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Planning Viability Assessments: Council Houses

Volume 645: debated on Monday 23 July 2018

3. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the use of planning viability assessments on the number of council houses being built. (906572)

Local authorities have built 12,340 dwellings since 2010, up from 2,920 over the previous 13 years. However, we recognise that viability assessments can be used to reduce contributions towards affordable housing. That is why we are introducing a new approach to viability, through changes in the national planning policy framework.

The current framework means that last year the number of affordable homes provided under section 106 agreements was only half the 32,000 peak in Labour’s last year in office. Despite that, Southwark’s Labour council has built 535 council homes in just four years, with over 1,000 more in the pipeline. However, the waiting list is 11,000, so will the Minister tell us whether right to buy will now be banned for those seeking not a home to live in, but a cash cow to rent out? Will he also say how the imminent Green Paper will empower Southwark to build the genuinely affordable council homes that local people need?

The right to buy has been a powerful and important initiative in ensuring that people have places that they can call their home. We will set out an approach in the new NPPF that will reduce delays from the use of viability assessments to negotiate developer contributions by front-loading that. The Government are taking steps to speed up home delivery, which is something the hon. Gentleman should welcome.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the number of council houses, and indeed any other houses, being built would be greatly improved if the Government insisted on a far higher standard of design and layout? Will he therefore favour, in planning applications for council houses and all other houses, developers who insist in those plans on the highest possible standards for the design and layout of those houses?

I do agree with a lot of what my right hon. Friend highlights about the importance of design and style to ensuring that we create homes for the future that we can be proud of. This is something that we are considering carefully as we finalise the national planning policy framework. We will publish that shortly, and I hope he will see that in the final version.

At a time of national housing crisis, as developers continue to exploit the viability loophole, a staggeringly small 2.5% of homes completed last year were for social rent—the lowest number since the second world war. The Government continue to disregard this place, particularly on housing, in failing to deliver the revised NPPF, along with a raft of other documents promised before the recess. Thousands of people who desperately need social housing are being abandoned, as this Government entirely pull out of social housing, so will the Secretary of State tell us whether he will change his draft NPPF explicitly to include social rented homes in the official definition of affordable housing? If he will not, any warm words of support for social housing will ring hollow.

I entirely reject the hon. Lady’s characterisation of the Government’s approach to dealing with affordable homes and social housing. She will see that from the funds that we have committed to secure for the homes agenda. Under this Government, we have seen 1.1 million additional homes delivered since April 2010. Over 378,000 of those are affordable homes, including 273,000 affordable homes for rent. This Government are delivering and we will continue to do so.