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Planning for the Future

Volume 673: debated on Thursday 12 March 2020

I would like to make a statement expanding on the housing measures set out in yesterday’s Budget. I have deposited a document in the Library setting out our vision for the future of the planning system.

A home is so much more than four walls and a roof. It is about security, a stake in our society and investing for our future. The expansion of home ownership over the 20th century created a fairer Britain, with prosperity and opportunity spread more evenly. That is why this Government believe in supporting people who are working hard to own their own home, and ensuring that young people and future generations have the same opportunities as those who came before them.

We are making progress. Last year, we built over 241,000 homes—more new homes than at any point in the last 30 years—taking the total delivered since 2010 to 1.5 million. The proportion of young homeowners has increased, after declining for more than a decade. Yet a great deal more is required to be done. Many are still trapped paying high rents and struggling to save for a deposit. Home ownership seems like a dream that remains out of reach. Our children should be able to put down roots in the places where they grew up, but the simple truth is that too many will continue to be priced out if we do not build many more homes and take the action now that is required to remove barriers to people getting on to the housing ladder.

To achieve this, the Government are prepared to take bold action across the board. We will be introducing a building safety Bill to bring about the biggest change in building safety for a generation, and a renters reform Bill to provide greater stability to those who rent. We will be making sure that those in social homes will be treated with the dignity and the respect that they deserve through our social housing White Paper. We will be working hard to end rough sleeping. We will be bringing forward an ambitious planning White Paper in the spring to create a planning system that is truly fit for the 21st century—a planning system that supports the delivery of the number of homes we need as a country, but homes that local people want to live in, with more beautiful, safer and greener communities.

The way we work and live has changed beyond recognition since the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. The planning system has not kept pace. We intend to change this, so we will be reviewing our approach to planning to ensure that our system enables more homes to come forward in the places that people most want to live, with jobs, transport links and other amenities on their doorstep. This means making the best use of land and existing transport infrastructure.

To that end, I am announcing that we will review the formula for calculating local housing need, taking a fresh approach that means building more homes, but also encouraging greater building in urban areas. We will make the most of our transport hubs, and I am announcing a call for proposals to invite innovative solutions for building housing above and around stations. We will be backing brownfield sites for development, and we will work with ambitious mayors and councils of all political persuasions in all parts of the country. We will be beginning by investing £400 million to regenerate brownfield sites across the country, and we are launching a new national brownfield sites map so that anyone—member of the public, entrepreneur or local authority—can understand where those sites are.

Local authorities need to play their part through their local plans. Today, I am setting a deadline of December 2023 for all local plans to be in place, before the Government will have to intervene. In addition, in the coming months, through the White Paper, we will lay the foundations for a modern, dramatically accelerated planning system. This will be a digital planning system that harnesses technology for the first time, and one where it is far easier for local communities to play a real role in the decisions that affect them, shortening and simplifying the plan-making process. As part of that, we will reform planning fees and link them to performance to create a world-class and properly resourced planning service. We will explore the use of tools such as zoning, and for the first time we will make clear who actually owns land across the country, by requiring complete transparency on land options. Where permissions are granted, we will bring forward proposals to ensure that they are turned into homes more quickly.

We are not waiting for the White Paper to begin our actions. We are encouraging local communities to take innovative routes to meet housing needs in their areas through new planning freedoms, and we are also introducing the freedom to build upwards on existing buildings. Today I am announcing a new right to allow vacant, commercial, industrial and residential blocks to be demolished and replaced with well-designed, new residential units that meet high-quality standards, including on new natural light standards. We are granting permission to get building across the country.

We know that we need to deliver at scale and at a pace that we have not seen in recent years, and yesterday’s Budget set out that those vital planning changes will be underpinned by serious additional investment. The £12 billion that we are putting into affordable homes represents the biggest cash investment in the sector for a decade. We are finalising details for a new affordable homes programme, which will deliver homes for social rent, as well as for affordable rent, shared ownership and supported housing. There will be a route to ownership for all, regardless of the tenure at which people begin.

We are taking an infrastructure-first approach and yesterday £1.1 billion was allocated to build new communities and unlock 70,000 new homes in total. That is more than £4 billion invested through the housing infrastructure fund. Building on that, we will introduce a new long-term flexible single housing infrastructure fund of at least £10 billion.

I have made safety a personal priority of mine since I became Secretary of State last year. With that in mind, the Government are bringing forward the most important improvements to our building safety regime in a generation, and I am pleased that, as the Chancellor set out yesterday, in addition to the £600 million already made available, there will be an extra £1 billion to make buildings in the social and private sectors safe. I am pleased that in the private sector that investment will benefit leaseholders, many of whom I met recently, and I fully appreciate the pain and stress that they have been through by feeling trapped in their homes.

In line with our commitment to end rough sleeping, we are putting in more than £640 million over this Parliament for new “move on” accommodation, and vital support for substance misuse services. That work will be spearheaded by my Department and by the new and urgent review I have set up, which is led by Dame Louise Casey.

I am also mindful of our huge responsibility to future generations and to ensuring that as we build more, we also build better. That is why I will be updating the national planning policy framework to embed the principles of good design and place making. As recommended in the recent report by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, we will introduce a “fast track for beauty” and mandate that tree-lined streets should be the norm in this country in future.

We are backing a broader green revolution, including plans to establish a net-zero development in Toton in the east midlands, which I hope will be one of Europe’s most exciting new environmentally sustainable communities. We are seeking to establish similarly high-quality and environmentally sustainable communities through up to four new development corporations in the Oxford to Cambridge arc: around Bedford, St Neots and Sandy, Cambourne, and near Cambridge.

We should seize this opportunity to consider how the built and natural environments can work together more harmoniously, and in that spirit, I will be reviewing our policy to prevent building in areas of high flood risk. Given the recent devastation suffered by so many of our communities, we are putting an extra £5.2 billion into flood defences.

The real work begins today. Over the spring and the summer, I will work with local authorities, SME house builders and larger developers, local groups and, I hope, Members from all parts of the House. Our mission is clear: we will build more homes; we will help more people on to the housing ladder; and we will do our duty to future generations by ensuring that those homes are built in a way that is beautiful and sustainable, creating a legacy of which we can all be proud. That is what it means to level up and to unite our country. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement, which arrived half an hour ago.

This is indeed a follow up to the Budget and the Treasury’s flawed thinking runs throughout. After nearly 10 years there is still no plan to fix the country’s housing crisis, while the promise of the White Paper is a threat to give big developers a freer hand to do what they want, ignoring quality, affordability and sustainability. Of course planning requires reform, but planning is not the major constraint on the new homes the country needs when 365,000 were given permission last year and only 213,000 were built; when only 6,200 new social homes were built last year when more than 1 million people are on housing waiting lists; and when, of course, big developers can dodge all planning permission to

“abuse permitted development rights to provide accommodation of the lowest quality.”

Those are not my words, but those of the Government’s own Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.

The Secretary of State has a number of questions on the planning front. In 2015, the Government set a deadline of early 2017 for all councils to have a local plan in place. Why is he now waiting another three years until the end of 2023? Will local areas have social housing targets, not just total targets, in this review of the formula for local housing need? Will new standards be set for greener zero-carbon homes? How much extra funding will the Government provide to beef up the capacity of our council planning services, which have been cut by a half over the past decade? The White Paper is a red warning. It could strip local communities of the powers they have to say no to big developers taking the easy option of building on the green belt. It could impose Whitehall’s total house building numbers on local communities without the new affordable housing that local residents need. It could mean more unsuitable business buildings turned into slum housing, with no planning permission needed at all.

We welcome the new money in the Budget for replacing dangerous cladding and I welcome the Secretary of State’s personal commitment to building safety. Since the weeks immediately after Grenfell, we have argued that no resident should have to pay simply to make their home safe. Only the Government can fix this problem. It is a profound failure that thousands are in this position nearly three years on from Grenfell. How many fire risk buildings will this new fund have to cover? Will it fund essential fire safety work to retrofit sprinklers? Will he guarantee that this fund means no leaseholder will now have to pay the costs to make their buildings safe?

The Secretary of State’s Department released new building safety figures just over an hour ago, which he has not mentioned this morning—and no wonder. Nearly three years on from Grenfell, 266 high-rise blocks still have the same Grenfell-style ACM cladding. The Secretary of State has still not published the test results or the numbers of those blocks with unsafe non-ACM cladding. The existing fund for private sector ACM cladding has already been in place for 10 months, so it is clear that funding alone will not fix the problems. Will he now also back Labour proposals for simple emergency legislation to force block owners to do and pay for this work?

Finally, with one or two minor exceptions, yesterday’s Budget was a golden, but wasted opportunity on housing. When the Government’s borrowing costs are at rock bottom and the Chancellor promises a capital spending spree, the Secretary of State must be deeply disappointed by how little funding he has for new affordable homes. Over five years, there will be just £12.2 billion, and a quarter of that is not even new money. This means an average of £2.4 billion a year. In real terms, that is only half the level of affordable housing investment made in the last year of the last Labour Government. Over five years, it will be less than housing organisations—from the National Housing Federation to Shelter—say is needed every year. Will he concede that on housing, it will be business as it was before the Budget—a continuation of 10 years of Conservative failure on housing, with no plan to fix the housing crisis—and will he admit that despite the Chancellor’s constant Budget boast on housing, this is a Government that do not “get it done”?

We built more homes in this country last year—240,000 homes—than were built in any of the last 30 years. The right hon. Gentleman left house building in this country at the lowest level since the 1920s when he was the Housing Secretary. Today, it is at the highest level for 32 years. We have built more affordable homes in this country on average since 2010 under a Conservative Government than under the last Labour Government. We built more council houses in this country in one year last year than in the 13 years of the last Labour Government combined. In Wales, which Labour has control of, how many council houses were built last year? Fifty seven. How many the year before? Eighty. How many in the three years before that? Zero, so I will take no lectures from him on our record.

This was a great Budget for housing. We saw the largest investment for 10 years in affordable housing—over £12 billion. We saw further investment in infrastructure to unlock homes in all parts of the country and the commitment to bring forward a new larger single housing infrastructure fund later this year. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, we saw a further £1 billion investment in building safety, which is an incredibly important step forward to give safety, security and confidence to leaseholders who are feeling concerned in their homes. Together, this package will help us to lay the foundations for the housing reforms that we intend to introduce during this Parliament and which the White Paper that I will publish later this year will take forward at pace.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a few questions, including about the affordable homes programme. This has been welcomed by everybody in the sector, including Kate Henderson, who leads for housing federations—she warmly welcomed this. The housing and homelessness charities welcomed the announcements that we made as a very significant step forward in investing in this area.

We have also announced more money for brownfield land, so this is not about the ruination of the countryside or needless urban sprawl. It is about getting more homes in the places where they are most needed and backing ambitious councils and Mayors such as Andy Street in the west midlands, who want to get going and unlock the parcels of brownfield land.

The building safety fund will be open as soon as possible. We want to work with leaseholders who are in properties over 18 metres and ensure that they can access the funding.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the publication of the Building Research Establishment’s research. That will happen in the coming weeks, but the research is already available; it is simply that we have not consolidated and published the final findings. We do not expect those findings to be any different from the ones that are already in the public domain.

Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked about legislation, as he did the other day, and he did not listen to the answer then. We will bring forward our fire safety legislation in the coming months, and I hope, from what he said today, that he intends to support it. That will give the powers to fire and rescue services across the country to do exactly what he wishes.

Even if the shadow Secretary of State does not, may I warmly welcome the new money for affordable housing? I ask the Secretary of State to make sure that some of it finds its way to innovators such as the National Community Land Trust Network and the Right to Build Task Force, because the new ideas that will help us to change our whole approach to how we do housing are coming from them.

I do support groups such as community housing organisations—I know my hon. Friend has an Adjournment debate later today to which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, will respond—and we want to ensure that they are properly resourced to take that forward. We want to help smaller communities, particularly in rural areas, to build small numbers of homes—five, 10, 15, whatever might be appropriate for their community—through rural exception sites and the other things he has championed over the years, such as self-building. We will bring forward more measures in the White Paper to help facilitate that.

There are many things in the statement that I welcome and that I am sure the Select Committee will welcome and will want to look at. Shortly after Grenfell, the Select Committee recommended that all cladding not of limited combustibility be taken off existing high-rise buildings and banned from new buildings, and the £1 billion is a step in that direction, but we will want to analyse whether it is sufficient. On the planning review, in the past the Committee has suggested a comprehensive review of planning, particularly of the changes since 2010. Will the review look at what has worked and what has not worked with regards to the changes and also at the recommendation of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission that there be reform to the permitted development system to ensure minimum standards? Finally, will the Secretary of State have another look at reform of the Land Compensation Act 1961, which we suggested, so as to run down the cost of land, which is an obstacle to development? On the housing needs assessment reforms, which again I welcome, the first changes the Government made actually shifted development from the north to the south. Will he look at whether the system should not be going in reverse and trying to level up by putting more development into the north?

I will pay close attention to all those points. Everything the hon. Member listed is within the scope of the planning White Paper, and I would welcome his views and those of the members of his Committee. In reviewing local housing need, we will take account of the need to level up and rebalance the economy, both geographically, from the south to the north, and between areas—for example, by trying to ensure that cities that have depopulated in our lifetime can have more homes built in them to get people and families back into and living in some of our great cities where sadly fewer people are living now than 20 or 30 years ago. I welcome the work he did on the building safety fund, and I hope this will now make a significant difference in helping leaseholders, particularly in private buildings, move forward. We have also opened it up to the social sector, because some housing associations, particularly small ones, and some smaller councils do not have the finances readily available or the ability to borrow to do the work now required. This fund will be open to them to do that, so money should not be a barrier to their moving forward with the remediation works required.

As the Secretary of State is aware, I have been much involved in reform of the planning system under previous Governments, and I urge him to be radical when he produces his White Paper. I am glad he has retained his commitment to involve local communities. Strengthening the role of neighbourhood plans against the problems put in their way by district councils would be a very good way of taking that forward.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. There is evidence that some local plans have been undermined and that the hard work put in by local communities has not reaped the benefits those areas would have liked—they can spend years creating plans only to see development happening on other sites, not those they have chosen themselves. We are reviewing that, taking examples from across the country where we think that has happened and trying to learn lesson from it, and I hope that will feed into our work and create a strengthened plan-making system in the future.

The built environment and planning professions have a core role to play in tackling the climate emergency, yet in his statement the Secretary of State made only tangential mention of the climate emergency. I gently say to him: he will not achieve a green revolution with one single net-zero development across the whole UK. Can I encourage him to think again about this most urgent of challenges, to enshrine the climate emergency as a core purpose and responsibility of the planning system and to set the highest possible standards for net-zero development across our planning system to ensure we are not building new homes that will need to be retrofitted in the future?

We are committed to a green revolution in the housing industry. We are doing that in many different ways, most notably through the future homes standard, which we have just consulted on. We have received more than 3,000 responses and will bring forward our final proposals shortly. We have consulted on a substantial reduction in CO2 emissions in new homes of between 75% and 80%. I do not want to pre-empt what we might choose to do, having listened to the views in the consultation. However, the evidence that we saw prior to the consultation was that that was the most credible reduction in CO2 emissions that we could deliver across the whole of the country, although some parts could go further and faster if they chose to do so. We are listening to the responses, and I want to see the industry respond, change and have much higher levels of energy efficiency and to see new heating systems come in as quickly as possible.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Supply alone will not solve all the affordability problems in the housing market. It will require intervention, such as his excellent First Homes initiative. Will he consider extending that initiative to directly commissioning first homes on public land and perhaps combining First Homes with Help to Buy to further improve the affordability of home purchase?

That is a very interesting idea and one that I will give careful thought to. My hon. Friend and I worked together on the creation of First Homes, and I am very grateful for his views on that. He is absolutely right that this will require both supply and demand-side reforms. That is why the planning system is so important in unlocking more land in the places where people want to live, but it is also important to have ways of getting people on to the housing ladder, and First Homes is just one of those options. It will enable people in their local area to get 30% discounts on new homes. I recently met the major house builders, who are fully supportive, and I hope that we will see those homes on the market in this country by the end of the year.

I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that we are building at some of the lowest densities in Europe, which is causing us to have to build on floodplains—although I appreciate what he said earlier. If we are really talking about sustainable development, surely we have to build at density in and around our towns, as opposed to allowing the spread into our rural communities.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that that is what he took away from the tone and substance of my earlier remarks. In reviewing the planning system and how we calculate local housing need, we will be trying to push development towards urban areas and existing clusters and away from needless urban sprawl and the ruination of the countryside. We will be using the planning system to encourage that. Some of the planning freedoms, for example, will help people in their everyday lives, allowing them to extend their own properties or build upwards on their homes, and allow entrepreneurs to buy derelict, disused buildings and turn them into housing, to get housing going in towns and cities at a pace that we have not seen for many years.

On Monday, the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government heard some rather extraordinary claims from certain London councils about the cost of building council homes in London. My right hon. Friend’s announcement and the Budget are an excellent start on building new council homes. Can he set out how many council homes he expects to see and what safeguards he will put in place to ensure that those council homes can be brought under the right to buy and that the receipts from right to buy are then reinvested in new housing?

The new affordable homes programme, which we announced yesterday, will be over £12 billion. We have not yet finalised the details, but will set them out shortly. They will show the proportion of those homes that will be for different tenures, from shared ownership and affordable rent to social rent. We want a significant increase in the number of those homes in the social rent category. I hope we can make a positive announcement on that shortly, when we have finalised the details, having spoken to and listened to the sector.

I am very sympathetic to the argument that my hon. Friend has made in the past about properties that are not eligible for right to buy and, indeed, about some councils and housing associations that are making it more difficult. I would like to work with him to take action on that. We need to ensure that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, takes housing seriously. As I have said before, we will never be able to meet our housing targets and ambitions as a country unless London pulls its weight, and I am afraid that at the moment we have a Mayor whose ambitions are way below what we should all be expecting at every level of the market. As long as he continues in place, which I hope is not for very much longer, the Mayor needs to get building in London.

The Secretary of State has just been talking about the delivery of homes for social rent, but I would like to ask him about the impact of two of his Government’s policies on the delivery of homes for social rent. The first is yesterday’s changes to the Public Works Loan Board when it comes to the delivery of homes for social rent by local housing companies. The second is the First Homes policy, which, because it is delivered through section 106 as it is currently designed, is likely to lead to a reduction in the production of homes for social rent by local councils. What is his response?

The hon. Lady will know as a follower of Treasury matters that what we announced yesterday in the Budget with reform of the Public Works Loan Board makes it cheaper for councils to borrow to invest in housing and regeneration. I hope that she will support the changes that we made. The changes we are making to the PWLB will make it harder for councils to waste money on speculative investments outside their boundaries and get highly indebted and make it easier to spend money on things that really matter. We have lifted the housing revenue account borrowing cap, and many councils across the country are responding to that and building council houses at a pace that we have not seen for many years, as was reflected in the statistics I gave earlier. We built more council houses last year than we have done for many years, and I hope that her local council in Oxford will do the same, if that is what she wishes.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is absolutely right that we look afresh at the planning system, and I am so glad that he is doing just that. My right hon. Friend knows a great deal about the challenges that new build housing can create for existing communities as well as for owners. What more can he do to ensure that developers properly consider the rights and needs of local communities, as well as of the new build home owners, which are often impacted by their behaviours?

Quality is extremely important, and we have seen evidence of poor-quality development in this country in recent years, including by some of the most prominent house builders. That needs to change, and if we are going to reform the planning system to make it easier to build, then house builders must respond in turn by ensuring that homes are well designed, safe and environmentally sustainable. My hon. Friend has seen examples of poor practice in Telford and has campaigned on that. We are placing the new homes ombudsman on a statutory footing, and that will ensure that anyone who purchased a home has a proper system for redress if the usual complaints mechanism of the house builder does not suffice. I hope that that will see a big change in the quality of output from house builders very rapidly.

The car valeting site in Tottenham Hale, the illegal waste tip in Hillingdon, the tip in Ealing that is inaccessible: what happens to these ungreen green-belt sites that could provide a million new homes close to London train stations? Any London MP knows that we desperately need such homes for people who may never be able to afford to buy.

There are sites like that in all parts of the country. It requires good local councils and, perhaps in this case, the Mayor of London, to get involved and to help unlock the land for development. I appreciate that there can be complexities in many cases, not least with illegal waste sites, for example. We created a fund in the last Budget to tackle that—a £20 million fund that perhaps the hon. Lady would consider bidding into. We announced in this Budget a £400 million fund to unlock brownfield sites, and that will be available for ambitious Mayors and local councils across the country to bid into very shortly. I hope that she will take us up on that.

I welcome the wide-ranging initiatives in the statement, particularly the potential for four development corporations on the Oxford-Cambridge arc. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the pressures on public access to public services, particularly GPs, where there are significant increases in housing demand, especially in my constituency. Will those development corporations have specific accountability for filling gaps in access to public services? If not, what measures will he take to ensure that there is better co-ordination?

My hon. Friend understands this issue well and has represented two constituencies with very serious affordability issues, but where there is also a great opportunity to build housing. We need to ensure that that is done in a very sensitive way and that the infrastructure flows with the new housing. That is the objective of creating the development corporations, which will be partnerships between the local community and the Government, and we hope that this will be well planned, environmentally sustainable, good-quality, beautiful housing and that the services—GP surgeries, schools, roads, utilities—flow with the housing and meet the demands. I really hope that I can work with all those communities to ensure that they are great successes.

I welcome the £1 billion cladding fund that was announced yesterday. It is a start, but as the Secretary of State knows, the devil is in the detail. May I encourage him to set up a contact group with representatives of leaseholders, freeholders, managing agents, fire services, local authorities, mortgage companies and his officials, perhaps chaired by the Housing Minister, to work through that detail so that it does not take another two and a half years for all the unsafe cladding to be removed?

I welcome the work my right hon. Friend the Housing Minister has done on this issue, and I will take that away. We want to work progressively with all the stakeholders. We have built an effective operation on ACM above 18 metres in recent months. We have named contacts for all the buildings, and all, bar a very small number, now have plans to remediate.

By opening the fund’s scope much more widely to other dangerous materials above 18 metres, we will have to put in place the same procedures for those materials to understand exactly where the buildings are, to understand who are the right people to work with us and to make sure that work is tendered for and that workers get on site as quickly as possible. That will be a very complex piece of work. At the moment, it can take up to six months to get workers on site to do ACM remediation, and some projects can take up to two years to complete. I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge, but I am keen to work with anybody who is interested to make sure it begins as quickly as possible.

A sense of place informs our personal and communal sense of worth. As one of those who served on the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, I welcome this statement and, in particular, the Secretary of State’s commitment to a fast track for beauty. In considering these matters, will he also look at sprawl and out-of-town and edge-of-town developments, both in retail and housing? If we can revitalise and rejuvenate our town centres, it will refresh the spirit of our people.

My right hon. Friend is heavily involved in the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, and I commend its superb report to anyone interested in these issues. One point it raises, which we will now be taking forward, is the need to mitigate the urban sprawl and the damage to the countryside we have seen over the past 50 or 60 years and more.

The answer to that is gentle density in urban areas, building upwards where appropriate—perhaps where there are existing clusters of high-rise buildings—and, building gently where building upwards is not appropriate. There are plenty of examples in the report of where that can be done in an attractive way that local communities could support. We need to ensure more homes are built in our town centres and around our high streets. The high streets and town centres fund that we have created through the £3.6 billion towns fund provides funding to many parts of the country to do exactly that.

I look forward to the forthcoming building safety Bill. As the Secretary of State knows, homebuyers in my constituency have had some very poor experiences of safety issues in their new homes, but can he explain how the Bill will bring about not just tighter regulation but culture change in the industry, upskilling of the workforce and adequate resources for enforcement and local authorities?

All those things need to happen. We are undergoing the greatest change in our building safety regime in most of our lifetimes. That will take time and will require a significant change in the culture of the industry. The new regime, which is now being established in shadow form and will be legislated for later this year, will place new duties on those involved in the construction industry and on those responsible for looking after buildings once they have been built.

An individual or entity will be criminally responsible for safety, from the moment construction begins, throughout a building’s occupation, many years into the future. That will be managed through our building safety regulator, which will sit within the Health and Safety Executive. The HSE has a lot of experience in this field and has seen significant changes and improvements in safety in other fields, such as oil and gas, in our lifetime.

To keep families together and strengthen our communities in Guildford and Cranleigh, it is vital that we can ensure we have the right homes in the right place at the right price. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to make it easier for people to get on the housing ladder in their local area?

Part of the answer is building more homes in the places where they are most in demand. That will be at the heart of the reforms we will bring forward, and my hon. Friend represents an area that is in great demand. Some of the freedoms that we are encouraging—to build upwards gently and to reimagine town centres and high streets—will ensure that more homes are built sensitively in places such as Guildford, but we are also bringing forward a fleet of policies to help home ownership. One of them is our First Homes policy, which will enable local first-time buyers in her area to get a 30% discount on their first home. We are also looking at long-term fixed-rate mortgages, so that it is much cheaper and more certain when taking out first mortgages. Of course, the Help to Buy scheme and our existing home ownership schemes have helped more than 600,000 first-time buyers on to the housing ladder since 2010.

The Secretary of State is right to acknowledge the anxiety for leaseholders living in blocks with unsafe cladding. Will he confirm that it is his intention that no leaseholder should have to pay for the replacement of cladding on their block? How long does he think it will take before all the unsafe cladding on residential buildings around the country above 18 metres has been replaced?

We will publish shortly the exact details of the new scheme, but it is our intention that it will be available for both the private and social sectors and that this will encompass all unsafe materials above 18 metres for what are commonly considered high-rise buildings. I would like it to include those buildings that are just below 18 metres, because there are some buildings where there has been a gaming of the system by some developers, such as the building in Bolton, for example, that was 17.8 metres. There will be a small degree of flexibility to resolve that issue, and this should enable no leaseholder to be trapped in their building. The funding should be available for all who require it, and, as I say, in the social sector, it will be available to the relatively small number, but an important number, of housing associations and councils that do not have the resources available to do the work themselves.

The Secretary of State is right to say that under the planning system there should be a presumption not to build on green fields or on floodplains and that there should also be environmental sustainability. Does he therefore share my concerns that the west of Ifield Homes England development represents none of those criteria?

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s opposition to those proposals and I am happy to continue to work with him to ensure that Homes England answers his questions and refines the schemes as much as possible to try to meet the concerns of the local community. I hope more broadly that the announcement I have made today of a review of how the planning system interacts with floodplains and the increased risk of flooding that we are seeing in many parts of the country will be good news to those parts of the country that have seen floods in the last few weeks, and that we can bring forward changes in the coming months.

The money allocated in the Budget for cladding removal applies only to buildings over 18 metres, and the Government guidelines issued in January say:

“We strongly advise building owners to consider the risks of any external wall system…irrespective of the height of the building”.

Consequently, any leaseholder in a low-rise building is struggling to get approvals to sell, to get a bigger share of the property or to remortgage. What are the Government going to do about that? Those leaseholders are currently marooned.

The fund that we have announced this week is for high-rise buildings, and that was on the advice of our expert panel and Dame Judith Hackitt, who has advised the Government for some time and is helping to set up the new building safety regulator. The expert advice is that height is the main factor in determining safety, but it is not the only factor, and that is why earlier in the year I set in train work on what other factors we should be taking into consideration. It is none the less the most important factor as far as we are guided by advice. For buildings below 18 metres, which will not be eligible for the fund, we will continue working with lenders and insurers to get the market working faster. The new form that has been created in partnership between the Government and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors appears to be working in some cases, but not in all, and we need to make sure that that happens faster.

Inexplicably, the Mayor of Greater Manchester has delayed the publication of the spatial framework to build on local green-belt land until after the mayoral election in May. In the meantime, what can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State do to stop speculative applications on the green belt, such as that in Bredbury Parkway in my constituency?

I am very aware of my hon. Friend’s opposition to this plan and that of many of his colleagues—I would say Conservative colleagues, but it is not even exclusively Conservative colleagues. Indeed, I believe the shadow Secretary of State is opposed to Andy Burnham’s plan. It is clearly not proving popular in my hon. Friend’s part of Greater Manchester. We will have to see what happens in the mayoral elections, but I am sure my hon. Friend will campaigning strongly to protect the wishes of local people in his community.

The announcement on the new cladding fund is welcome, but it remains to be seen whether it will be sufficient to cover all the issues that have been talked about today. I have a specific question about the detail. Leaseholders are paying an awful lot of money for waking watches at the moment. Will that be reimbursed as part of this fund?

The fund will operate like the 18-metre ACM fund, in that it will be available only for the costs of the remediation works themselves, not for any service charge fees that might be incurred in the interim. We want to see this work done as quickly as possible, because I am very conscious of the fact that those waking watches are causing meaningful costs to people. There are cases where people are finding it extremely difficult to meet those costs.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s words on the presumption of brownfield development. Will he give me an assurance that councils such as Aylesbury Vale District Council in my constituency, which are high in the league table for new build housing, at significant loss to our countryside, will not be pressured, so long as we bring forward all the brownfield developments in Buckinghamshire?

We want to support and reward the many councils across the country that are making often difficult decisions to allocate land, aggressively build out brownfield sites, re-imagine town centres and, above all, meet the local housing need of their communities. We want to encourage those that are failing to meet the housing needs of their communities to take such a lead, because it is not fair that people are not able to live and bring up their families in their own communities. That causes housing pressure to be pushed out to other areas, perhaps such as the one my hon. Friend represents, forcing the building of even more homes and putting even more pressure on local services and the countryside in some parts of the country, particularly in the south-east.

Building can go ahead if action is taken to address potential flooding risks: more retention ponds or reservoirs to keep water on adjoining lands; and the planting of willow trees—the willow absorbs moisture and water, and can be cropped and harvested. That will involve a concerted partnership between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to preserve the environment. Will that be done? Will we have a good, sensible, intensive planning strategy now, for the future?

Absolutely. The Environment Secretary and I will be working closely together as we see what further steps might be needed in the planning framework to ensure that homes are built in the right places. The planning system today seeks to do that, but clearly we have seen examples in recent weeks and months where it has not succeeded, so some change may be required now, particularly as the flood risk facing some parts of the country appears to be more regular and more acute than we have ever known it.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly his comments about wanting more people to live in safer, greener, beautiful areas—I am sure we would all welcome that. Some people are fortunate enough to live in such areas already, and they will be concerned about over-development. Will he assure me that they will be fully consulted? One route is a local plan, which he referred to, but many councils struggle to meet the deadlines. Will he assure me that help will be available to councils to meet those deadlines?

Yes, there will be. We want to find a better plan-making process. Plans are taking too long and we would like not only the time taken to produce them to be reduced significantly, but for people’s views to be genuinely taken into consideration. We are also, through our new digital agenda, seeing whether there are ways in which that can be done in a much more modern, 21st-century manner, on people’s smartphones, so that their views can be taken into consideration.

Does the Secretary of State agree that even more needs to be done to ensure that developers are accountable and that local communities are empowered even more to be centrally involved in the decisions made in their area? Will he be willing to meet me to discuss the Westferry Printworks development application, which he approved on 14 January?

I or the Housing Minister would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that matter. I believe it is subject to a judicial review, so it may not be possible, but I am happy to consult my colleagues in the Department to see whether it is appropriate for me to meet her at the moment.

I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that one reason why the number of completions quite often does not meet the number of consents is that there is a problem in getting utilities to sites. He is absolutely right to point out that much has changed since 1947, including the way we build houses and the developments in modular building. Will his planning review specifically look at those two issues? That would allow us to meet the desire of the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) to align completions and consents.

Absolutely. A lot of important work has been done on utilities, not least by the National Infrastructure Commission, and I would like to take that forward. On the broader challenge relating to modern methods of construction, that will absolutely be at the heart of not just the planning work we are going to do but our broader housing strategy. There is a huge opportunity for us as a country to lead the world in new construction technology and to build good-quality homes at pace. I really want us to take that forward.

To discourage the needless urban sprawl on our green belt, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to encourage councils to unlock unused brownfield sites first and to work with SME builders, rather than moving toward huge green-belt release and working with large developers?

We absolutely we want to have a brownfield-first policy—that is at the heart of everything that we are trying to do in this policy area. It is why we have created the brownfield fund, which is available to those councils that really want to seize this opportunity to unlock those parcels of land. It is also driving our interest in some of the planning freedoms, such as the ability for a small builder or an entrepreneur to use the new permitted development rights that I have announced this week to purchase a disused office building with the knowledge and certainty that he or she can knock that down and turn it into good-quality housing as quickly as possible. We do not want to see the needless ruination of the countryside—we all want to see it preserved for future generations—but we have to balance that with ensuring that homes are available for the next generation in those parts of the country where people really want to live.

I heard what the Secretary of State said about the importance of completing local plans. Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is working together with our friends and neighbours in Stoke-on-Trent on a joint local plan. Will the Secretary of State assure me and them that as we get Britain building homes, the Government will also invest in infrastructure such as the schools, roads, public transport and GP services that are needed to support new developments?

I am pleased to hear that Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent are working closely together—I am not surprised now that both are represented exclusively by Conservative MPs for the first time. We absolutely want to ensure more investment in infrastructure. As we set out in our manifesto, the infrastructure should flow first. We need well-planned, modern communities, which is why we have invested through the housing infrastructure fund. We will be succeeding that with a new, larger and longer-term single housing infrastructure fund, which will ensure that at least £10 billion is available for local areas to plan for the future and ensure that the roads, GP surgeries, utilities and hospitals are there to meet people’s demands.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that local authorities such as Blackpool include adequate provisions for the environment in their local plans?

That is already a requirement and we are going to do work to see whether further action can be taken. The future homes standard, the final details of which we will announce shortly, will mean that from 2025 no new home is built in this country unless it has very high levels of energy efficiency and sustainability—at least a 75% reduction in CO2 emissions. If a council is in the process of making a plan, or will be soon, it will need to plan for all homes to be meeting that standard, or higher, in the years ahead.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Town centres such as Warrington’s can thrive again if we focus on regeneration before we use the green belt. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to make sure that that is a reality?

With our £3.6 billion towns fund, the Government are setting out to do exactly that: to help local communities to come together and to work with the business community to harness private sector investment, unlock pieces of land and get more homes built in town centres. There are great examples throughout the country of councils planning significant numbers of new homes in the town centre. For example, the other day I was in Loughborough, a relatively small town that now has a plan for 1,000 extra homes to be built, some above shops and some on brownfield sites. That is exactly what needs to happen in every town centre in the country to get footfall and create new, vibrant life in town centres.