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Local Housing Need

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 14 September 2017

With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the latest stage of our work to fix this country’s broken housing market.

As I told the House in February when I published our housing White Paper, successive Governments all the way back to the Wilson era have failed to get enough new homes built. We are making some progress on tackling that: 189,000 homes were delivered last year and a record number of planning permissions granted, but if we are to make a lasting change and build the homes we need to meet both current and future demand, we need a proper understanding of exactly how many homes are required, and where.

The existing system for determining the number of new homes needed in each area is simply not good enough. It relies on assessments commissioned by individual authorities according to their own requirements and carried out by expensive consultants using their own methodologies. The result is an opaque mishmash of figures that are consistent only in their complexity. Such a piecemeal approach simply does not give an accurate picture of housing need across the country. Nor does it impress local people who see their area taking on a huge number of new homes, while a town on the other side of a local authority boundary barely expands at all.

If we are to get the right number of homes built in the right places, we need an honest, open and consistent approach to assessing local housing need, and that is exactly what we are publishing today. The approach that we are putting out for consultation follows three steps. The first step is to use household growth projections published by the Office for National Statistics to establish how many new homes will be needed to meet rising need. I should point out that those projections already take account of a substantial fall in net migration after March 2019, but that number simply shows the bare minimum that will be required in order to stand still. If we only meet rising demand, we will do nothing to fix the broken housing market, a situation caused by the long-term failure to match supply with demand.

The second step, therefore, is to increase the required number of homes in less affordable areas. In any area where average house prices are more than four times average earnings, we will increase the number of homes planned. The assessment goes up by 0.25% for every 1% that the affordability ratio rises above four. Of course, the state of the housing market means that in some areas, doing so would deliver large numbers of homes that go well beyond what communities have previously agreed to as part of their local plans.

That is why we have added a third stage of the assessment, which is to set a cap on the level of increase that local authorities should plan for. If a local authority has an adopted local plan that is less than five years old, the increase will be capped at 40% above the figure in the local plan. If the plan is not up to date, the cap will be 40% above either the level in the plan or the ONS projected household growth for the area, whichever is higher.

Those three steps will provide a starting point for an honest appraisal of how many homes an area needs, but it should not be mistaken for a hard and fast target. There will be places where constraints, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty or national parks, mean that there is not enough space to meet local need. Other areas may find that they have more than enough room, and they may be willing and able to take on unmet need from neighbouring authorities.

Such co-operation between authorities is something that I want to see a lot more of. To the frustration of town planners, local communities are much more fluid than local authority boundaries. People who live on one side of a line may well work on the other, communities at the edge of a county may share closer ties and more infrastructure with a community in the neighbouring county than they do with another town that is served by their own council, and so on.

From talking to the people who live in these kinds of communities, it is clear that they get frustrated by plans based on lines on a map, rather than on their day-to-day, real-life experience. Planning authorities are already under a duty to co-operate with their neighbours, but that duty is not being met consistently. Today, therefore, we are also publishing a statement of common ground, a new framework that will make cross-boundary co-operation more transparent and more straightforward. Under our proposals, planning authorities will have 12 months to set out exactly how they are working with their counterparts across their housing market area to meet local need and to make up any shortfalls.

The methodology that we are publishing today shows that the starting point for local plans across England should be 266,000 homes per year. Nationwide, this represents a 5% increase on the upper end of local authority estimates, showing that the local planning system is broadly on target. For almost half of the authorities for which we have data, the new assessment of need is within 20% either way of their original estimate. Nearly half—148—will actually see a fall in their assessments, which are going down by an average of 28%. In the other 156 areas, where the assessed need will increase, the average rise is 35%, but in most cases the increase will be more modest: 77 authorities see an increase of more than 20%.

We are not attempting to micromanage local development. This is not a return to Labour’s ineffective and unpopular top-down regional strategies, which we abolished in 2010. It will be up to local authorities to apply these estimates in their own areas; we are not dictating targets from on high. All we are doing is setting out a clear, consistent process for assessing what may be needed in the years to come. How to meet the demand, whether it is possible to meet the demand, where to develop, where not to develop, what to develop, how to work with neighbouring authorities and so on remain decisions for local authorities and local communities.

New homes do not exist in a bubble. New households need new school places, new GP surgeries, greater road capacity and so on. That is why earlier this year we launched our new housing infrastructure fund. Worth a total of £2.3 billion, it ensures that essential infrastructure is built alongside the new homes that we need so badly. We will explore bespoke housing deals with authorities that serve high-demand areas and have a genuine ambition to build, and we are providing further support to local authority planning departments with a £15 million capacity fund.

Those are our proposals, but experience tells me that as soon as I sit down, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) will leap to his feet, bang his fist on the Dispatch Box and tell us that today’s announcement is not enough and that it will not get homes built—and you know what, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will be absolutely right. These measures alone will not fix our broken housing market. I make no claim that they will. As the White Paper made clear, we need action on many fronts, and this new approach is one of them. On its own, it will simply provide us with numbers, but taken with the other measures outlined in the White Paper, it marks a significant step in helping to meet our commitment to deliver 1 million new homes by 2020 and a further 500,000 by 2022.

It is so important that we fulfil such a commitment because the young people of 21st-century Britain are reaching out, in increasing desperation, for the bottom rung of the housing ladder. For the comfortably housed children of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s to pull up that ladder behind them would be nothing less than an act of intergenerational betrayal that our children and grandchildren will never forget or forgive. If we are to avoid that and if we are to fix the broken market and build the homes that the people of this country need and deserve, we—all of us together—must start with an honest, open, objective assessment of what is needed and where. Today’s publication provides the means for making that assessment, and I commend it the House.

The country has a housing crisis, and Ministers are tinkering with the technicalities of the planning system. I thank the Secretary of State for the early copy of his statement, but 70% of people now see that the country has a housing crisis, and they are right: everyone knows someone who cannot get the home they need or aspire to. Home ownership has hit a 30-year low, homelessness is soaring and just 1,000 new homes for social rent were started last year under this Government, directly as a result of policy decisions taken by Conservative Ministers since 2010. There have been seven years of failure on all fronts. Not just the public but his own party expect more of the Secretary of State. Even the Prime Minister knows that housing was a big reason why Conservatives did so badly in the election.

Some of what the Secretary of State has announced today will be useful to help to underpin the national planning policy framework, albeit five years after it was adopted, but we cannot meet local housing needs without new homes of all types—from new homes to buy to new homes for affordable social rent—and securing planning permissions is only a small part of the answer. There were 300,000 planning permissions granted last year, yet the level of new affordable house building has hit a 24-year low.

The Secretary of State is right that the duty to co-operate is not working in a system in which there has been no strategic planning since 2010, so how is another plan going to help, even if it is called a statement of common ground? What will he do after 12 months if local authorities do not meet his deadline? It is sensible to have a standard method of assessing housing need, and the national housing and planning advice unit had one until 2010, when it was abolished. Will the new method apply from April 2018, as the White Paper promised, and if not, when will it apply? Lack of a standard method causes delay in producing local plans, and that is part of the reason why it now takes months longer to adopt a local plan than it did in 2010. How much quicker will these changes make the plan-making process?

At the heart of this is a new national formula that fixes housing numbers for local areas. The Secretary of State tells us that it is not a hard and fast target, yet local plans must meet the new numbers, and in more than half the country the numbers will go up by at least a third. What is it—tough action or warm words, a big stick or small beer? What action will follow a local authority’s failure to use the numbers in delivering the local plan? How many local authorities will at present meet and how many will fail to meet the new housing delivering test that he set out in the White Paper, and how many Conservative councils will fail his housing delivery test? Why did he make no mention of it at all in his statement?

One advantage of having the statement in advance was that I noticed the Secretary of State failed to mention one of the constraints that may mean these numbers do not need to be adopted. The green belt is in his script, but he failed to mention it in the House. Will he make it clear whether he meant to leave out any mention of the green belt?

Finally, people are looking for big action from the Government to fix the broken housing market and housing policy failures. They are looking for leadership to tackle the housing crisis. After seven years of failure, simply fine-tuning the detailed workings of the planning system falls dismally short of what the country needs.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his entirely predictable remarks. If I heard him correctly, he talked about tinkering with our broken housing market and about failure in the housing policy changes. I think he was referring to the 13 years of the Labour Government, in which he served as Housing Minister, and under which Britain reached the lowest level of housing starts since the 1920s. During those 13 years, housing starts declined by 45%, waiting lists increased by more than 1 million and the number of units available for social rent was cut by 420,000. This House will not take any lectures from him; that is his legacy. I readily admit that there is much more to do, but we have made serious progress over the past seven years—more than 893,000 new homes, including 333,000 new affordable homes, and planning permissions last year were at a record high. Of course, there is much more to do, and that is what today’s statement is about.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the statement of common ground. The requirement is to build on the duty to co-operate. We want to ensure that every local authority is doing just that—working with its neighbours, but in a much more transparent and open way. They must show their communities exactly how they are going to work with all their neighbours. He will see that the consultation sets out in detail exactly how that will work, but one of the first requirements will be that, within 12 months of the planning changes being made, all local authorities will be required to publish a statement of common ground.

The right hon. Gentleman asked when the new way to assess housing need will apply. We hope to make the changes by April 2018, but the earliest they will apply will be April 2018. To be clear, if any local authority is close to finishing a plan based on its current methodology, and if that plan is submitted for inspection by April 2018, that will be the basis on which the inspector will consider the plan.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the numbers—he referred to them as targets. I have been very clear that the numbers—the new way to assess housing need, which ensures that it is done properly and is more open, honest and transparent, and that there are more homes in the right places—will be the starting point for adopting new plans. When local authorities set out their plans and submit them to the independent planning inspector, they will be expected to have started with these numbers. If there is any difference from these numbers, they will have to explain that. For example, green belt, which the right hon. Gentleman asked about, is a perfectly valid reason, because protections are provided for the green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks. Local authorities can say, “These are some natural constraints that I have. How can you help me work with them?”

The right hon. Gentleman also asked me about the delivery tests. I did not mention them because they are not part of the consultation. They were consulted on for the White Paper. The White Paper was the consultation for the delivery tests, and it will be introduced, as planned, in 2018.

The right hon. Gentleman has a choice. He knows that his party failed the British people abysmally on housing for 13 years; it took us backwards, not forwards. Now he has the chance to put that right. He can either play party politics with this issue or he can listen to the British people and help us to fix this broken housing market.

I strongly welcome my right hon. Friend’s introduction of a long overdue market affordability test. Does he agree that the answer to the shadow Secretary of State’s question about the enforceability of these measures is that developers themselves, through the principle of sustainable development, will appeal and thereby enforce them if local authorities do not adapt their local plans to the new target?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments and his support for these measures. He is right in his assessment. As I said, the new numbers will be the starting point and, once determined, will be a material consideration in making planning decisions.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. In his analysis of the housing problem that England faces, he referred to the housing market and rungs of the ladder, but that reference to a market strikes me as the problem. As we move through life, our housing needs change, so there is a spectrum of housing needs, rather than one ladder that people go up and down, and which is entirely based on the purchase of property. We need to look at the whole mix of housing available to people right across the UK.

The Secretary of State mentioned the changes to local plans. I ask that he speak to the Minister with responsibility for housing in the Scottish Government, Kevin Stewart. We have a system called strategic housing investment plans, in which local authorities set out investment priorities for affordable housing, demonstrate how they will be delivered, identify resources and enable the involvement of key partners. That co-operation with a range of key partners makes the system something that Secretary of State might want to look at in more depth.

The Secretary of State failed to mention the right to buy, which has driven this crisis in England by reducing the housing stock. Those houses have not been replaced. Since the Scottish Government brought in right to buy, we have kept 15,000 homes in the social rented sector and have protected that stock for the use of future generations, which is absolutely vital.

The Government are making house building in the social rented sector more difficult; in particular, the 1% rent cap at a stroke reduced the ability of social rented housing providers to carry on with their investment plans. They may have had things that they wanted to do in the pipeline, but cuts to their resources may have significantly reduced their ability to carry them out. I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider the 1% cap.

It is important that the Secretary of State looks at the full spectrum of housing, not just at the market—that is, houses to purchase. If he does not, the UK Government will continue to fail so many people who are in vital housing need.

The hon. Lady makes a number of points, many of which were covered in the housing White Paper published in February. If she has not found the time to read it yet, she might want to do so, and if she has, she might want to re-familiarise herself with it. She talked about having the right mix of homes, and of course she is absolutely right. We must make sure that as local plans are developed, they take account of the needs of older people, young families and others. That set of changes was articulated through the White Paper.

The hon. Lady also mentioned right to buy and the Scottish National party’s opposition to people having the right to buy their own home—I am sure that her constituents heard that. One big difference between her and the Scottish Government’s approach on the one hand, and that of the Conservative party on the other, is that we believe that everyone should have the right to own their own home.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, but can he elucidate the rather confused position in London regarding the Mayor of London, the London boroughs and the surrounding boroughs? There seems to be a complete lack of co- operation in determining the number of affordable properties for sale and rent, although there is desperate need. In particular, can he look at central London, where property prices are beyond the capacity of anyone on a reasonable salary or wage?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight London. He will know from his experience and will have heard from his constituents that some of the greatest need in our country is in our great capital city. There is a need for greater co-operation, but the statement of common ground will help significantly by bringing greater transparency and more certainty, and it will force councils to co-operate much earlier in the process. One of the issues with the current duty to co-operate is that it tends to happen at the end of the process. This will ensure that that important dialogue begins right at the start.

Following that answer, we are talking not just about the number of housing units, but about who needs them. If the Secretary of State relies only on private developers to build houses in areas of high land values, such as London, we will not build houses at affordable rents in which people can live while they save to become house buyers. The Government have to step in and start building social housing again at rents that people can afford in areas of high land values, so that we can really mend the broken housing ladder.

The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on what I said earlier. When his party was last in power, social units declined by 420,000; I do not think many Members can remember him saying similar things then. If he really means what he says this time, he should agree with what he has heard today and what he has read in the housing White Paper published in February—I hope he has read it. We very much agree that there needs to be diversified supply in the market. It is not just about the private sector, although it has a hugely important role to play; we need more small and medium-sized builders in the market. We need to help housing associations, which currently account for almost a third of housing starts, to do even more. Where ambitious councils want to build more homes, we are ready to work with them.

The written statement says that there will be places, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty or green belt, where constraints mean that there is not enough space to meet local need. As the Opposition spokesman pointed out, my right hon. Friend omitted a reference to green belt in the written statement; was that a slip of the tongue or intentional? He instead inserted the phrase “national parks”. If it was a slip of the tongue, will he issue a ministerial correction?

I can assure my hon. Friend that we have been absolutely clear, and I am happy to be clear again: green belt rightly has a significant amount of protection in planning policy. What we have said today, and what we have put in the White Paper, changes absolutely none of that. We are committed to maintaining those protections; existing protections will in no way change. As I made clear in the statement and in my response to the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), when the new housing assessment is done, one constraint for local authorities could well be green belt. For others, it could be national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. It could be a combination of them. Some might apply to a single local authority. One of our building priorities has always been to prioritise brownfield land, and that does not change.

The Secretary of State has made a statement today that acknowledges the depth of the housing crisis and the broken nature of housing supply in the UK. Throughout the passage of the Homelessness Reduction Bill last year, Ministers consistently claimed that they would need to fund the implementation of the Act for only two years, because the Act would solve homelessness within that time. A National Audit Office report this year makes it clear that the homelessness crisis is deepening and that the Government’s light-touch approach is simply inadequate to the task. Will the Secretary of State now commit to proper and continuing funding for the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, so that councils have the resources that they need now to support everyone who requires help with their housing?

I am proud of the Government’s support for the Homelessness Reduction Act. When it comes into force, it will help in many ways and make a big difference, but it will do so alongside all the other measures the Government are rightly taking to tackle homelessness. We are committed to spending £550 million for the five years to 2020. That commitment stays, but we are always looking to see what more we can do. That is why, in our recent election manifesto, we committed to Housing First pilots.

I welcome today’s announcement. I believe it will help to fix not only the national housing market but an issue in my area. Will the Secretary of State confirm that where two local authorities—in this case, Ryedale and Hambleton—have local plans in place to deliver on need, but one local authority that borders them has no local plan, the Government will step in and write that local plan for it?

The new statement of common ground will require all local authorities, including those that do not have plans in place, to set out within 12 months exactly how they will co-operate and work with their neighbours. My hon. Friend highlights powers that we have taken in this House that would allow the Government to direct a local authority—for example, a county council—to do a plan for them if it will not do it. We will not hesitate to use those powers where necessary.

I just think the Government’s policy is a shambles. In the Rossendale part of my constituency, the Government have imposed a target of some 5,000 properties, and I presume they will propose another target, yet in the other half of my constituency there are 2,000 empty properties. There are 750,000 empty properties in the country. Nothing has been said about that. We have had no regeneration of empty properties. We have shops lying empty that could be used for the housing crisis, but we have heard nothing about that either. The Government have an incoherent programme. When are they are going to do something about empty housing, and when are they are going to have a coherent housing policy?

There is a huge role for the hon. Gentleman’s local authority to play, so he should be putting those questions to it about what it intends to do. On vacant homes, the number of long-term vacant homes in England is approximately 600,000. That is the lowest number recorded in a decade, so we have already made substantial progress. There is, of course, a lot more to do, but he should give the Government some credit for doing work that should have been done by a previous Government.

Since the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 was passed by Parliament, some 25,000 people have registered their interest in getting a serviced plot of land to build their own house. Is the Secretary of State aware of how much further this could go, including as regards affordable social rent through group self-build, as I have seen personally in the Netherlands and in Germany? Will he work with the Right to Build Task Force to ensure that this sector plays the fullest possible role in helping people to achieve their dreams?

I very much look forward to working with the taskforce. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work over a number of years in promoting self-build. He has made considerable progress. He will know that in the housing White Paper we wanted to reflect the need to make sure that local authorities consider self-build as we diversify the housing market. I look forward to working with him and to helping to enable that.

I acknowledge that assessing housing need properly is an important first step, but it does not deliver the houses that need to be built. A blame game over which Government failed to build those houses is not helpful; we are where we are. Is it not now important to lift the borrowing cap for local authorities, so that the houses can actually be built? That would rectify the ludicrous situation whereby local authorities can invest in properties in other areas for income purposes, but cannot invest in their own area.

I agree that having a new, proper way to assess housing need will not in itself solve our housing problems, but it is an essential step. Alongside it, many others are required. For example, one hon. Member mentioned a delivery test. A number of such steps are set out in the housing White Paper. The hon. Lady asked specifically about the borrowing cap on housing revenue accounts. There is currently over £4 billion of headroom for borrowing, so local councils collectively can borrow more if they wish and if they have prudent, sensible plans. I have been clear that where local authorities believe that the borrowing cap is in the way of their ambitions to build more, they should come and talk to us because we want to do deals with them.

The Secretary of State is right to recognise the importance of infrastructure in underpinning the delivery of housing—not just local infrastructure, which is referred to in the statement, but major transport infrastructure unlocking brownfield housing land. The classic case is Crossrail 2 in London, which has the ability to deliver some 200,000 homes, overwhelmingly on brownfield land, in London and the wider south-east. Will he stress the importance to his colleagues the Transport Secretary and the Chancellor of an early commitment to pressing ahead with that infrastructure project to deliver homes, in accordance with these proposals?

My hon. Friend speaks with considerable experience, and I thank him for all the work he did when he was Minister with responsibility for planning to enable more homes to be built. He rightly points out another major issue. He is absolutely right that this relates to all kinds of infrastructure—not just the local GP surgery or a new school, but major types of infrastructure such as transport. I reassure him that I am working very closely with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary. We are considering how every major decision we make can be used to enable us to build more homes.

A growing number of people in the private rented sector are, for a variety of reasons, unable to buy a home of their own. Local authorities consider them to be adequately housed, which means they cannot access affordable housing either, so they are effectively trapped in the private rented sector. What will the Government do to help them?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that many people feel trapped in private rented accommodation. The amount of rent they are paying—in London, rents are more than 50% of average earnings after tax—means that many feel unable even to save for a deposit. I therefore hope that he can support today’s announcement because it takes into account affordability in local areas, with an adjustment for areas where more homes need to be built. In the longer term, that will help to improve affordability.

The South Hams has one of the highest house prices to earnings ratios in the country. I know that the Secretary of State wants to help young people to get on the housing ladder by introducing the earnings ratio, but that will be of no help to young people in my constituency if all the homes become second homes. Will he set out his plans to deal with areas of exceptionally high second home ownership?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. She will know that schemes are already in place to help people to get on the housing ladder, such as the Help to Buy scheme, which has helped more than 400,000 people. On her specific point about second homes, measures have already been introduced but, as she highlights, this issue needs to be considered carefully and kept under review to see what more we can do.

First, can my local authority of Gateshead be first in line to talk to the Secretary of State about lifting the debt cap? We are at the top of it, but the council has realistic plans for further development. Secondly, what proposals does he have for regeneration? In my constituency, and in Gateshead generally, there are large areas of brownfield land—he mentioned those—that we are keen to develop, but there are constraints owing to the value of the land and the cost of builders. What can he do about that?

Gateshead had a fantastic opportunity last year to be part of the first wave of devolution deals. That would have led to a housing deal and more funds for investment in infrastructure, which would have unlocked housing, but the local council decided that it did not want to do that deal. The hon. Lady therefore should ask her local authority why it turned down an opportunity that would have helped to bring homes to her area. On what more can be done since that opportunity was passed up, the local government Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), will be more than happy to meet her and the authority to discuss the matter further.

Much of the objection to new development in East Devon and elsewhere in the country is based on the inappropriateness of design and the fact that new developments often pay no attention to the local vernacular. What can my right hon. Friend do, particularly with the large house builders, to make sure that designs take into account the local vernacular, to make sure we have good design and to unleash the potential of small house builders, which often build better and more cheaply?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not just about the quantity of homes; their quality and design are hugely important too, because if that is right, local communities can understandably be more accepting of development. He asks what I can do. We set out a number of things in the White Paper, including a requirement when local plans are developed to reserve land only for small builders, to make sure they have a fairer crack at getting land parcels for development. We have also announced a measure today, however, which I hope he will welcome. We will allow local authorities to increase their planning fees by 20% after regulations have been laid in the autumn, which will mean up to £75 million of extra resources for planning authorities. That is essential, too, because if local authorities have more resources, they can look at designs more seriously when they get planning applications.

Given that the number of homeowners under 45 has fallen by 900,000 since 2010, what is the Secretary of State doing to increase the supply of homes for low-cost ownership?

The hon. Lady is right to talk about the need to make it easier for people to own their own homes. In the long term, we will help with that through measures such as those announced today and an honest assessment of housing need. In the shorter and medium term, measures that are already in place, such as the Help to Buy scheme, are helping millions of people, particularly younger people, to own their own homes.

I strongly welcome the measures that have been set out today, particularly the statement of common ground, given the development of Harlow North by Places for People. My right hon. Friend recognises the need for more social housing. Will he consider tax incentives for housing associations so that more can be built?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his support. He is right to point out the need for more co-operation between local authorities. He asks about social housing. The Budget included a significant increase in support to housing associations for the excellent work they do, and we want to see what more we can do to support them. I will certainly look carefully at his suggestion.

I warmly commend the seriousness with which the Secretary of State is taking housing need, but may I ask him about quality and particularly the issue of zero-bills homes? These can be built affordably and attractively, as I have seen for myself at the Building Research Establishment in Watford, and for much less than I think some of the big developers might have told him.

Like my hon. Friend, I have seen some excellent examples of innovative design and build, and it is certainly something we want to encourage. We have consulted in the White Paper on how to take that further, but I will be happy to talk to him if he has specific ideas about what more can be done.

The excellent Secretary of State will know that both councils in my constituency have taken on board the need to build more houses, but there is one problem: the Isham bypass. For the Wellingborough North development, the bypass needs to be completed. I know this is not the responsibility of his Department, but he did say that he worked closely with the Transport Secretary, so could he arrange for a letter to be sent—if he does not have the answer now—confirming when the bypass is to be completed, so that we can carry on with the expansion of housing?

My hon. Friend highlights the importance of infrastructure to building the right number of homes. He asks me specifically about the Isham bypass. I will happily speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and get back to him.

The rate of house building in Stafford is more than double the national average, in accordance with a robust local plan, but the local council often has to waste time challenging speculative developments. I would like to hear what the Secretary of State has to say about that. Just as importantly, what are his views on modern methods of construction, which have been referred to already, and in particular on the kind of financing available? I understand from the Building Societies Association that there are sometimes difficulties in financing these new, modern, cost-effective and energy-efficient buildings.

I have discussed this previously with my hon. Friend, who rightly takes an interest in the matter. He will know from the housing White Paper that if we are truly to solve our housing problems, we need to be much more serious about innovative methods of construction—more modular and factory-build content, for example. Many developers are taking that more seriously, but we are setting out ways of making it more pervasive throughout the country.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s assurance that councils that have submitted their local plans for approval will not be affected by what he has announced. Cheshire East Council has worked extremely hard to submit its plan, so I do not want that work to be undone.

May I also invite the Secretary of State to look at Weaver Vale housing trust, which set aside £9.6 million for final salary pension provision but delivered only 16 affordable houses in my area? Affordable housing and the conduct of housing associations need to be considered if we are to deliver affordable homes as well as homes to buy.

I assure my hon. Friend that the changes will not apply when local authorities have already submitted their plans for inspection, or will do so before next March. As for Weaver Vale housing trust, I will take a closer look at it.

The Secretary of State mentioned immigration assumptions in his statement. Even if we reduced net immigration to zero today, it would not alter the fact that our population is heading for a total of 70 million by 2030, so more and more of our open countryside will be built on. One of the Secretary of State’s predecessors told the House that immigration was responsible for 42% of all new housing needs. What is that percentage today, and what immigration assumptions has the Secretary of State made?

I am not able to give my hon. Friend the percentage for which he asks, but I will happily get back to him. It would be inappropriate for me to try to guess the figure, but I know that it is still a substantial proportion of our housing demand. My hon. Friend also asked me what account had been taken of the numbers that he gave. The new assessment method starts with the annual household growth figures published by the Office for National Statistics, and its latest figures assume a 39% reduction in net migration from 2016 levels over the next five years.

I welcome the statement and the consistency that is being sought, because getting those housing need numbers produced has imposed a real burden on communities and local authorities in the past. I welcome the effort that the Government are making to put the right amount of housing in the right place. Will my right hon. Friend be giving any guidance to the Planning Inspectorate in respect of the assessment of five-year housing land supplies for authorities that have already put their local plans in place, given that, according to his announced formula for housing need, it might be suggested that the numbers in those plans were too high? May I also ask how my right hon. Friend can persuade builders to utilise the permissions that they might have secured? Quite often it is their slowness rather than local authorities’ unwillingness that is holding up delivery in the system.

My hon. Friend asked about instances in which a local plan features a number that is higher than the number that the new assessment method would show. In all cases in which a plan is already in place and has been properly adopted, that will be the starting point, but once the changes have gone into the national planning policy framework, they can be used as a material consideration in planning decisions. I hope that that helps my hon. Friend.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his comments about the green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty, both of which are reasons why Dorset is such a special place in which to live and work and to visit. Will he reaffirm the Government’s position on the green belt, and reassure my constituents and the three local planning authorities that cover my constituency that protections are still in place?

I will happily reaffirm the Government’s position. We remain absolutely committed to the protections that are already in the planning code. Nothing that I have announced today will change the protections that are rightly afforded to the green belt, or our demand that when it comes to development, the priority should always be brownfield.

I fully appreciate the problem of the unaffordability of housing, not least on the basis of my own casework, but the main concern in my area about development relates to the lack of infrastructure and, in particular, the failure to invest in the road network. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that councils plan for and seek investment in infrastructure in line with development? Does he recognise that there may be some need for investment from the infrastructure funds that he mentioned so that the infrastructure can catch up with housing that has already been built, as well as that which is planned?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern. She is right to emphasise the need for the right infrastructure, and more infrastructure, if we are to have more homes. That is one of the reasons why we launched the £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund earlier this year. I encourage my hon. Friend’s council and others to apply to the fund, if they have not already done so.

The statement of common ground to which I have referred requires co-operation at the start of the process because much of the infrastructure, especially the major infrastructure, is naturally shared between local authorities. I think that that will also help to meet some of my hon. Friend’s concerns.