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Housing

Volume 753: debated on Monday 31 March 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to increase the supply of housing.

My Lords, this Government are getting Britain building again. Housing construction is at its highest level since 2008. Affordable homes will soon be delivered at the fastest rate for more than 20 years and our latest Budget measures, which include extending the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, supporting a garden city at Ebbsfleet and providing a £525 million fund to support SME builders to get going on smaller sites, will support more than 200,000 more new homes.

As well as Help to Buy, will my noble friend confirm that the Government will continue to promote the right to buy, which has been so successful in helping people in social housing to become homeowners? The shadow housing Minister, Jack Dromey, told last year’s Labour Party conference:

“I was one of those in the 1980s who led the charge against the right to buy. We were half way across the field of battle we looked over our shoulder and there was no”,

one,

“behind us—there were 1.5 million housing tenants who bought their homes”.

Does my noble friend agree with him?

I certainly welcome the conversion of the shadow housing Minister to supporting the right to buy. I wish only that he would speak to his Labour colleagues who are in government in Wales as they seem to be doing everything they can over in Wales to prevent people exercising their right to buy. The contrast here in England is stark. I can reassure my noble friend that it is very much an important part of our housing strategy. We have increased the discounts available to those who wish to exercise their right and our commitment to replace the additional homes sold under our reinvigorated scheme will mean that even more people will have the same opportunity in future.

My Lords, I think that Jack Dromey is the former shadow housing Minister. Last year, the Government built the lowest number of genuine social homes for more than 20 years. We know that the Mayor of London has banned Labour councils from insisting on the building of genuine social homes through Section 106 agreements in his London plan—this against the guidance of the planning inspector. Indeed, we believe that he has just announced that at the dockyards at Deptford they are planning for 3,500 luxury flats—not a single affordable home, unless you are a millionaire, of course. Does the Minister seriously support that approach?

It is a shame that Jack Dromey is the former shadow housing Minister, because he very much supported our policy—talking about it as a policy of aspiration. On social housing, I say to the noble Lord that more council housing has been built under this Government than in all the 13 years of the previous Labour Government.

Does the Minister agree that it is most welcome news in the Budget that we now have a new garden city being built for the first time in a generation? Can she share with us the lessons learnt from the first and failed attempt to build Ebbsfleet when it was commissioned by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, in 2003, and can she widen that lesson for us and explain how it can be applied to ensure that we do not have to wait for another generation before the next one?

The key lesson to be learnt from the previous Labour Government is that they set targets and tried to impose new towns and cities but ended up building nothing but resentment, whereas this Government support locally led developments. We will be publishing our garden cities prospectus soon so that locally led proposals and plans can come forward.

My Lords, given the removal of the housing borrowing cap, which I support as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and which is supported by a large number of housing stakeholders, and the Deregulation Bill, which has clauses in it that will increase eligibility for the right to buy, I hope the Minister will agree with me that it is more important than ever that receipts from houses sold under the right to buy are recycled into replacement homes, and that replacement homes include designed homes that are convenient for the ageing population, which we all know about, so that those homes will be freed up for young people, who have a huge need for new homes.

I can certainly say to the noble Baroness that our policy is clear that the money raised from right-to-buy sales should be used to provide newer affordable houses for rent. As for providing housing that is tailored very much to the older generation, we certainly encourage local authorities in producing their local plans to be clear about the needs of their local population and to make sure that there are provisions in those plans for older people as well.

Although it is true to say that the right-to-buy policy has been a success in some parts of the United Kingdom, is it not also true that it has been an absolute disaster in London, where people were able to buy their flats for £50,000, £60,000 or £70,000? Those former council flats are now on the market in London at £600,000 and £700,000 and very often the people who bought them have put them back on the market and sub-let them at exorbitant rents of £400 and £500 a week. What has happened to council housing in London is a scandal.

The most important thing that we need to do for housing right across the board is to increase supply. We are certainly increasing the amount of affordable housing. I might say to the noble Lord that we have built more than 170,000 new affordable homes since 2010, and two of the top five areas of the UK benefiting from this were in Tower Hamlets and Hackney.