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New House Building

Volume 653: debated on Monday 28 January 2019

As many Members will know, my mantra is “More, better, faster”, and we are very keen to accelerate the delivery of housing. Across England, house building is at its highest level in all but one of the last 31 years. We are going further by streamlining the planning system, creating more certainty for developers and local communities and looking at the recommendations of the build-out review conducted by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin).

There have been some real delays in the Shropshire planning authority. What is the Minister doing to give Shropshire Council more resources so that it can attract more and better-qualified staff to streamline the planning process? This is starting to be a real problem.

I applaud my hon. Friend’s impatience to build more new homes in his constituency. He recognises that the next generation of Salopians would welcome the provision of those homes as soon as possible. We have already given local authorities a 20% uplift in planning fees, and we have consulted on further resources in the past, but I have given a public commitment that if it becomes clear that resources in planning departments are a constraint, we shall be more than happy to talk to our Treasury colleagues about what more can be done.

I commend the Secretary of State for publishing last year’s updated national policy planning framework, but may I encourage my hon. Friend to consider new ways to speed up the planning process?

It is always a pleasure to be greeted by impatient Members who, as I say, want more housing for the next generation. My hon. Friend is right: we need to constantly examine the effect of the planning system on the production of new homes. As he says, we issued a new planning framework back in July. We are carefully assessing the impact of those policies, but if my hon. Friend has useful and constructive suggestions, I shall be more than happy to hear them.

The Government’s expansion of permitted development rights has caused multiple problems across the country. Such developments make no section 106 contributions towards new social housing. There are reports of homes of appalling quality, with children forced to play in car parks on industrial estates, and of homes in some areas being used only for short-term holiday lets, while developments in other areas are causing the loss of valuable employment space. Last week, the permanent secretary confirmed to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that the Government had undertaken no evaluation of this policy. Will the Secretary of State call time on the policy, so that a full evaluation of the impacts can be undertaken?

Order. There seems to be a competition between what I would call parliamentary essayists today. That was an extremely eloquent essay—very erudite—but we could do with a paragraph.

We will not call time on a policy that has produced tens of thousands of homes for people who need them. We are aware that there have been some difficulties with properties converted under permitted development rights, but we are not entirely sure that local authorities are using the tools at their disposal to make sure that standards are maintained. However, as I said earlier, we keep all our policies under constant review and I would be more than happy to look at specific situations if the hon. Lady wishes to raise them.

Bristol was one of the sites for the first ever council houses built under the Addison Act 100 years ago—in Hillfields in my constituency. We are now building council homes again, but nobody from the Department has been prepared to come for our centenary celebrations this year—you have turned down the invites. May I ask why?

The main reason is that I am impatient to visit and the hon. Lady will be pleased to know that if all goes to plan I will be there on Thursday.

Well, there is time for a keen sense of eager anticipation to build up before the hon. Gentleman arrives.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister pay tribute to the work of Homes England in its support for Mid Sussex District Council in providing the key that will open the development of 4,000 new houses in Burgess Hill? Will he see what further work Homes England, in its very constructive approach, can adopt to deliver more new housing?

My right hon. Friend is to be admired in displaying yet more impatience for homes to be built, and he is right that the newly revamped Homes England is an impressive and entrepreneurial organisation which is using its skills to unlock sites across the country. In the six months that I have been in this job, I have been impressed by its work and I am now busy touring sites, as I was in Poole in Dorset, where it is applying its skills and industry to unlock precisely the kind of problem that he talked about.

There is a three-year period for a one-to-one replacement to start at a site, but what is the average time for completion of one-to-one replacements? Of the one-to-one replacements that the Government say are in progress, how many are actually occupied?

I am afraid I am going to fail the hon. Gentleman: I do not have that precise number at my fingertips at the moment. But I am more than happy to write to him about it. He will know, however, that we have consulted on changes to the one-to-one replacement policy and we will be coming forward with a response, and hopefully improvements, soon.