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Housing Supply

Volume 672: debated on Monday 24 February 2020

We have delivered over 1.5 million new homes since 2010 and last year saw the highest level of delivery in over 30 years, but I am determined that we go further by reforming the planning system and investing in infrastructure and new affordable homes to deliver 1 million homes over this Parliament.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Can he reassure the House that this very welcome house building will not come at the expense of green belt, especially in Sevenoaks?

We recognise how highly many people value their local green belt, including no doubt my hon. Friend’s constituents in Sevenoaks, but meeting these legitimate aspirations must not mean that the acute housing needs of communities go unmet or the dream of the next generation to get a place of their own goes unfulfilled. Local communities wishing to preserve the green belt sustainably must therefore meet local housing needs in other ways: through gentle density, through reimagining town centres and through aggressively redeveloping brownfield land. I intend to encourage each of those.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concerns regarding Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s Greater Manchester spatial framework, which seems to threaten a number of green belt sites in my constituency of Leigh, while simultaneously not making these sites available for delivery since the landowners have made it clear they are not available for development?

Due to my quasi-judicial role in the planning system, I cannot comment on the merits of the plan itself. I can say, however, that a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, have made me aware of their concerns; even, I think, the shadow Secretary of State is campaigning against the plan. These matters will be looked at by a planning inspector should the plan reach submission.

Flats have a crucial role to play in meeting housing demand, especially for first-time buyers. In London, the price gap between a flat and a house is more than £160,000, but the entire market for high-rise flats has ground to a halt, because the Secretary of State has repeatedly failed to publish flammable cladding tests and mortgage lenders have taken fright. Up to 600,000 people are now in unsellable properties, and The Sunday Times put the number much higher at 3 million private flats now exposed. So after promising the results repeatedly since last summer will the Secretary of State tell us when he will publish the test results and how he will fix this problem that sits squarely at his door?

Like the hon. Lady, I am committed to tackling this issue. We want to bring about the largest change in building safety standards that this country has known in a generation, and we are doing that in many different ways. We have done it through banning ACM, the most dangerous cladding on buildings. We have done it through launching a new building safety regulator; there was no building safety regulator in this country, and successive Governments had failed to do that. I will be publishing the results of the Building Research Establishment’s studies. The reason for the delay is that we want to ensure that the right studies are done and as much work is done as possible. We will be guided by the experts and by expert evidence. I will not publish results until experts tell us that they are ready to do so, and I expect that will be in a few weeks’ time.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that it is not just about the number of homes, but is also about the quality of those homes. Indeed, he has established the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, which recently produced its report, “Living with beauty.” One of its key recommendations was for substantial reforms to the permitted development right regime, so that in future all homes would have to have minimum space standards, would have to conform to the design guidelines laid down by the local authority and also pay a betterment levy, as laid down by the authority. Is the Secretary of State going to accept those recommendations?

I was absolutely delighted by the findings of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. It is an important piece of work and, as I said at the launch of the report, we intend to accept the majority of the findings. I will be responding to that in due course. We must put the question of permitted development rights in context; PDRs have brought forward tens of thousands of homes that would not otherwise exist in this country, and that freedom is an important one that we intend to build on in the planning system. There have been a very small number of abuses where we have seen, frankly, unacceptable standards, including homes being built without any windows. I want to take action against those, because I want everybody to live in good-quality, safe accommodation.