how parties are opposing the local council in his own constituency. As soon as we try to build anything in my constituency of Solihull, we have the same from the Liberal Democrats, who always try to oppose on almost every issue. Will he communicate with his grassroots—what remains of them—and let them know that they should in future get on board to produce more homes?
I would be very interested to look at the detail of that. I am also keen to recognise that we have to take the community with us, which takes bravery at every level. It sometimes seems that we have to tackle this issue, as Harold Macmillan bravely did in the 1950s, by not looking at it from an ideological point of view and by not scoring points. I would be pretty surprised if anybody on the Labour or Liberal Benches did that back in the 1950s. There are more people on the Liberal Democrat Benches today than there were on the Liberal Benches in the 1950s, which is progress. [Interruption.] There may have been three Members, depending on whether or not Megan Lloyd George had left by then.
The point is simply that if we are brave and do not look at this issue through an ideological prism—such as by saying that we can move forward only by having all social rented housing or by flogging off social rented housing—we can take people with us and minimise the number who will oppose us in the planning process. However, if we have a Government, as sadly we do, who look at this issue purely through an ideological prism, rather than by asking how we can solve the crisis, we will always land ourselves with opponents.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s point about the long term. The lack of a local plan is a long-term issue in Eastleigh. The council, which is led by the Liberal Democrats, has not taken people with them and we have been without a plan for five, or nearly six, years. Lots of people are unhappy. On a party political point, for the council to allow the first options paper to come out on 23 December, when people were doing their Christmas shopping—he says that councils must take people with them on this important issue—was disingenuous at a local level.
That is a staggering intervention from an hon. Lady who represents a constituency with one of the best housing records in the country. I remember taking part in the by-election in 2013—talk about bravery. It was brave of the council, led by a party that was defending a seat, to pass, weeks before polling day, exactly the sort of long-term local plan that she mentions because that was the right thing to do. For the next few days, Tory leaflets were full of criticisms of the Liberal Democrat administration for having the decency to build homes. She needs to look at her party’s previous election literature in the constituency that she temporarily represents.
It is time for the Government to take action. We cannot simply rely on the dysfunctional market to deliver the homes we need. Even in the boom years of 1997 to 2007, the market delivered at best only 148,000 new homes each year, which is far lower than the Macmillan—or the Liberal Democrat—standard. The problem we face is not a result of the recession; it is a structural problem that will be solved only by intervention. The current system works for those who have, but not for those who have not. Britain should be a place where affordable housing is available for all, to rent or to buy, no matter the circumstances of their birth, but Britain is not such a place. It is time to put ideology and party politics aside and to build the homes that Britain needs.
Once again, I thank an Opposition party—a different one this time—for choosing housing as the subject of its debate. We are a one nation Government, and our goal is to have a Britain where everyone who works hard can have a home of their own. That ambition is possible only because of our tough action to drive down the deficit, and it is conceivable only because of the progress we made during the last Parliament. I therefore want to start with a word of thanks not for the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), who refused to serve in the coalition Government, but for his party, which did, and for his colleagues who played their role in helping to turn around the broken housing market we all inherited in 2010.
I just hope that this is a debate that the hon. Gentleman will remember. I say that because at his party conference in September, he declared:
“Housing is the biggest single issue that politicians don’t talk about.”
That is news to me and, no doubt, to many Members across the House, because this is the eighth debate about housing in recent months, and that is not including the debates on the Housing and Planning Bill. On none of those occasions did we hear a contribution from a Liberal Democrat. On 10 June 2015, we had a debate on housing; on 24 June, we had a debate about leaseholders and housing association ballots; on 14 July, we had a debate about shared ownership housing; on 15 July, we had a debate on housing supply in London; on 9 September, we had a debate about affordable housing in London; on 4 November, we debated prefabricated housing; on 15 December, we debated housing again; and on 27 January 2016, we debated housing benefit and supported housing. Not a single Liberal Democrat took part in any of those debates. Even during the passage of the Housing and Planning Bill, the hon. Gentleman was the only Liberal Democrat who bothered to speak on Second Reading and on Report, and they did not take a seat on the Committee—not once. If the hon. Gentleman believes that politicians should start talking about housing, I suggest gently that he should give his lectures closer to home.
Will the Minister tell us how many social houses have been built in the time during which those debates took place?
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, as the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, we have built more social housing in the past few years than was built in the entire 13 years of the last Labour Government. In fact, we built more social housing in 2014-15 than was built in those 13 years.
Members may recall that during the last Opposition day debate on this matter I said that there was an appropriate film for the return to his old brief of the shadow Housing Minister, who I notice is missing yet another housing debate. I said that it was rather like the Soviet version of “Back to the Future”. It would be unfair to deprive the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale of a cultural reference of his own. Hon. Members will, by now, have realised that I like to use the odd film analogy. On account of his completely forgetting that politicians do occasionally talk about housing, I suggest a film from 2007 called “Goldfish”. It may be a little-known film—I admit that it is hardly a box office smash—but it is highly rated by the few people who have bothered to watch it. I admit that the plot bears little relevance to today’s debate, but if you will bear with me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I can explain its relevance. Crucially, there were just eight people in the official cast.
Most hon. Members will know that housing issues are given great prominence in this House, and that is entirely welcome.
The Minister just mentioned 2007. Is he aware that in 2007, under a Labour Government, housing associations and local authorities built 12% of the new housing stock? Last year, the proportion was 22.6%.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. To be fair to him, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred to that fact. We should be proud that the coalition Government were the first Government in a generation to see an increase in affordable housing by the end of a Parliament, unlike the previous Government. My hon. Friend highlights the work we are doing and the changes we are making that are seeing housing supply go up. I will come to that in a few moments.
The Government are determined that everyone who works hard will be able to have a home of their own. After all, 86% of the population want to own their own home. Whoever you are and wherever you live, we want to support your ambition and aspiration to own your own home. That is not just a manifesto commitment of the Conservative party; it is an aspiration that is shared by the vast majority of the British public. That is why we are embarking on the largest Government house building programme for some 40 years. We aim to build a million homes by 2020 and to help hundreds of thousands of people to take their first steps on to the housing ladder. We will consolidate and expand on the progress that we have made since 2010, when we inherited a housing market on its knees.
Let me remind the House what our inheritance was—our shared inheritance: a burst housing bubble, an industry in debt, sites mothballed, workers laid off, skills lost, a net loss of some 420,000 affordable homes, rocketing social housing waiting lists and a collapse in right-to-buy sales, with just one home being built for every 170 sold.
Those failures were accompanied by a post-war low in house building by councils, a sustained fall in home ownership—the shadow Housing Minister was quite “pleased” about that, if I remember his quote correctly—and chaos in the regulation of lending. Underpinning that gigantic sorry mess was a planning system in disarray, presiding over the lowest level of house building since the 1920s with just 88,000 starts. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale may struggle to remember that, but I know that the right hon.—and absent—Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) will have no such problem, because he was the Minister in charge at the time.
It is terrifying to think of where we would be today if we had not gripped those problems and applied the right solutions. In the previous Parliament, the number of first-time buyers doubled, as did the number of new homes built and public support for new house building. We helped more than 270,000 households buy a home with Government schemes, provided more than 270,000 affordable homes for rent—with nearly one third of those in London—and we were the first Government since the 1980s to finish their term with a higher stock of affordable homes.
We spent £20 billion on our affordable housing programmes, achieving the same rate of delivery with half the grant required by Labour policies. We built more, it cost less, and we did it faster. As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, twice as many council homes were built in the five years of the coalition Government than during 13 years of Labour, and I reiterate that his party should be rightly proud of its role in achieving that progress.
We are indeed proud of that record, and I thank the Minister for extolling it so beautifully. Does he agree that it is a radical departure from that record to move from Help to Buy, which the coalition Government used to spread the opportunity to buy a home to many people across the county, to right to buy, which will help only a tiny fraction of people and do nothing for those facing very high rents, or build more homes in this country? Is that not a radical departure from the preceding excellent record that the Minister has been extolling so well?
On this occasion I am afraid I have to “disagree with Nick”. We are expanding Help to Buy, as I will say in a moment, and I do not think that giving 1.3 million more people the chance to own their own home is a small percentage. A lot of people have the right to aspire to that, and we will support them in their aspiration.
Our plans for housing are delivering, but I agree that we must do more. We are still dealing with Labour’s deficit in public finances, and we must now tackle the housing deficit with that same determination. Both are required to ensure that this is the turnaround decade. We must build more, but this is not only about the number of new homes; we are also determined not just to halt, but to reverse the slide in home ownership that began in 2003, which the shadow Housing Minister said was not such a bad thing. With so many people kept off the housing ladder for so long, we are determined to deliver our promises quickly. That is why in the spending review the Chancellor announced the biggest investment in housing for 40 years. We are investing in what matters most to young people and British families, with £20 billion set aside for housing.
Our work includes major investments in large-scale projects, including garden towns in places such as Ebbsfleet, Bicester, Barking Riverside and Northstowe, and £7.5 billion to extend Help to Buy. The equity loan scheme through to 2021 will support the purchase of 145,000 new-build homes. I notice that the new adviser on housing to the Labour party wants to end that, so perhaps the shadow Minister will say whether Labour is supporting the end of Help to Buy, as its adviser has suggested.
Last week we doubled the value of equity loans in London to 40%, and 50,000 people have already registered their interest. We will ensure that the scheme continues, and we will deliver on our promise. A quarter of a million people are already investing in our Help to Buy ISAs so that they can save for a deposit. The brand new Help to Buy shared ownership scheme will deliver a further 135,000 homes, by removing many of the restrictions that have held back shared ownership. For example, an aspiring homeowner in Yorkshire could get on the housing ladder with a deposit of just £1,400. In the south-east, it will cost under £2,500, and in London, £3,400. Those possibilities will be open to anyone of any occupation who earns under £80,000, or £90,000 in London. Our plans will improve the housing market across all tenures: a £1 billion housing delivery fund to support small and custom builders; £8 billion to help build 450,000 affordable homes; and 200,000 starter homes available to young first-time buyers with a 20% discount at least. We make no apology for this innovation in the delivery of affordable homes—it is what people want, with 86% of our population wanting to buy their own home—and for making sure that they can reach that aspiration. The reality of home ownership can be within their grasp. It is right that we help to make their aspiration more affordable.
The Minister talks about the many excellent things the Government are doing. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) did not know it, but he is right that the Government have made a radical departure. Does the Minister agree that the Government are providing legislative support to self-build and custom housebuilders, building on the, if I may say so, excellent Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 with further measures that will require local authorities to provide service plots for people who want to build their own dwelling for social rent and for ownership?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, particularly on the excellent Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015. He put a great deal of passion and determination into that. He is delivering something that the Housing and Planning Bill builds on and underpins to ensure a real step-change. It will help not just by providing people with more opportunities to own their own home, but by providing an opportunity for the reinvigoration of small and medium-size local builders that we all want to see. A few weeks’ ago, we announced an expansion of direct commissioning, which will go even further to deliver that.
It would be simply old-fashioned political dogma to insist that Governments should intervene in the market only to support renters, when most people want to buy. To persist with an outdated mind-set risks creating a generation of young people exiled from home ownership; young people worse off than their parents, compelled to leave communities they love and grew up in, and forced to decline good job opportunities all because local housing is too expensive. That is bad for our economy and bad for society. Starter homes have the potential to transform the lives of young people. Just think about it: a first–time buyer able to get at least a 20% discount from a new home with just a 5% deposit. That really does change the accessibility to affordable housing for thousands more people. Starter homes will help young people and ensure that more homes are built.
We must not fall for the lazy assumption that there is a contradiction between supporting the dreams of homebuyers and ensuring that more affordable homes are built. Nowhere is this lazy thinking clearer than in the opposition to our extension of right to buy for housing association tenants. In the previous Parliament, we improved dramatically the right to buy for council tenants. Some 47,000 tenants seized the opportunity, with more than 80% of those sales under the reinvigorated scheme, and yet 1.3 million social tenants in housing association properties continued to receive little or no assistance and continued to be trapped out of ownership. That cannot be right. We promised the electorate that we would end this unfairness and we have. Housing associations have also recognised this inequity. They have signed an historic agreement to end it, and I congratulate them on coming forward with that offer. They are giving tenants what they want: an option to buy their home and a ladder to real opportunity. I am delighted that we have five pilots already under way across the country. Every property sold will lead to at least one extra property being built.
The Minister refers to housing associations and the National Housing Federation’s involvement in discussions in putting together the Housing and Planning Bill. Will he confirm that this agreement with housing associations is voluntary? Will he confirm that housing associations that look at the needs of their community and decide, on balance, that the right to buy would be a negative for that community, will be allowed to maintain that position?
It is a voluntary agreement. The Housing and Planning Bill does not legislate for that. It underpins the agreement by providing the legal ability to pay the housing associations for discounts. Exemptions are outlined in the voluntary agreement, so I suggest the hon. Gentleman reads it. In rural areas, for example, housing associations will be able to use the exemptions. After we reinvigorated the scheme in 2012 for council tenants in London, 536 additional homes were sold in the first year, and 1,139 were built. For clarity, that is two-for-one replacement. That success has the potential to be repeated on a much grander scale. Where buyers can buy, builders will build, and we can support the aspiration of hard-working people. That will be true for right to buy, starter homes and Help to Buy. Those plans are at the heart of our ambition to build 1 million more new homes, but we have made it clear that we must do more in all areas of housing supply.
After this, I promise to leave the Minister alone for a while. Is he aware that one in three homes that have been bought under right to buy are now privately rented, so they do not help people to get on the housing ladder? They help other people to make a living from renting out property. What will he do to ensure that any homes that are sold under right to buy belong to people who need an affordable home, and do not end up slipping into the private sector, becoming less affordable and more insecure?
With those kind words, I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to intervene, as it gives me an opportunity to highlight another good scheme that the Government have introduced. With the voluntary right to buy, and with right to buy more generally, I defend the homeowner’s right to do with their home what any other homeowner can do. I do not know why he thinks that a particular part of society that owns their own home should have fewer rights than he or any other hon. Member has in a house that they own. After that short period of five years, when that home is protected and has to be that person’s home, it is absolutely right that they should have the same rights as any other homeowner. It is disgraceful that he wants to stop that.
The former Deputy Prime Minister has extolled the virtues of Help to Buy, which is fine, but there is absolutely nothing to stop someone, after purchasing a Help to Buy home, renting it out should their circumstances change, which would be the same for anyone buying on the open market.
My hon. Friend highlights an important point. What the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale seems to be asking for with the right to buy and, to an extent, in the arguments that he made about starter homes, is second-class ownership, and I do not support that. If someone owns their home they should have the same rights as anyone else. It is sometimes tiresome to hear people who own their home explain why we should not let someone else have the chance to do so. The Housing and Planning Bill is part of our work to drive up the housing supply and home ownership, and it will give house builders and local decision makers the tools and confidence to deliver more homes.
Before the Minister moves on, this issue riles a lot of us, as it riles him. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) made the point that buying a house and renting it out at some point in the future was bad per se. At the same time, we are supposed to take measures to encourage the private rented sector. Is it not a good thing if more houses are made available for rent? Particularly in the light of what has happened with City of London pensions for 50 years, it is hardly surprising that people are looking for good investment alternatives to safeguard their future and provide more housing for rent.
It is always good to see the institutional money to which my hon. Friend refers investing in the British property market and playing its part in driving up housing supply. I am keen to see, as I have said before in the House, an increase in supply across all tenures. We have to make sure that we build the right homes in the right places, with the right tenures for the people who need and want those homes.
The Minister is generous in giving way. On the point about extra supply, he said—I do not quite know which schemes he was referring to—that in some London schemes there is evidence of a 2:1 replacement, rather than the wider picture of a 1:10 under-replacement. Will he tell me a little more about that scheme, and does he believe that when the right to buy is extended from the five pilot areas, once a property is sold it will be replaced twice over in all the areas where the right to buy applies?
The point I was making was that in the first year’s sales of right to buy homes in the reinvigorated scheme in London, properties have been replaced in the timeframe at a ratio of 2:1. That is a fact. The one for nine to which the right hon. Gentleman refers does not compare like-for-like figures—it is a totally false representation. On the wider scale, there is 1:1 as well. I would go further, as this is not about replacement. Once a home has been bought by someone who lives in it for five years, it does not disappear from the housing stock. The homes that are built are extra homes that increase the housing supply. Under the voluntary agreement, housing associations will deliver one extra home at least for every home that is sold. The Housing and Planning Bill, which the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale has consistently opposed, would ensure that the planning system plays a part in helping to drive up an increase in supply.
In the last Parliament, we reformed and streamlined the failing top-down planning system we inherited. Today, local people are in control and developing their own plans for house building, while the planning system is faster and more efficient.
I am sorry the hon. Lady thinks giving that power to local people is rubbish. I think that local people are the right people to make these decisions.
Since 2010, the number of planning permissions for new homes has risen by 50% and the number of local plans has more than doubled. I gently say to the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) was absolutely right and he was wrong: the local authority in Eastleigh does not have a local plan. It should do the right thing and get one in place. That is what she is fighting for on behalf of her residents.
I know that Members want building on brownfield land to be the first choice. Under this Government, brownfield land will be prioritised and new homes will be built near existing residences so that the green belt and local countryside is protected. A new statutory register of brownfield land will provide up-to-date and publicly available information about land suitable for housing. Planning permission in principle will drive that further. Our estate regeneration programme will transform rundown bad estates across the country, and 40 brownfield housing zones, including 20 in London, are also being created.
We want planning permissions in place for 90% of these sites by 2020 so that we can regenerate eyesores and derelict land to create modern homes for the next generation. We will change the parliamentary process to allow for urban development corporations, and smaller firms in particular will benefit from quicker and simpler ways to establish where and what they can build. We are supporting smaller house builders by directly commissioning the construction of new homes on publicly owned land. Our pilot schemes will see work start on up to 13,000 homes on four sites this year, with 40% of them being starter homes. Nothing on that scale has been done for 30 years. Our new approach will support smaller house builders and new entrants that are ready to build but lack the resources and access to land. We will help them. Currently, the top eight house builders provide 50% of all new homes, and we are determined to change this ratio, as we build more homes this Parliament.
Great progress has been made since the great housing crash under Labour. We took the tough decisions, in coalition and then in a Conservative Government, to tackle the deficit, help homebuyers and get Britain building again. We reformed the planning system and ensured that local people were in control of building the homes they needed, and we ensured that new homes were built across all tenures. In 2010, the housing market was in danger of collapsing altogether, and house building had almost stopped. At the same time, public opposition to new housing was enormous, because people were sick and tired of being bossed from Whitehall. Dramatic improvements have been made in all these areas.
Problems that fester for years, however, take a long time and great effort and commitment to solve. There is still a profound need to build more homes in our country across all tenures to support the aspirations of people who want to buy their own home. Everyone in the Chamber and in public life has a role to play in making the case to local communities for seeing these homes built. This will be a defining challenge of our generation. That is why the Government will be unwavering in their commitment to deliver a better housing market—one that secures our economic recovery, boosts productivity and rebalances our economy. That is a prize worth fighting for. Its economic and social legacy could last far beyond any of our political lives.
These plans are about working people—the people we all serve. It is about their hopes, their dreams, their plans for their and their families’ futures, and their confidence that their hard work will be rewarded. That must be our motivation. We are one nation—north and south, renters and buyers, young and old. Whoever and wherever they are, anyone can walk through the door of opportunity and into a home of their own.
I am pleased that the issue of housing has once more been brought to the Chamber. It seems to be virtually a weekly occurrence now, and I am glad about that, because the housing crisis is one of the greatest challenges that has faced our country in recent times.
Members across the Chamber will know the impact housing has on our constituents’ lives. My advice surgeries, my inbox and my office phone are always busy with the problems of people suffering from the housing crisis: rising rent costs; poor standards in the private rented sector; ever-increasing homelessness—statutory homelessness and rough sleeping—across the country; a Government committed to seeing an end to the social housing sector as we know it; fewer homes built than at any time since the 1920s; and a generation of young people priced out of the property market.
The hon. Lady mentions the social housing market, so would she like to explain why, in 2001-02, the number of homes completed by local authorities was only 0.1% of the total? Moreover, that record continued from 2001 right the way through to 2007, so will she explain why?
When figures are quoted on social housing, it is often council housing that is being talked about rather than the full social housing register, which includes housing association properties. When we have these debates, we trade statistics back and forth every time, but the problem is that trading statistics does not build homes and it does not take people off the housing waiting lists. Simply saying “You did this, but we did that” will not help anybody.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that trading statistics does not help. I have listened to a lot of housing debates over the last three or four years, so I know that most of the debate has been of that ilk—and it is very unhelpful. Will she therefore elevate the debate by explaining why she thinks the supply of housing does not rise to meet demand?
I could say a lot about that, but I would rather get on with the points I intended to raise, which are about the private rented sector—a subject that has hardly been mentioned and one that did not appear in the Conservative manifesto. It is an issue that affects my constituency and London constituencies in particular. Supply has not risen—you are right—and I believe it is because parties of all colours have not done as much they could have done. I hope that this debate will be elevated above the “You’re bad, they’re worse” level, which gets us nowhere. It is very macho, but it really does not help and it does not play well outside this Chamber.
I do not think that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have an opinion on this matter at all, but I share the hon. Lady’s view that supply does not rise to meet demand, which she has just repeated. I am asking her why she thinks that is the case. I have a view; I wonder whether she has.
I imagine that the hon. Gentleman’s view is that not enough people self-build. What has happened with supply reflects problems with the availability of land, although some land has now been released. I believe that the hon. Gentleman still sits on the Public Accounts Committee, as did I when we looked at the parcels of public land that were disposed of, supposedly to build 100,000 homes—yet it appears that hardly any have been built. There is not just one problem. I should like to continue with my speech, if the hon. Gentleman would not mind, and talk about the fact that more needs to be done than providing a supposedly simple fix of helping people on to the housing ladder. More definitely needs to be done than that.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) and I led the scrutiny of the Conservative Housing and Planning Bill—for 55 hours, I am told, and at times it felt like 55 hours. There was much to scrutinise and much that we were concerned about, although we welcomed some parts of the Bill.
The Government’s answer to the shortage of housing seems to be starter homes. To be fair, these homes are a solution for some young people, but only for young people who could have got on to the housing ladder anyway—people who have an income of £70,000 and a deposit of £98,000 in London or an income of £50,000 and a deposit of £40,000 outside London. This helps the few and not the many.
The hon. Lady might want to refresh her memory by looking at the Hansard for the Housing and Planning Bill Committee, particularly at the evidence sessions, where it was very clear that the average price paid by first-time buyers was considerably lower than the figures she has just outlined. I can tell her from looking at the issue that a starter home was available last week that required a deposit of £11,800—nothing like the sort of figures the hon. Lady mentions.
I thank the Minister for his intervention, but with Help to Buy and starter homes, many developers are seeing people queuing round the block for the opportunity to buy the few houses and flats that are available. That shows that people want to buy, but it also shows that more people want to buy than developers have properties to sell. In my experience, such a position simply inflates prices. What is more worrying, however, is the fact that developers can deliver starter homes to help the few, rather than affordable homes that would help the many. I do not think that Labour Front Benchers would have such a problem with starter homes if they were in addition to, but they are not in addition to; they are instead of.
Where are people supposed to live if they cannot afford a starter home? They will find themselves in the private rented sector, with insecure, short-term tenancies, unable to save for deposits on homes of their own because their rents are so high. In 2010, the average deposit was £43,000; it is now close to £60,000. If that trend continues, by 2020 the average deposit will be about £76,000.
At the core of the housing crisis is a fact that has already been touched on. Not enough homes are being built, but although in a year’s time we may be judged by the number of homes that we have built, in 10 years’ time we will be judged on the basis of the quality of what we have built. Although we need to build more homes, it is a question of not just number but quality, and the growing skills shortage in the construction industry seriously threatens our ability to deliver the types of home that we need.
The Construction Industry Training Board recently revealed that in 2013-14 just over 8,000 apprentices had completed their training, 10,000 fewer than in 2008-09. Many construction apprentices are working towards an NVQ level 2 qualification, which means that they will not have the complete skills set that would enable them to become fully trained construction workers. The Government need to tackle that growing skills shortage, because it is a key issue, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it. We need the land, the developers and the people who want to buy, but we also need the people who can build.
In 2010, one of the first decisions made by the Chancellor in the coalition Government was to cut investment in affordable homes. Partly as a result of that short-term cut, the housing benefit bill has risen in the last five years as families have been forced into the expensive private rented sector. The provision of affordable homes would save money for the taxpayer by lowering expenditure on housing benefit.
The housing benefit cuts will have a devastating impact on supported housing, which we debated in the House two weeks ago. The Secretary of State is pressing ahead with the cuts although the evidence review on supported housing that he commissioned, which was supposed to be completed in November last year, has still not been completed. The National Housing Federation predicts that 156,000 supported homes could be forced to close. Moreover, the building of a further 2,400 homes has been stopped because of the proposals. The cuts in housing benefit, which supports thousands of elderly, disabled and homeless people, will have a catastrophic impact on those who can least afford it. Homelessness is becoming a national scandal. According to Shelter, rough sleeping has increased by 55% since 2010. In fact, those statistics understate the true picture, because many thousands of people are hidden from view because they are sofa-surfing or staying temporarily with friends or family, with nowhere to call home. In London, that must be a priority for the next Mayor.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady, like me, is surprised that on Monday the Prime Minister—rightly, in my view—spoke of the need to address reoffending, given that many organisations that provide supported housing for ex-offenders are telling us that they will have to close hostels, bedsits and one-bedroom flats because they will not be able to go on providing them from April 2018 onwards. That will clearly boost the level of reoffending.
There are three prisons in my constituency, and that issue worries me greatly.
Private rents have soared well beyond inflation, which places more strain on tenants’ finances. Although most landlords do provide good-quality accommodation, the English housing survey estimates that almost one in three privately rented homes are non-decent. A quarter of a million properties in the sector are estimated to have a category hazard. According to a major report by Shelter which followed a YouGov survey, 61% of tenants had experienced mould, damp, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestations or gas leaks in the last 12 months.
The shadow Minister should be aware that when the Conservatives took over North West Leicestershire District Council after 33 years of Labour local government, we inherited the worst standard of council housing in the country, with 75% of the homes non-compliant with the decent homes standard. I am pleased to tell her, however, that under the Conservatives—and a Conservative Government—all the council housing in North West Leicestershire was up to the decent homes standard by 2015 and we are now the best in the country.
I can see that the hon. Gentleman is very proud of his constituency, and I am glad that the people there have decent homes to live in.
We tabled an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill proposing that all private rented property should be of a decent standard and fit for human habitation, but the Conservatives voted it down, which quite surprised me. I am pleased to say that the Lib Dems voted in favour of our amendment. In the past five years, we have seen a rapid growth in the private rented sector. The number of people and families living in the sector has increased, and more than 9 million people now rent privately. Many of them are under 35.
In the light of the hon. Lady’s comments, does she not realise that powers already exist to cover those issues in local government housing? I also assume that she will want to welcome the biggest crackdown on rogue landlords ever made by a Government, which the Housing and Planning Bill is taking through.
The Bill contains clauses on banning orders and rogue landlords, but they relate to taking action after the fact. I would prefer to see people entering into tenancies for private rented properties that are already fit to live in, rather than having to wait until they become unfit before the landlord can be put on a register, banned or fined.
In the motion, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) refers to the Lib Dems’ candidate for London Mayor. Indeed, it is rare to have a debate on housing in the Chamber without the mayoral candidates from both sides—all sides—being mentioned. I should therefore like to point out that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has described this election in London as a referendum on housing. I agree with him. The housing sector in London is in crisis and all the mayoral candidates need to pay great attention to that fact and to make this a top priority. My right hon. Friend has outlined a wide range of policies that will put Londoners first, secure more investment in house building across the capital and deliver more affordable housing for Londoners. He will do this by setting up a new team at City Hall dedicated to fast-tracking the building of genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy, and by establishing a London-wide not-for-profit lettings agency to promote longer-term stable tenancies for responsible tenants and good landlords across London.
It is very decent of the hon. Lady to give way. I do not want to disappoint her and, in this debate on housing, we must of course talk about the London mayoral election, given that housing is comfortably the biggest issue on Londoners’ agenda. Does she agree with Caroline Pidgeon’s idea that we should maintain the Olympic precept beyond its expiry date this year in order to create a fund to build affordable housing across London? Does the hon. Lady agree that this would be an innovative way of tackling the housing crisis across the city?
I am always in favour of innovation and new ways of looking at things, but I looked at that proposal only yesterday and I do not think it will raise enough money to do what the hon. Gentleman intends. However, innovation is always a good idea and I am glad that housing has now gone to the top of the agenda, particularly in London.
A lot has been written about the housing crisis, and we often trade statistics on the subject, but this is a crisis not only for the homeless or for those living in overcrowded slums; it is a crisis for all of us and for all our constituents. Decent homes make a decent society, and without a stable home people’s education and health are affected and family cohesion is shattered. The housing crisis is not just about numbers or about bricks and mortar; it is about people and their life chances. It is about the children who have been in three primary schools before they are even 10 years old, and about the teachers who are struggling to deal with the effects of classroom churn every month. It is about the children who grow up unable to put down roots and build the childhood friendships that are so vital to their self-esteem. It is about the local GPs who cannot build patient relationships because, in their thousands, patients move on and off the register each year, as they get shifted from one private rented flat to another. It is about the isolation of elderly couples who bought a house when they first got married and have lived there all their lives, but now no longer know any of their neighbours because 25% of the properties in that street are houses in multiple occupation, where there is a churn of tenants every six months. It is also about the millions of adults under 34 who are still living with their parents and about the parents of those adults, who worry that their children will never have a home of their own.
The life of the private renter is typically unstable, insecure and blighted by anxiety. The rogue landlords register has been mentioned and although it is welcome, it is action after the fact. Given that the private rented sector is likely to keep expanding, we need to create a reputable industry that protects the vulnerable and ensures that renters are not at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords. For too long, some private landlords have been able to take the money without the responsibility, while the rest of us pick up the costs of unstable communities, marriage breakdowns and children with no secure home life.
I opened by saying that the housing crisis is one of the greatest challenges to face our country, but we have seen house prices and rents far out of sync with earnings; a failure to tackle poor standards in the private rental sector; ever-increasing homelessness across the country. a Government who appear committed to seeing the end of the social housing sector as we know it; fewer homes built than at any time since the 1920s; and a generation of young people priced out of the property market. That is this Government’s record and they will be judged on it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. It will be obvious to the House that this is a short debate—we have less than two hours left—and a great many people wish to catch my eye. I hope we can manage without a formal time limit. Everyone will get a chance to speak if each hon. Member, out of courtesy for other hon. Members, keeps to somewhere between eight and nine minutes. You can work it out by adding eight minutes on to the time on the clock up there. I look on this as a test of very simple year 3 arithmetic. People who can add on eight will get it right and people who cannot will get it wrong, and we will see who is who.
I think I am going to fail at the first hurdle, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on a subject I have had an interest in for a long time, not least since I became a councillor back in 2003. Although I agree with the beginning of the motion, as I do believe that everyone has the right to a decent and affordable home, other parts of the motion are slightly disingenuous in respect of what this Government are achieving. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has acknowledged that this country has a housing crisis, but that crisis is down to successive Governments’ chronic lack of investment in the housing that we need.
It is right that we do everything possible to help people fulfil their ambition to become homeowners. I grew up on a council estate in the 1970s and 1980s, and it is fair to say that the early part of that period was an era that silently expected families such as mine just to accept their lot. Chances to improve our lives and move to a different area were extremely limited, but something that changed that and tore up that ethos was Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy policy. That was the first time people on my estate, and the first time in generations that families, were given the opportunity to own their home and enjoy the benefits that many other people had enjoyed in this country. This was not just about the opportunity and dream of owning one’s own home; it also helped significantly with those families’ social mobility. Some may say—I have heard it said today—that this policy is ideologically driven. If that ideology gives families such as mine the opportunity to become homeowners and improve their lives, it is an ideology I fully support. I am glad that this Government have kick-started that policy of right to buy again, so that families on those estates today are given the opportunities I was given. Furthermore, I am delighted that the Government have committed to a like-for-like rebuild for those houses. It is great that the replacement policy is already running at 2:1 in London.
I am proud that more council houses have been built under this Government since 2010 than the Labour party managed to achieve in a full 13 years. Other initiatives such as Help to Buy have also helped. Many of my constituents are now proud to have the family home and security that they want. I am proud, too, that our Help to Buy individual savings account is encouraging people such as my own parliamentary researcher to save up to become homeowners.
The right to buy scheme has now been extended to housing associations, which means that people such as my brothers and their families also have the opportunity to own their home. These schemes provide a real opportunity for young people to enjoy the social mobility from which I was fortunate enough to benefit.
It is important that we strike the right balance with the type of house that we build and where we build it. My hon. Friend the Minister will be fully aware of my concerns about the planning issues in Pudsey. My constituency has contributed greatly to the housing needs of Leeds. Many of the old mills have been rebuilt and used for housing. We have built many thousands of new homes to help supply housing for the Leeds area, but I have significant concerns about Leeds City Council’s local plan. The council has set itself an over-ambitious housing target of 70,000 houses over 14 years, which poses a threat to the green-belt land that makes our city and my constituency great. The land serves as natural boundaries between historic towns and villages and helps to stop urban sprawl. It is important that we do not lose our identity of which so many people are proud. Areas are at risk from the council’s target, and Leeds City Council is currently consulting on the site allocation plan. The response has been huge.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about green-belt land. Does he agree that green-belt land also plays a key role in driving urban regeneration and in delivering a lot of our brownfield sites not only in Leeds, but in my city of York as well?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come on to that point in a minute.
As I was saying, the response to the consultation has been significant. I pay tribute to the neighbourhood development group, Rawdon and Horsforth councils and other community groups that have been helping local people understand these complex matters. What frustrates local people is that these valuable green sites are up for grabs while the brownfield sites in other parts of the city are just left abandoned.
I thank the hon. Gentleman who is my neighbour for giving way. He and I agree on the Leeds City Council targets, but does he not accept that there is a real disconnect between what he would like and what Ministers say, and the reality of the Conservative Government’s planning system and what it delivers? Does he not agree that our constituents are frustrated about that? Does he not acknowledge that, and is he raising it with Ministers?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have raised those issues on a number of occasions. Of course the plan must go before the inspector, and we will be making it very clear that much of what Leeds City Council is advocating goes against Government advice. We will make that point very strongly again during the inspection period.
While I am talking about the brownfield sites, let me say that the Leeds City Council plan goes against the advice from Ministers on brownfield development first. Releasing green-belt land should happen only in exceptional circumstances, and those circumstances have not been proved by Leeds City Council.
What also frustrates people is that there are already 17,000 planning permissions in existence in the Leeds area, and not one single brick of those schemes has been built. We need to get the developers building. They cannot be allowed simply to say that they cannot afford to do so. We need far more help in this regard. Building on those sites with the 17,000 permissions would go a long way towards helping to deal with our housing crisis.
We have suffered significant floods in the Leeds area recently. It is easy to attack the Government on the flood defences project, but Leeds City Council must look at the plans that it is putting in place. Building on those important green-belt sites in my constituency will add to the amount of water coming off those new estates and into the rivers that serve the city further downstream.
We need to get some of those 17,000 houses rebuilt and implement the powers that already exist to bring empty houses back into use. We must regenerate the brownfield sites to create the housing that people need so that the residents who live there now can enjoy a much smarter area to live in. I welcome the fact that the planning process now involves more neighbourhood planning, and I hope Ministers will look carefully at the plan to see whether Leeds City Council has properly engaged with groups such as the Aireborough neighbourhood development forum, which has some strong concerns.
I am proud of our Government’s achievements. Yes, 260,000 affordable houses have been built. The right to buy offers opportunities to families like mine and allows more young people to become homeowners. Some of us never had the bank of mum and dad, so I thank the Government for the initiatives that will help those 86% of people who aspire to own their own home, because my experience shows that the best social mobility can start when we give people the reality, not just the dream, of owning their own home.
I am glad to be able to contribute to this debate on housing, because it is a clear example of a tale of two Governments and of the positive effect that the different approach taken by the SNP Scottish Government is having on housing provision in Scotland.
I read with interest the Liberal Democrat motion before us today, for the Liberal Democrats’ record on housing under the coalition Government was not great. They continually voted with the Tories in favour of the bedroom tax, and even voted against exempting social tenants who were carers or had disabilities. The SNP in Scotland has been working to mitigate this catastrophic policy and its effects on vulnerable people. The Scottish Government have committed £90 million since 2013 to mitigate the impact of the tax on 72,000 households in Scotland.
In Glasgow alone, £18.8 million has been spent providing community care grants and crisis grants from the Scottish welfare fund to mitigate the welfare reforms brought in under the coalition, with £8.3 million in discretionary housing payments to combat the bedroom tax specifically. The SNP has helped the most vulnerable, and I feel deeply for every household in England that struggles on unaided. The recent court cases demonstrate the deep injustice of this policy— many of those who had had their homes specially adapted for their needs have now lost their
“decent, affordable home to live in”.
In Scotland, too, the Lib Dems’ legacy on housing is very poor. Their motion talks of under-delivery by successive Governments, and how right they are. In coalition with Labour, the Lib Dems in government in Scotland built all of six council houses in a full four-year term in Parliament. Those were all in Orkney and Shetland. I see that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) is not in his place. Since the Scottish Government took office in 2007, 162 council homes have been provided in that constituency—a 2,600% increase. That is a good record for us in Orkney and Shetland at least.
In Scotland we are doing all we can to increase housing stock, having already exceeded our five-year target for building 30,000 affordable homes. Figures released on 1 December last year show that 30,133 affordable homes have been built since 2011, which is 133 more than our target. Since 2007, the Scottish Government have seen the completion of 54,186 affordable homes. Social rented completions have also exceeded our target of 20,000. At the end of October last year those stood at 400 more than our target. The target of 5,000 council homes has been exceeded by 292. The Scottish Government have already invested over £1.7 billion in affordable housing to achieve this target, despite a 26% real-terms cut to Scotland’s budget since 2010. The Scottish Government are not stopping at that, however, and if re-elected in May, an SNP Government will press on with an even more ambitious target of 50,000 new affordable homes, a £3 billion investment that will help to create 20,000 jobs per year.
The Liberal Democrat motion notes the increase in training and apprenticeships that home building can bring, and, in that, it is absolutely correct. We have invested in apprenticeships in Scotland, and many of the developments I saw in my eight years as a councillor had significant apprenticeship programmes. Community benefit clauses have also been brought in as part of housing projects, which is really important for the local communities involved.
Investing in housing is particularly important in areas of deprivation, creating a virtuous circle that gets people out of poverty. The investment in affordable housing in Scotland over the current parliamentary term is creating an estimated 8,000 jobs per year.
In contrast to England, where the right to buy has been extended, the Scottish Government have increasingly restricted the scheme. In 2013, they confirmed that they will abolish it, and that will take effect soon. In July 2013, Nicola Sturgeon announced that they intended to do that to prevent the removal of properties from the social rented sector. She said:
“we can no longer afford to see badly needed homes lost to the social sector…That is why I am today announcing the final stage of the abolition of the Right to Buy—a decision that will safeguard Scotland’s social housing stock for the benefit of citizens today and for our future generations.”
In 35 years, the right to buy has resulted in the selling of about 2 million council properties in England and just shy of 500,000 in Scotland. In Scotland, more than 160,000 replacement homes were built—leaving a huge deficit in social rented housing. By scrapping the right to buy, the Scottish Government are keeping up to 15,500 homes in the social sector for the next decade.
The UK Government’s proposals involve selling off at least another 113,000 council properties to fund the selling-off of housing association properties, while so many people still languish on waiting lists. Conservative Members talk about people’s right to own their own home, but they forget completely about the rights of the people on these waiting lists, who sit in accommodation for the homeless and do not have the right even to rent, never mind to buy.
The maddening thing is that this obsession with the right to buy does not even save money for the public purse. Often, these homes do not end up being lived in by the purchaser. Figures presented by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations in evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into the right to buy show that 40% of the properties purchased under the right to buy end up in the private rented sector, incurring higher rental costs for tenants and higher rates of housing benefit than if they had remained in the social rented sector. SFHA estimates that that equates to £324 million per year in Scotland alone.
The Government’s obsession with homeownership is resulting in the continuing depletion of social housing stock in a way that is unsustainable given the continued high levels of need. The proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill, which talks of pay to stay, ending secure tenancies, extending right to buy to the hard-pressed social rented sector and enforcing rent reductions on housing associations, all speak of a Government who do not recognise the significance and importance of being able to rent a decent home. Some people cannot afford to buy; some do not want to buy and are happy to be in social rented housing.
I hope the Liberal Democrats are moving towards improving their previous position on social rented housing. If they are, I welcome that. I also hope that they will look to Scotland and follow the SNP Government’s lead.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), because her leader at Westminster, the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), was one of the sponsors of my Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill, which became law on 26 March 2015.
If the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) thinks I am going to talk about self-build and custom house building, I would not want to disappoint her. There are many good reasons for engaging in self-build and custom house building, and I will come to them shortly.
First, however, we have to analyse why so many Opposition Members—I have listened to them drone on for a long time—appear to think that the current housing system is, give or take, more or less, in reasonably good shape and that it just needs a few tweaks, give or take, more or less, to sort it out. The truth is that our housing system—the one we have endured for 50 years— is intellectually, socially and morally bankrupt. It is intellectually bankrupt because the supply of housing does not rise to meet demand—the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead could not give me a reason why, but she accepted that that was the case. It is socially bankrupt because not having enough housing is so extraordinarily divisive and limits opportunities. Finally, it is morally bankrupt because it is a disgrace that a rich country such as ours cannot supply enough decent housing for everyone to have somewhere to live, and that, in a country where the vast majority of people want to own their own house, homeownership is going down rather than up. This Government are starting to address these problems with the radical solutions that will make the difference.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), did not talk about self-build at all, although his motion refers to it. Yet that is by far the most radical suggestion in the Housing and Planning Bill, which amends the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act to take it further. Under the Act, local authorities will have an obligation that cuts in on 1 April this year to maintain a register of people who want to develop their own self-build project—individuals or groups of individuals. The Bill, which is currently in the other place, will place an obligation on local authorities—I do not think most of them have realised this yet, to be honest—to provide serviced plots commensurate with the demand as evidenced on their registers.
My hon. Friend speaks with great passion on this issue, and that is wonderful. If councils take these lists seriously, will not that offer the opportunity that, when significant development sites come up, whole areas can be set aside for self-build?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The only thing I would question is his use of the word “if”. Councils have a legal obligation to take the lists seriously. A planning inspector would be quite right to find a local plan unsound if it failed to contain provision for serviced plots commensurate with demand as evidenced on the register.
When Councillor Barry Wood, the leader of Cherwell District Council came to our self-build summit in Downing Street last month, he talked about one of the sites in the National Audit Office report that the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead mentioned, which has 109,500 potential houses. I spent some time explaining to the permanent secretary of the Department that our constituents liked living in real houses rather than potential houses. The list is a bit distorted, because on some of that land nothing has happened at all, and on some of it a great deal has happened. There are 1,900 serviced plots in Bicester, at Graven Hill. Anybody can look at that scheme by going to gravenhill.co.uk. Once it gets off the ground, as Councillor Wood explained in his presentation, it will make a significant difference to the marketplace because people will start looking at it and saying, “They have that in their area—why can’t we have it in ours?”
As always, my hon. Friend is speaking as a passionate advocate of self-build. He talks about local authorities taking this seriously. He will pleased to hear that my authority, Torbay Council, is already looking to identify sites for self-build projects.
I am very pleased to hear that. There is quite a lot going on in the south-west, and I hope it will spread right across the country to all corners of our great kingdom.
According to a YouGov survey, 75% of people do not particularly want to buy the product of the volume house builders. That probably has something to do with the quality of the offer and the fact that there is not enough choice. However, they sometimes have to do so even though they would prefer to do something else. An Ipsos MORI survey discovered that 53% of people would like to build their own house at some point in their lives, that 7 million people would like to do it in the next five years, and that 1 million would like to start in the next 12 months.
There are a whole range of benefits in this approach. We get much better quality building standards—I am sure the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead would approve of this—because people who are investing in their own homes are not doing it to get a margin that they can sell on in the way that, perfectly understandably, a volume house builder tries to do. Rather, they will try to get the highest quality fabric, and the highest thermal performance standards, that they can possibly afford. It also helps the skills agenda. Some people are doing it themselves, while some are commissioning others to do it but often still get involved at some level or other. There is a tremendous opportunity for the apprenticeships programme. Locally built housing causes money to stay in the local economy.
Self-builders are often much more community-spirited. They are much more likely to stay and to become pillars of their local communities; they are the ones who get on to the parish council. It is great for helping the vulnerable. What I find so depressing about the droning I have heard from the Opposition Benches for some years now is that there is no sign of radicalism. Somebody who goes on to the Community Self-Build Agency’s website—I encourage anyone to do this—will read the following on the front page:
“I was encouraged by the local council to apply for the CSBA Scheme, I rang them and said; ‘I am disabled, unemployed, on benefits and I know nothing of building.’ They said; ‘You fit all the criteria!’ I have never looked back.”
Rod Hackney said:
“It is a dangerous thing to underestimate human potential and the energy which can be generated when people are given the opportunity to help themselves.”
That is what this is really about.
I recently spoke to the headteacher of a small, rural high school in my constituency. It is always going to be a small school, because of the demographics, and it finds it difficult to recruit teachers. I told him, “You and the governors could tell a potential recruit in a difficult-to-fill subject, ‘If you come to our school, we’ll help you create your own house, which you could either rent or perhaps buy from us in the future.’ A history teacher could have a library for a couple of thousand books, and an arts and crafts teacher could have a workshop. Do you think that would help you recruit teachers?” He said, “God, yes, it would.”
The head of children’s services at Norfolk County Council recently told me that it is very difficult to recruit senior social workers with lots of experience of leading teams. Under the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act, a county council could register as an association of individuals; a planning authority would then be required to provide them with serviced plots. The potential of the Act is extraordinary. It gives us a chance to change the equation and how things are done.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said in his opening remarks that we cannot rely on the dysfunctional market. Of course we cannot. It is touching that there are people who think we have a functioning housing market, and the fact that he refers to the market in that way suggests that he is one of them. What we have to do is fix it. In markets, people have real choice. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) said earlier that there have been decades of under-investment. I was going to intervene on him, but I did not, to ask him why he thinks we have managed to have enough shoes for everyone without decades of Government investment in the shoe industry. No one says that we need a national shoe service in order to solve the problem of not having enough shoes. What we need is a market that actually works.
Perhaps that is because shoes are not particularly expensive, whereas a flat in London can cost £500,000.
The word “expensive” is a function of supply and demand, and the word “affordable” is itself deeply laden. If there were enough supply, the price would not be as high relative to income. At present, the average cost of an average dwelling in South Norfolk and in Harlow is about 8.2 times the average income, while in Hertfordshire the average cost is 13.6 times the average income. If we had a market in which supply rose to meet demand, those statistics would not be so out of kilter. That is what we need to fix.
The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said that it takes bravery to take the community with you. No, it doesn’t! It does not take bravery to stand up for one’s constituents and say, “I want you, your family and your children and grandchildren to have somewhere to live, and if we make it beautiful and somewhere that people would welcome, the people in your community would welcome it, too.” We have a revolution on its way, and people should get with the programme or get out of the way.
As a former teacher of year 3 children, I will be particularly mindful of your stipulation on time, Madam Deputy Speaker.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate. My only tiny regret with the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) is that it makes no reference to Wales. It does, however, make a specific reference to rural communities. I will restrict my comments to the situation on the ground in rural communities, not least in my own Ceredigion constituency.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon). Many of my constituents will appreciate some of his comments about self-build. My only regret is that his Act does not apply to Wales, but there is certainly an appetite for the initiative in parts of my constituency.
Housing responsibility for Wales rests, quite rightly, with the Cynulliad—our Assembly and Government in Cardiff—but I think that many of the concerns I will briefly outline in the time available will resonate across other peripheral and rural areas. I represent a constituency that covers a vast geographical area. It includes 147 small communities and 600 family farms in a sparsely populated part of west Wales. We have talked for many years, emotively perhaps, about a housing crisis, but now is the right time to do so, because that housing crisis exists.
My surgeries, like those of the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), are packed every week with people with housing concerns. More than 2,000 people in Wales have been on the waiting list for more than 10 years, and 90,000 households throughout Wales have been on social housing waiting lists for some time. The homelessness charity Crisis notes that overcrowding in houses in Ceredigion is above average compared with the rest of Wales. There is particular concern about those seeking social housing, of which there is a lack. Young people and young families face very real pressures. Many face the decision over whether they can stay in the community—the broader community, not just the county—and whether there is any accommodation available for them. The response from the Assembly Government has been inadequate. I regret that there are not more Labour Members of Parliament present, particularly those from Wales, although I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and one of her colleagues for being here. There are issues that the Welsh Assembly Government must address in the coming weeks and months.
The housing crisis has had an effect on rural services more generally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale mentioned. When we see the reality of communities that depend on seasonal residents and seasonal tourism, not families who live there week in, week out, we begin to understand the logic behind—and flawed concerns about—the closure of post offices, village shops and long-established banks, and the reduction in viable public transport. There is a vicious circle in the housing crisis. Young families’ inability to stay in a community because of housing shortages directly affects its social and economic fabric. We do not want the vibrancy of our communities to be restricted to the summer holidays or new year’s eve festivities, but that is the reality.
Our county has seen a programme of village school closures, much of it driven by the Labour Assembly Government’s policies, but some of it dictated by declining numbers of schoolchildren in our villages. That is, in part, dictated by the number of young families who are able to stay in our communities without being priced out. That is a direct result of the sale of social housing and the inability to invest adequately, which mean that many people cannot stay in the locality. A few years ago, I remember arguing with the county council about keeping open a school in my constituency: the St John Rhys school in Ponterwyd, in the north of Ceredigion. An integral part of our case that persuaded the local authority to keep the school open was the fact that we could point to new housing development from Mid-Wales Housing Association, one of our social housing providers. We succeeded in keeping that school open, although the numbers are small. The development of that housing association project allowed the school to stay open.
The effect of not getting this right has a much deeper significance and impact on communities. When we read statistics such as those recently provided for my constituency by Savills, which showed that only 22% of my constituents can afford a medium-priced house of £166,000 and that only 52% of two-wage families can afford a property of that price, we begin to understand the enormity of the challenge. We have the widest disparity between wages and property prices anywhere in Wales. That has had a significant effect on the demographic of the community, as the National Housing Federation pointed out in some work last year. The demographic is changing, and the idea of a living, working countryside is at risk.
Last year, the NHF pointed out in an English context that we are seeing the emergence of “pensioner pockets”, as communities shift from being a balance of young families and older people to being made up largely of the elderly. That puts added pressure on social and health services, and Ceredigion County Council and Hywel Dda health board have been grappling with that. The NHF has stated:
“All it would take to deal with the acute housing crisis in rural areas is a handful of high quality, affordable new homes in our villages or market towns.”
My only hesitation in supporting what the NHF has said is that we will need rather more than a handful.
In my county, the local development plan has identified a need for 6,000 new homes, but there are challenges involved in achieving that. The building of affordable homes is governed by section 106 agreements, but the developer on a modest development must either build the affordable properties first—therefore, by implication, the project will not be as financially lucrative in the short term—or face a 10% levy. Of course, many of our small builders operate their businesses on the margins. There is an automatic disincentive or cost to the builder. Many I have met—I met one a short time ago in the town of Lampeter—have remarked that that levy, plus some perhaps well-intentioned Welsh Assembly Government legislation on compulsory sprinkler systems in houses, has had the effect of ratcheting up prices by in the region of 30%. That has an impact on affordability, and it also explains why much dormant land has, in effect, been banked and has not so far been developed.
There are some new developments. I am thinking of the 27 units in the village of Bow Street, financed by the housing finance grant initiative, and the 23 units in the village of Felinfach, made possible by the council making land available at less than the market value. It is no exaggeration to say that these projects were snapped up at the earliest opportunity, which is in itself an indication of the challenge that many of my constituents face, as well as the opportunities for them and the realities on the ground.
The long-term strength and vitality of the housing market is of great importance to North West Leicestershire. It is the base of three of the UK’s leading house builders—Barratt, Bloor and Davidsons—and it is also the home to aggregate industries such as Midland Quarry Products, Breedon Aggregates and Lafarge, which produce a considerable amount of the UK’s aggregates requirements. In addition, we have two of the largest and most efficient brick factories in Red Bank and Ibstock Brick. Indeed, it could be argued that no constituency has a greater vested interest in the health of the UK housing market.
With that in mind, I am proud of this Government’s housing record, compared with the lamentable one of the Labour party. I can ably demonstrate that with figures from my own constituency. Only 186 new homes were built there in 2010-11, but that figure had more than tripled to 678 new homes completed in 2014-15. I and my council fully expect the figure to be even higher next year—well in excess of 700 new homes a year.
The previous Labour Government’s lamentable record extends to social housing. The last social housing built in my district council area was back in 1991. None was built when the Labour party was in power, either nationally or at district level. Indeed, the former Labour-controlled North West Leicestershire District Council wanted to dispose of the council’s property portfolio in a stock transfer. Had the newly elected Conservative district council not cancelled the previous Labour administration’s planned stock transfer on taking office, we would not have been able to get Government funding to upgrade the 75% of the council housing stock that was left below the decent homes standard after 33 years of Labour neglect, as I mentioned in an intervention. That has been corrected under the Conservatives, and all our houses have been brought up to the decent homes standard and are now equal to the best in the country. I am pleased to tell the House that, instead of disposing of our homes, my council will, under this Conservative Government, build new council-owned homes during its present term. They will be the first council houses to be built in my constituency for 25 years.
One factor we must consider is that this is not just about the quantity of houses built—many hon. Members have spoken about that—but about the quality of homes we are building. We have all seen the social problems that have in some ways been compounded by poor housing design from the 1950s onwards. We still have at least 140,000 households with children in this country who live on the second floor or above, despite lots of evidence that multi-storey flats attract higher crime rates and social breakdown, potentially offering our children a poor start in life. This Government have wisely scrapped the previous Labour Government’s Whitehall targets, which forced local authorities to build high-density flats, rather than family homes and attractive terraces.
In addition, the Government have embraced Building for Life, a hallmark of quality design pioneered in my very own constituency of North West Leicestershire. Building for Life now offers a planning process based on what people care about.
It sounds to me as though my hon. Friend has visited buildforlife.org.uk, the website of the all-party parliamentary group on self-build, custom and community housebuilding and place-making.
Indeed. My hon. Friend will know that a couple of years ago I hosted the Building for Life function in the House of Commons, which was attended by the Housing Minister of the time. This is something that I very much believe in. One of my sayings is that Building for Life is not just about building houses, but about building communities. That is what we are doing in North West Leicestershire.
People care about privacy, private space, amenities and safety. Building for Life focuses on such fundamentals. It offers community-focused design tools that aim to ensure that existing and new residents are happy with the development and, therefore, raise minimal concerns about the impact of the new development. Importantly, it also offers home builders the opportunity to work with the planning authority ahead of an application to make sure that those shared objectives will be met, which makes for a more streamlined planning process. It is clear that good design is vital to avoid the mistakes of the last century, which have led to ugly and crime-ridden tower blocks and sink estates.
With that in mind, I encourage the Government to do all they can to help local authorities lodge their local plans and to offer clear guidance on what is required of them. My authority is having problems ascertaining what house building levels are expected of it and in calculating the five-year land supply. I urge the Minister to consider whether the Planning Inspectorate should look at the number of permissions that are granted by a council, rather than simply at the build rate, which is not necessarily within the council’s control. I would appreciate a meeting with the Minister at his earliest convenience to discuss these matters.
Turning to the Liberal Democrats’ housing plans, their manifesto claimed that they had a target to build 300,000 homes a year and 10 new garden cities, but there was no credible detail on how that would be delivered in reality. They say that this Government have chosen to keep the broken market broken, without acknowledging that since 2010, partly with their help, more than 700,000 additional homes have been provided, the number of empty homes is at its lowest level since records began, the number of affordable homes is growing at the fastest rate since 1993 and council house starts are at a 23-year high.
My hon. Friend outlined clearly what a good Conservative authority can do to deliver housing. I would be very happy to meet him at an early opportunity to discuss the situation that his council is in, as it tries to do the right thing by its community.
I thank the Minister for agreeing to a meeting. I hope that he and our Liberal Democrat colleagues will bear it in mind that if every constituency in the country was completing homes at the same rate as North West Leicestershire, there would be more than 450,000 new homes this year, which is one and a half times the Liberal Democrat target.
With his great expertise and knowledge of house building, would my hon. Friend ever contemplate building on the green belt?
There is no green belt in my constituency, but there is a green wedge, which is a valued area of separation between Coalville and the villages of Swannington, Whitwick and Thringstone. In a recent survey, it was claimed to be the most valued green space in the whole of Leicestershire. It is under threat from developers at the moment and we wish to defend it from that.
So the answer is no.
The Government have announced that there will be 400,000 new affordable homes and they aim, as the Minister mentioned, to have planning permission in place on 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020.
In summary, it can be seen from my constituency that the Government are delivering not just houses, but good-quality, well-designed homes that will provide much more social benefit and a better quality of life than many of the estates that were constructed in the past. Thanks to our long-term economic plan, house builders and home seekers have greater confidence to build and to purchase than at any time in the last decade.
The shadow Minister said in response to an intervention that I was obviously proud of my constituency. Indeed I am. Whether it is in housing, the fact that my constituency is delivering the highest economic growth outside London and the south-east, or the fact that unemployment is at an historic low of below 1%, I assure her that where North West Leicestershire leads, everyone else would be very wise to follow.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen), and it is good to hear that positive things are happening. During debates on important subjects—albeit on an Opposition day—it is important to acknowledge the gravity of the challenge that we face as a nation in addressing the housing crisis. We must consider that in a serious way, rather than just score party political points.
The housing crisis has not been properly dealt with by Governments in the past, and the lack of contributions to this important debate from Back-Bench Members from all parties is disappointing. Whatever positive things may be going on in certain parts of the country with certain sectors of the population, more people in my surgeries mention housing than any other issue, and every week families come to me who are living in unacceptably overcrowded social housing.
We are desperate for more social housing in Leeds, and to pin all our hopes on this extraordinary—and in my opinion disgraceful—extension of the right to buy, not to the state but to housing associations, will make that worse not better. At the same time, what is happening in Leeds shows not only a lack of balance but real confusion from this Government. Although he is no longer in his place, my neighbour, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), knows full well the frustrations of the national planning system. In his constituency and mine, the current planning system sometimes gives carte blanche to developers to develop greenfield sites, because we do not have the brownfield sites and the kind of houses that we need.
Although a number of houses are being built, if we build expensive housing in already popular areas—that is what developers want to do and it will not be solved by the market—we will end up with more expensive housing, which those who do not have access to housing, be they in private rented housing or social housing, or trying to get on the housing ladder, could never have considered buying in the first place. That does nothing for the housing crisis even though it leads to more housing, and the Government must be more honest about that.
The target of 300,000 new homes a year is perfectly achievable, but it is just as important to ensure that we focus that on the right kind of housing and in the right places. At the moment that is not happening sufficiently, and I look forward to hearing more about how Ministers will achieve that. We hear consistently from the Minister and his colleagues that brownfield development is being prioritised and incentivised, but that is not happening in Leeds, and I look forward to hearing how it will happen over the next few years. We need bold thinking on garden cities and not to have that shot down, and there is support for some of the areas suggested by the Liberal Democrats in their manifesto, including between Oxford and Cambridge—a great part of the country and an area of particular demand—and for a garden cities railway.
On the right to buy, why is there a blind spot for those people and families—including, in some cases, single parents—who work incredibly hard bringing up children on very low incomes and who are stuck in the private rented sector? Where is the hope for them? In many cases, their only hope is to get into a more affordable social home—a council house, as people in the north of England call houses that are owned by the local authority. Frankly, I have heard nothing from the Minister today that will give that huge section of the population any hope. Until they can get a council house—and that means building more of them—those people simply will not have that possibility. The idea of them getting enough money for a deposit is cloud cuckoo land.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point, with which I strongly agree, about institutional investment. Does he not accept that one of the big factors that will eventually lead to greater choice and supply in the private rental market is institutional money coming in and building large-scale development for rent, which is happening now across the country?
That is an intelligent intervention and a sensible point. Of course I agree, but that does not build council houses and it does not give people hope. It creates more private rented accommodation, but it does not deal with the problem these people face.
We talk about wanting local authorities to build more council houses. That is not some crazy left-wing idea; it is investment. It is the state building and investing in property. As everyone knows and would agree, it is a very good investment not only for housing associations but for councils and for innovative schemes. We need to see an increase in the ability of local authorities to invest in that way. I have been very critical of the Labour-run council in Leeds. Councils—certainly Leeds City Council—are not using the powers they have to borrow. That is very disappointing, particularly as we need to get away from the idea of social housing being on council estates. Social housing should be integrated. We need to integrate our towns, cities and villages. I have pressed Leeds City Council to purchase properties, using the money it has and the powers given to it by the coalition Government, in and around the place and to get away from having all our social and council houses together. That approach should be consigned to the past. I again call on Leeds City Council to use the powers it has to buy up properties, particularly in LS6.
Would you agree with me that your council could take guidance from Medway Council, a Conservative-run council that has been building council houses for the first time in a long time? It has smashed its own targets on affordable housing, delivering far more than our percentage target over a number years. Do you think that your council could take advantage of Medway Council’s experience in delivering in this area?
Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Lady, but this happened yesterday five times and it has happened today three times. When you use the word “you” you are referring to the Chair. The hon. Gentleman is the hon. Gentleman and his council is his council. It is like the eight minutes—you just use the third person. We are back to year 3 again.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I welcome the intervention from the hon. Lady, and indeed anything that will get Leeds City Council building more and using its powers. We need to learn from best practice everywhere and from councils of any colour.
My final point is that the planning system is not set up to deliver the solution to the housing crisis. Deregulating and making it easier for developers to build on green belt and greenfield sites will not help. I share the criticism of the housing targets and the fact that Leeds City Council will not revise its target. I have campaigned with my neighbouring MPs and with Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development, which highlighted the flaws in the council’s case. At the same time, WARD is very clear that there need to be changes in the planning system. It feels that, because of the planning system and the way that developers are able to exploit it, Leeds City Council will not stand in the way of developers. I again ask the Minister to look at my National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement) Bill, which came up with a number of solutions last year on how we can give more specific powers to communities and councils; look at housing targets not on a council but on a regional level; allow co-operation; and do more to put into practice the words from the Minister about ensuring that we incentivise development on brownfield sites.
The balance is not right on either the planning system or housing. Until the Government accept that and stop hiding behind the dangerous gimmick of the right to buy, it will leave many sections of our society with no way out of this housing crisis.
The crux of the problem that we face, and which we have faced for many years, is the fact that we do not build enough homes. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times we have built enough homes to meet the formation of new households, whether that is the result of divorce or the fact that we lead more solitary lives with more solitary households. Perhaps migration features around the edges, but those are two quite major issues. That means that we have not built anywhere near enough houses. This is not a new phenomenon, as it is a generational issue.
Many social aspects have been touched on by other hon. Members, so I shall discuss the considerable economic damage caused by building too few homes. It exacerbates the north-south divide, and means that demand for land and housing is concentrated in the south-east and they become more expensive, which damages the mobility of labour. It also leads to boom and bust. The recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s was domestically driven, and was caused by the shock of interest rate rises to combat inflation caused by an asset bubble.
An asset bubble in housing skews the way in which people invest in other assets. We have a low propensity to save partly because of the housing asset bubble and the fact that it predominates in our personal finances. It drains money away from other assets, and interest rates are kept artificially low, because of the debt that comes with housing. That is why we have so few savings, and so little confidence in our pension system. The housing asset bubble also divides the generations, and we can see that acutely today—many of us will have seen it in our surgeries.
Owning a home is a great thing, and is a moral good that has raised the wealth and life chances of millions. Like many Conservative Members I am from a council house background. Without the property-owing democracy of the 1980s, I would not be standing in the Chamber today, such are the opportunities that have arisen in my lifetime for my family.
Does my hon. Friend—by the way, I was born in his constituency, in Browns Coppice Avenue—think that it is instructive that we have heard a number of contributions from Conservative Members who were brought up in council houses? Those who strongly oppose the right to buy, although some of them are no longer in the Chamber, come from a wealthy background, and have been to top public schools. Whether or not they might one day have the chance to own their own home has never been an issue.
I completely agree. It is ridiculous politics for people on the housing ladder to seek to pull it up and not allow others on. That is terribly two-faced, and entirely wrong.
Help to Buy is a fantastic innovation and is a good measure for an emergency. Our housing industry was dying, which is why we introduced it. The Government should be commended for continuing with that policy. Social mobility is aided by the measure, but this is not a demand issue. It is a problem of supply.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. He is the first person to make the wider point that I think we should focus on, which relates to issues such as the pensions system and the price of money. We often talk about supply, but the price of money is an issue too. After the crunch there was a complete collapse in economic activity, and Help to Buy was given a huge boost, with maximum prices of £600,000 and so on, which was necessary to rescue the economy from what would have become a depression.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Help to Buy is very similar to the car scrappage scheme, which helped to rescue a major industry in 2008-09. The measure was introduced to allow house builders to get rid of dormant stock. As an economy, we are held captive by the lack of supply. Responsible Governments look at the supply side—that is what we did in the 1980s—for solutions, and that is what we are trying to do. We are trying to get more homes built: the Government aspire to 200,000 a year, or 1 million in total. It is good to have stretching goals, but if we could just produce enough for the new families being formed, that would be satisfactory. In my constituency, we are stepping up to the plate. We have a local plan in place, unlike many areas represented by Opposition parties. We have met the challenge and are looking to build more homes, be it through direct build, right to buy or getting housing associations to build more homes—they have not been building enough. I believe that devolution, through the combined authorities, can also help.
Finally, I turn to our opponents. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) said she did not want to trade statistics, so I will not delve into them, but I will say one thing: the real shame of the 1997-2010 Labour Government was that their flagship policy was home information packs. That was basically it on housing. All those people waiting on the housing list, looking for a home to follow their dreams, had to wait, because the homes were not being built for the households being formed.
Labour has commissioned a report into housing, as it did in 2004, and I presume that this time the findings will again be ignored. I will be interested to read the report—I do welcome it—but instead of commissioning a report, the Government are getting on with building houses. They can truly say, “We are the builders”.
I want to bring this debate back to the reality I see in my surgeries week after week, as families come to me pleading for help.
Last Friday, a family with two children came to see me. The father had become ill and had lost the ability to pay his rent in the private sector. He is now living with his family of four in a hostel for the homeless. His children are stigmatised by that experience. That is no way for children to grow up in our country. It is a family full of aspiration who just want a home of their own—somewhere safely to bring up their children. Following that, an intelligent gentleman came in. He was homeless. He was desperate to get a job, but he needed a home. He was desperate to get a home, but he needed a job. He was in a vicious circle. Homelessness, as we have heard, is on the increase, and that is unacceptable.
Those are not unique stories. I am confronted by similar ones every week. In York, 1,624 people are desperate for a home, so I want to reflect on the housing crisis there, some of the challenges and some of the fortunes we could turn around. Over the past 10 years, York has built only half the number of homes it needs. We need to be more ambitious. The housing market in York is collapsing, and people are being forced into the private rented sector because there is not enough social housing available. Some 26% of housing in my constituency is now private rented. The average price of a private rented house in York is £988 per calendar month—we are moving up rapidly to London-style prices—but the average wage is just £473, which is way below the national average. People aspire to a home of their own, but social housing is not available and they cannot engage in the private rented sector.
Is the hon. Lady aware that in some parts of the country, such as Hull, the private rented sector is actually cheaper than the social rented sector? In some parts of the country, the private rented sector is sometimes a better option.
That is not the experience in my constituency, where people are being priced out of the city, which is having an impact on the local economy. Businesses are saying that it is really difficult to recruit and retain the vital staff they need because people cannot afford to live in our city. The NHS requires improvement, not on account of the excellent care provided by NHS staff, but because it is unable to recruit the staff it needs—doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.
Our care sector, too, is in crisis at the moment because careworkers cannot afford to live in our city. It is impacting on discharges from hospital. I know of someone who was in hospital for seven months, trying all the time to get out. We have seen care homes shut down, and we know that it costs more to keep people in the NHS than to care for them in the community, but if we do not have the care staff in the community, people are going to be left in hospital, which is totally unacceptable. What is happening to our public services and to businesses in our city is impacted on by our housing crisis.
We know how much demand there is for homes. We have two universities in the city, which means 22,000 students all looking for homes, on top of the 1,624 people who simply do not have a home in our city at the moment. Under the Government’s right to buy scheme, the situation is going to get worse. The City of York Council will be asked to sell just short of 1,500 homes. It will stretch opportunity further and further away from people because of the price of housing in our city.
We have heard a lot about the opportunity to buy homes, but again this is largely inaccessible for many people in York. Starter homes can cost £209,000 and we know that people cannot afford the deposits. An average income of nearly £59,000 is required, but the average wage in York falls less than half of that. Buying does not provide the solution that people in my city are looking for.
It is not all bad news in York. We have a great opportunity because of the “York Central”—not to be confused with my York Central constituency—which is a 72-acre brownfield site looking to develop alongside the expansion of the National Railway Museum and the enterprise zone, which is coming in to build the opportunities for business in the city. The problem with the “York Central— Site, which is public land partly owned by the City of York Council, Network Rail and the museum, is that the council is looking at developing somewhere between 1,000 units and 2,500 units, depending on the size of the business area, but for high-value apartments. That will not at all address the social needs of my city. We are told that building on the site will be expensive because it is a brownfield site and that social housing cannot be considered. Expensive infrastructure in the form of access roads is necessary. The local housing associations have said that they simply cannot afford to build there. The situation is challenging, which is why I ask the Minister to look again at the principles of how to develop housing on brownfield sites as we move forward.
The reality in York is that recent housing developments are being sold off so that people can come and have somewhere to stay on race days. People have bought homes to use at the weekends or for holidays, or for commuters to use so that they can reduce the time of the journey down to this city to less than two hours, but none of that helps the 1,624 people who are on my city’s housing waiting list. The opportunity to build houses will be lost if we do not change planning priorities.
I would like to see put behind all planning an analysis of the housing need in the city, and, secondly, an analysis of the impact on the local economy of what is happening in the housing market. Then we should use those priorities to apportion the way in which housing is developed. I am calling on York First to make sure that the priorities of the people who live in my city are taken into account, so that housing on public land can address their needs. We first need to ensure, then, that the priority is building homes for the most vulnerable in our community—the elderly and the homeless, for example—and making sure that supported housing is affordable. We also need homes for social rent, which is the aspiration of so many. We cannot ignore the real needs of people who simply want a roof over the heads, and are being denied that at the moment. And, yes, we can then build starter homes and other homes. We know that that is possible. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, for instance, has a fantastic development in our city, Derwenthorpe, to house a mixed community.
I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government think about the priorities of the city, rather than the priorities of those who want to make an asset out of land.
I think that everyone has been delighted to contribute to the debate, and I am pleased to see that a quarter of the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party is present to appreciate it. [Hon. Members: “One less now!”] I spoke too soon.
Like those of others who have spoken today, my inbox is full of e-mails from people who are worried about housing issues, including the need for housing to be built. Such issues unite Members across the Chamber. It is true that families need homes, but it is also true that development must be balanced with the way in which our communities exist. Reconciling those two great and important demands is a challenge to which the Conservatives are rising. I must add that I was disappointed by the release of the draft options plan for Eastleigh on 23 December, just before Christmas. That was both disingenuous and against the spirit of the Localism Act 2011.
Home ownership is fundamental to our society, and it is very important to our party. I am proud to be a member of a party that gave 5 million council tenants the right to buy their homes. At the time of the election, and afterwards, I heard from many housing association tenants who were delighted to have the opportunity to make their space into a home of their own. Of course, our party’s policies will require the necessary amount of housing stock to be maintained. The number of new affordable and social rented homes has increased by more than two thirds in the last 12 months, but the picture has become slightly distorted in some parts of the country. Some residents feel locked out when it comes to housing in their communities.
I thank my long-term neighbour for giving way. I am glad that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has arrived to return his party’s representation in the Chamber to a quarter. He said earlier that he needed to take people with him. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not “taking people with you” to have a local plan and a borough consultation in my constituency that excludes Chandler’s Ford? The people who live there have been locked out of the consultation.
I think my hon. Friend must have read my speech. I was about to say that people in Eastleigh felt locked out of the local planning process by a complacent council that is not listening to residents and taking them on the planning journey. No neighbourhood plans are being subjected to a referendum. Residents have not been encouraged to take part in the process; indeed, I would say that Eastleigh Borough Council has barred them from it. My inbox is full of correspondence from frustrated constituents who want to play their part in the provision of homes, but do not feel part of the process. The council is riding roughshod over where the homes should be built.
The other day I went for a ramble through the most beautiful countryside, with a view of Winchester. I walked along highways and byways, past horses and cows, and reflected that this was the area where 3,500 homes are due to be built following the publication of the “Issues & Options” paper to which I referred earlier. I think it is entirely wrong that residents learned about that proposal just before Christmas, when present-buying, rather than house-buying, was their priority.
We need a strategic oversight for the housing of people throughout Eastleigh, and the lack of a local plan is very disappointing. However, I welcome the neighbourhood plans from Botley, which I have encouraged, and from Bishopstoke, where it has been recognised that most of the parish could be concreted over. When I spoke to the Minister yesterday, he agreed with me that the best way of providing housing locally was a locally adopted plan, and I am pleased that Eastleigh Borough Council has provided one for my constituents. They have waited for it for some time, and I want to ensure that it is not simply a rehash of the last one.
We must accept that housing is important and put it in the right context. When the Conservative coalition came into office in 2010, we inherited a housing crisis, and let us not forget that it continues today in Eastleigh because of the Liberal Democrats. So what is the future for the borough? We want homes that our children can afford, we need the right starter homes and we need to prepare the right brownfield sites. One such site in Eastleigh is about to become available, after some delay, for a new McDonald’s and new offices, but it should be used for starter homes in our community, and an Eastleigh residents group is fighting to achieve that aim. Housing is the No. 1 issue in my inbox. People are concerned about where the homes should be and how they should be built, and I believe that this Government are tackling the issue in the right way.
I declare my interest as a director of a shared ownership property portal and a mortgage broker. I want to make a couple of points about second-hand supply, which is often overlooked, and about estate regeneration, for which the Prime Minister has set out a very bold agenda. All the statistics show that there is a record low in the number of instructions to estate agents in the second-hand market. That is actually one of the main crises that we are facing, because the second-hand market forms such a large part of the market.
However, there is evidence that hope might be around the corner. We have recently heard a prediction from the National Landlords Association that 500,000 extra properties will come on to the market this year because of the buy-to-let tax changes and other changes that we are bringing in. I will put my neck on the line here and say that those measures represent the single most radical change that this Government have introduced so far, in the light of the wider impact that they will have. It is extraordinary to note, however, that just as it appears that those changes could have an impact, someone out there is going to go to court to try to stop them. I am of course talking about Cherie Blair. Looking at Blair Inc., we see that when Tony Blair finished as Prime Minister, he went round the world advising dodgy dictatorships, and that Cherie Blair is now going to lead a court action on behalf of, and defending, the rentiers. That is an interesting legacy indeed. It proves that champagne socialism is not yet dead.
On the regeneration agenda, I am proud that the Prime Minister has seized this important opportunity. He has set out plans to provide £140 million to transform 100 of our very worst estates. The theory behind estate regeneration is clear: it is that we can rebuild the very worst estates in the country and yet deliver a higher density of homes, thereby providing more housing for those who need it. That is an incredibly powerful agenda. Some will say, “Well, that all sounds very good in theory, but in practice those are people’s homes.” Developing those estates is not easy.
As the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on housing, I have had the privilege of visiting two major estate regeneration schemes in recent weeks: Woodberry Down in Hackney, and Elephant Road at the Elephant and Castle. In both cases, I saw the practical reality on the ground: we have rebuilt terrible sink estates with higher density housing of better quality and with a better eco-rating. We should be seizing this agenda. There is a link between the changes that we are bringing in on buy to let and the estate regeneration agenda.
Given my hon. Friend’s great expertise on this matter and my lack of knowledge, could he enlighten me as to what happens to the people who live on a sink estate when it is brought down and rebuilt? What happens to those people while they are having their homes rebuilt?
This is very simple. My hon. Friend is an expert on decanting, I think, and the answer to his question is that we decant them. That is the technical term. I am sure that this will be interesting to him, and I am sure that I know what he keeps in his decanter. It is probably the same nationality as his wife. The process is difficult, however, because we do have to decant those people. One solution, which we saw at Woodberry Down, is to build the new housing and decant the people in stages. We saw another solution at the Elephant and Castle, which was difficult but there was no alternative. It was to allow the estate to run down and become empty over time. That is the toughest part of the process.
The details of regeneration are incredibly difficult, as my hon. Friend the Housing Minister will know. However, the aim—which is the same as that of our policy on buy to let—is a one-nation Conservative housing policy that is about revitalising our worst estates and extending opportunities to first-time buyers, and if that hits some of those buy-to-let landlords, all I can say is that I wish them good luck in court but I believe we need a housing policy that is on the side of those who aspire to own their own home.
First, I thank everyone who has contributed to this good-natured debate, leaving aside the unfortunate references to the size of the Liberal Democrat party. We can live with that for the next four and a half years, and we look forward to 2020 and seeing the Conservative Benches severely depleted.
We have heard contributions from a number of Members, and I hope to make a brief reference to each. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) set out why lives are blighted, insecure and unfulfilled without housing. He rightly dwelt on the coalition Government’s record, which was in some aspects very positive, particularly on empty homes—all Members have campaigned on that, because it is such a waste of resource—and on scrapping the planning guidance. In a meeting with planning officers a few days ago, they described how the guidance had shrunk, and that is clearly welcome. My hon. Friend also focused on the negative impact a lack of housing has on rural communities.
I thank the Minister for his thanks for what the Liberal Democrats contributed in the coalition Government. I intervened on him to ask whether he would confirm how many social homes had been built during the time the debates he mentioned had taken place, but he did not give me that answer—I suspect it was probably not many more than the number of those debates. He focused on Eastleigh and it is worth pointing out, just in case any Members were of the opinion that nothing was happening on the local plan in Eastleigh, that it is being consulted on it at this very moment.
The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) spoke for the official Opposition and referred to the fact that starter homes should be additional, and I agree with her. There is nothing wrong with a starter homes initiative if it is part of a package and provides additionality. She referred to the skills shortages and helpfully referred to what the Liberal Democrat London mayoral candidate, Caroline Pidgeon, is planning.
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) is no longer in his place, but he said that everyone has the right to a decent home, and I completely concur with him on that. That of course applies whether they can afford to buy their own home or whether they cannot and need to rent an affordable home. He touched on the issue of the sustainability of housing, and I am sure that is key in his area. There is no point in building housing that is not sustainable, particularly in areas where flooding is prevalent.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) is no longer in her place, but she presented a glowing picture of the housing situation in Scotland under the Scottish National party. She did not, however, refer to figures from June 2015—it may be that things have moved on since then—when there were 150,000 families on the waiting list for a decent place to live in Scotland, and there were 1 million people suffering fuel poverty and 60,000 overcrowded homes. The picture is not quite as glowing as the one presented earlier.
The hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) complained that, although our motion contained a reference to self-build, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale did not refer to the issue. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will know that that was because my hon. Friend knew that the hon. Gentleman was going to concentrate exclusively on the subject of self-build in his speech and in a series of interventions, so he should be grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing him to focus on that in the way he did.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) focused on rural communities and rural services, and the impact that seasonal tourism can have on a range of services and the social fabric in areas where it means many homes are unoccupied at other times of the year.
The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) rightly focused initially on Labour’s poor track record over a 13-year period in its level of contribution to housing stock. He also focused on the importance of good design. That is particularly true, as I suspect that many of the developments we are going to see in future years will be at a higher density and therefore the design will need to be of even better quality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) talked about prioritising brownfield sites. Well, I have been a Member of Parliament for 18 years, and for each of those 18 years there has been a call for brownfield sites to be prioritised. It seems as though we have never quite got to the point where it has happened. He also pointed out that councils can take advantage of their borrowing powers—certainly my local council has done this—to invest in council housing. Like him, I regret the fact that his local authority has not done so. He also referred to his excellent National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement) Bill, which he would like all Members to support for the good ideas that are contained therein.
The hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight), who is in his place, praised Help to Buy, which was an excellent coalition policy that continued into this Government. The scheme clearly has made a contribution at a difficult economic time, where the market was dead, the skills associated with house building were being lost and something needed to be done, and the Government acted on that.
The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) mentioned the impact on businesses when employees cannot afford to live in the city in which they work. That is not just an issue for York. At the first meeting organised around the mayoral hustings for London, we heard about a large firm of accountants—a household name—that was having to find accommodation for their young employees, as those employees could not find anywhere in which they could afford to live, so affordable housing is a big issue for employers in London. As she pointed out, it is regrettable that, when there are sites that could provide a substantial level of affordable housing, very little, if any of it, ends up being used for social housing. In London, for example, New Scotland Yard has been bought up by a developer from Abu Dhabi for £370 million. The starting price for a flat is just below £1 million. I do not know whether there will be any affordable homes in that development. Clearly, that is a huge missed opportunity.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) had a number of pops at her Liberal Democrat councillors. I simply point out to her that the local plan in Eastleigh is under consultation, and I hope that she is encouraging her constituents to take part, either by email or in writing.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) talked about the importance of regenerating estates, which is essential, and can work effectively. In the London borough of Sutton, we have a good example in the Roundshaw estate, which was completely regenerated under Labour’s single regeneration budget, and it works very well. The residents of the old estate—it is the concrete monstrosity with 1960s tower blocks and aerial walkways that features in “The Bill”—wanted to stay on the estate, and were able to do so. The scheme was a total success. We need to regenerate, but, at the same time, maintain our communities.
In my last couple of minutes, I should like to comment on a couple of things that have not been mentioned in as much detail as I would like. The first is supported housing, to which I and the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead referred. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to this, because it is an issue to which the Government need to respond. In my constituency, I had a meeting with Transform Housing and Support and Langley House Trust that provide supported housing. They are very concerned about what will happen from April 2018 onwards when they will receive the housing revenue account figure only for that particular area. They say that they will not be able to provide supported housing. One housing association predicts that it will lose 300 units. I hope Ministers will listen to that concern and look carefully at the position. We do not want to see ex-offenders turfed out on to the streets because their housing providers cannot continue to meet their housing needs. That will not help the Prime Minister’s drive to cut reoffending rates.
On environmental standards, to which we heard reference, the Liberal Democrats pushed hard on that in coalition and made it a priority. It did not last very long once the Tories came to power. It is clear that the Prime Minister’s beloved huskies have been taken out and quietly shot. As the Wildfowl and Westland Trust requests, we should not neglect the quality of new housing from the perspective of resilience and environmental sustainability. When building new homes, we should have regard to natural resilience, such as sustainable drainage, which is vital for flood mitigation. We also need to have regard to carbon emissions and energy costs. What is the point of cutting the cost of new build by a fraction, thereby guaranteeing extra energy costs associated with heating that home for the next 50 or 60 years? That is what the Government have done by scrapping the zero carbon homes initiative.
I do not want to say that everything is bleak and there are no good opportunities out there. There are, and my local authority has taken advantage of them. It took up the ability to borrow and is building an extra 140 council homes as a result. It has set up a company, Sutton Living Ltd, which will build homes across all tenures—homes for sale, which will subsidise homes for affordable rent. That will provide hundreds of new homes.
In conclusion, I do not always agree with the Institute of Economic Affairs, but I share its view that unless we address the supply problem, we will not bring down prices or ensure wider home ownership. The Government’s plans do nothing to address the scale of the supply problem for would-be homeowners on lower or middle incomes, and their ideological opposition to social housing will ensure that the supply of affordable homes is cut. We often hear from the Government Benches the refrain “the long-term economic plan”. What families in overcrowded homes and young people still living at the hotel of mum and dad want to hear echoing round this Chamber is a long-term plan for housing. That is what we offer in our motion and what the Government have failed to provide. I commend the motion to the House.
What a fascinating debate this has been. It was opened by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) with a detailed speech containing the concerns that he wanted to raise.
I welcome the contribution from the shadow Front Bench—not for its content, but for its tone. At least it was positive in its approach to a very serious issue. Of course, I welcome the excellent comments from my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, who covered nearly every topic that was then discussed by hon. Members.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) rose to speak, half of those on the Liberal Democrat Benches exited in fear of her incredible reputation for bringing down those of that party political colour.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) spoke passionately about right to buy, what it meant to him and why it matters. How any hon. Member, almost all of whom will own at least one property of their own, can oppose assisting others to do the same is anathema to me, and I am sure it comes as a shock to my hon. Friend.
Having listened to the comments of my hon. Friend the Housing Minister, I do not think there is much that needs to be added to a comprehensive tour de force that explained why this is a one-nation Government who will build more homes, meet more aspiration, fight to deliver on our objectives and deliver our long-term economic plan. This is a Government who know what they are doing on housing, know where we are going on housing, and will make a real difference to all our constituents when they deliver on that plan.
9 February 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
House of Commons (Administration) Bill (Money)
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(1) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred under or by virtue of the Act by the Treasury; and
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