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Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 22 May 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they propose to take in the light of the housebuilding data for the quarter to March 2012.

My Lords, the Government are already taking action. The housing strategy launched in November last year announced an ambitious measure to boost house- building substantially, including a £1.3 billion investment to get Britain building and plans to deliver up to 170,000 affordable homes. We are releasing public sector land for up to 100,000 new homes and helping buyers through the NewBuy scheme.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which I suggest is massively complacent but surpassed by Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, who is on record as saying that “Building more homes” in this country,

“is the gold standard upon which we shall be judged”.

Yet there were just 109,000 completions in England in 2011—the second lowest total of any year since 1946. Seasonally adjusted housing starts to March 2012 were 11% below the December quarter and, for the year to March 2012, 6% below the previous year. Things are getting worse not better while homelessness and rough sleeping are increasing—even without further housing benefit cuts coming down the track—and private sector rents are rising. At a time when the construction sector needs work, people need jobs and families need homes, what are the Government going to do to step up to the challenge?

My Lords, the housing strategy steps up precisely to the challenge. Some of the completions depend, of course, on when the start was and not all the starts were since 2010, so the previous programme had some effect on the programme now. However, the Government are determined that there will be a big boost to housing starts, to affordable housing and to private housing. There will be support for that in the programmes that we have outlined. By the time the spending review is completed there will be, as I said, 170,000 new affordable homes built.

My Lords, I hope the Minister is aware that the land value of a house in the 1960s was about 25%. The land value of a house today is over 50%. That means that the present generation are paying 25% more for their mortgages than most of us here today did. Most people who have analysed the situation believe that this is due to excessive land rationing through the planning system. I applaud what the Government are trying to do in freeing up the planning system but we really have to get to the heart of this, release more land and bring supply and demand into balance.

My Lords, I agree very much with my noble friend. The Government are doing just that. Public sector land is being freed up as we speak. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, there is a plan across all departments to free up any spare land, including Ministry of Defence land. There are also now policies to ensure that, where planning permission has already been given but the plans have not been implemented, there will be greater encouragement to those people to ensure that the land is developed. We all recognise that there is a great demand for housing. We very much appreciate the problems that first-time buyers are suffering, and the delivery of more houses—on which we are determined—should help.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the effect of housing supply on jobs? As my noble friend Lord McKenzie rightly said, each new house built generates two and a half years-worth of job—one year for the construction and one and a half years for the supply of materials, the furnishings, the carpets and the rest. Not only will an enhanced housing programme meet desperate housing need, it will also meet desperate unemployment, particularly among young people who wish to be apprentices.

My Lords, I do not think that anybody will disagree with what the noble Baroness said. There is no doubt that the construction industry provides jobs and training for young people and, as she has said, it has many offshoots as a result. It is therefore in everybody’s interests that we manage to ensure that the housing market is boosted, and the Government are firmly behind that.

My Lords, I am grateful. Will the Minister share with the House the number of people who are currently on housing waiting lists in the United Kingdom? Can she also share with us the number of underoccupied properties and the number of empty properties in the UK?

My Lords, I do not have the figures with me, although I appreciate that they are available. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord and give them to him.

My Lords, we have recently seen the establishment of a green investment bank, and some commentators think that consideration ought now to be given to a housing investment bank. Will that be seriously considered by the Government?

My Lords, the noble Lord has made a point, which I am sure will be noted—and I will make sure that it is.