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House of Commons Hansard
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04 March 2019
Volume 655
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2. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the time taken to build new homes. [909523]

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Last year more housing was delivered in England than in all but one of the past 31 years, but there is still much more to do, from reform of the planning system and developer contributions to deploying Homes England as the WD40 of the house building industry, working on the recommendations of the Letwin review, and accelerating decision making in the Department. We are stretching every sinew to build more and better homes across the country, and to build them faster.

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Building homes that people want to live in should be a challenge that we set ourselves as we aim to tackle the housing situation. Modern methods of construction encompass new and innovative building methods, including off-site manufacturing, to produce more homes in less time. During a recent visit to a modular homes factory, I saw how well constructed, well insulated and adaptable homes for life can provide quality housing in weeks rather than months. Does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities should recognise the diverse range of construction methods when developing their local plans to meet housing requirements?

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With her usual accuracy and perception, my hon. Friend has put her finger on one of the most exciting developments that we are currently seeing in house building, which is indeed off-site manufacturing. That technique holds enormous potential, not least because it is deployed to a significant extent in other parts of the world. We have a £450 million fund to support its development, and the first payment was made to Welwyn Hatfield just last week.

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Does the Minister not realise that this Government are not building enough new homes? Even the ones they are building are not in the right places for the right people. Is he not aware of the scandal—a situation my constituents cannot understand—that so much of the money that went to Help to Buy has ended up in the pockets of chief executives of building companies?

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The hon. Gentleman is right, in that Governments of all stripes have failed to build enough homes over the last few decades. Indeed, our efforts to correct that were hampered by the destruction of 50% of the small house building industry in the crash of 2008, when his party was in government. We have tried very hard to correct that, and last year we managed to reach a total of 222,000 homes, but we must push forward to 300,000. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in encouraging civic leaders throughout the country to embrace that ambition, and to build the homes that the next generation needs.

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The hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and, for that matter, for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) could all very legitimately shoehorn their inquiries into this question if they were so minded. That is merely a gentle hint; it is not obligatory.

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rose—

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Oh, very well done, Mr Henderson!

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20. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the main concerns for young people is how to get on to the first rung of the housing ladder, and that using the new affordable Rent to Buy model is one option that should be encouraged? [909541]

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I sincerely agree with my hon. Friend that the Government’s objective should be to create a big, wide menu of tenure options from which young people can choose at different stages in their lives, and depending on their circumstances. We want to ensure that everyone can acquire good-quality homes for themselves and their families, but critically that everyone in the country, at some point in their lives, should have a shot at ownership.

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21. Last month thousands of children marched for a cleaner planet. What support are the Government providing to enable local authorities to bring about a genuine green revolution in new council housing schemes? [909542]

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As I hope the House knows, this Government are extremely ambitious about our environmental targets and want to push further and faster in order to achieve them. The hon. Lady is right that there is enormous potential, particularly in the affordable homes programme and the new generation of council homes that we hope will be built to create higher environmental standards. I saw this for myself on a visit to a factory in Aldridge in the west midlands, where Accord Housing is producing modular homes for social and affordable rent. They said to me that so good are the environmental standards in those homes that they have lower arrears in buildings built that way because they are easier to heat and light.

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Would not the best way to reduce the time taken to build new homes be to support my Housing Reform Bill? Since I have not yet persuaded the Minister for Housing of that, if I bring it back in the next Session with a few tweaks, will he undertake to take another look at it?

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Mr Speaker, it will not surprise you to know that I am in constant conversation with my hon. Friend about his various ideas for the housing market from self-build to the reforms he is outlining, and I hope to continue those conversations. He is a veritable cornucopia of thinking and policy ideas in this sphere, and they are to be welcomed.

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A smörgåsbord, I am sure.

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We need to build new homes but they must be the right homes. In 2017, the then Secretary of State the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) said:

“It’s unacceptable for home buyers to be exploited through unnecessary leaseholds”,

and added that “enough is enough”. He said that real action was needed and announced that the Government were banning the sale of leasehold homes. Last summer the current Secretary of State promised no new Government funding schemes for leasehold homes, yet the Government’s own figures show that Ministers are pouring hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into a state-funded racket by subsidising large house builders for the sale of leasehold homes through Help to Buy—some 17,000 homes over five years, half of which have been sold since the Government promised to ban that. Can the Secretary of State tell us: have the Government forgotten what they said, has he changed his mind, or can he let us know when he will deliver on his promises?

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I enjoyed the hon. Lady’s question, but it would nevertheless have benefited from the generous application of the blue pencil.

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I urge the hon. Lady to take care with her opinion of Help to Buy as a scheme: it is one of the few Government policies for which people actually stop me in the streets to thank me. [Interruption.] Even though it had nothing to do with me, I am quite happy to take the credit for the policy—for the origination of it in any case. Several people have stopped me and thanked me for it, because it gives young people access to homes that otherwise they would not obtain.

The hon. Lady is right, though, that problems have been experienced in the market with leasehold, and we are determined to bring about change. The new Help to Buy scheme will be used to bring about some of that change, and the Secretary of State tells me he has not resiled one ounce from his promises.