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Housing: Affordable Housing

Volume 754: debated on Thursday 12 June 2014


Asked by

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

My Lords, we have made much progress to increase the supply of affordable housing, as the new figures released today show, but we want everyone to have the security and stability of a decent affordable home and so continue to make reforms and explore new opportunities to increase the level of housebuilding.

Will the Minister confirm that under Labour, in the four years from 2008 onwards, the Government invested £8.4 billion in housing, which was cut for the following four years by the Conservative Government to £4.5 billion, and that affordable housing was cut by 60%? On a more cheerful note, will she join me in welcoming the statement made by the leader of the newly elected and victorious Hammersmith council to urgently review three major housing schemes because they do not have enough affordable housing?

I can certainly confirm that under the previous Administration the number of affordable rented homes fell by 420,000 between 1997 and 2010. By contrast, I am pleased to inform the House that we have announced this morning that more than 41,000 affordable homes were started last year; that is 15% higher than the year before, and that means almost 200,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since 2010. We clearly have further to go but in addition to the range of measures in the Written Statement I tabled on Wednesday, I expect my right honourable friend the Chancellor to announce further steps this evening.

Will my noble friend encourage her department to make it mandatory for all new housebuilding to include energy-saving devices, most particularly photovoltaics?

I am not at liberty to commit from the Dispatch Box to a new building regulation if one does not already exist but I will certainly explore the point that my noble friend raises and come back to him.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in many parts of the country the term “affordable housing” is a very slippery concept? Will she also confirm that since most housebuilding in this country at the moment is dependent on the private sector for its delivery, there is a straightforward conflict between the need of private developers to make profit and the requirements of the populations around which they are building houses? Does she believe that the National Planning Policy Framework—have I got those two Ps the right way round?—is actually allowing councils to make the right judgments about what sort of houses to build or is it too much weighted in favour of developers?

The noble Baroness makes an important distinction between affordable housing, which is a formal definition, and affordability, which is a separate matter. My simple answer to her question is that planning permission was granted for 216,000 new homes in England last year, so the planning reforms are working.

My Lords, eight years ago the Affordable Rural Housing Commission estimated that we needed at least 11,000 affordable new homes every year in rural areas. We have scarcely ever managed more than a third of that number, and the proportion is falling. That means that those who need such homes in rural areas move to urban areas, adding to the numbers of the urban homeless and further obscuring the rural problem. What remedy does the Minister have for this state of affairs?

In terms of the delivery of affordable homes, we feel—certainly from the statistics that I have seen this morning—that they are being built in the areas where they are most needed. I will come back to the right reverend Prelate about rural housing because I do not have any specific data on that for him at the moment. But the fact remains that affordable housebuilding is increasing.

My Lords, may I call on the Minister to give every encouragement to the community-based housing associations that operate up and down the country? When I served as an MP, I had six community-based housing associations in my area. They provided lovely homes, they rehabilitated old tenements, they build community halls, they built sheltered housing—

I can assure the noble Lord that we support all communities that are building new homes. I have met a range of different people leading development in their areas. I certainly agree with everything the noble Lord said.

Will the Minister join me in celebrating the achievement of Harold Macmillan, who, in the 1950s, promised and delivered the building of 300,000 houses per year? Can she explain why the achievement of that Conservative Government was so much better than that of this Conservative-led coalition?

I can certainly tell the noble Lord that this Conservative-led coalition has built more council housing in the last year alone in London than was built in the 13 years combined of the last Labour Government.

Affordable housing is housing that attracts some financial support from both public and private sectors so that it is available at a rent below the market rate.

My Lords, I declare an interest as working in the construction industry. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to improve the quality of new homes?

I would like to think that we are doing quite a bit. As I said to my noble friend who asked the first supplementary question, I have very little information with me today on building regulations but certainly the new homes that I have seen being built are of a good standard.

My Lords, according to the noble Baroness, affordable housing has a rent set below the market rate. What is the connection between that and affordability in many parts of this country?

As the noble Lord heard me say in response to his noble friend, affordability is a different issue. “Affordable homes” is a formal distinction when we talk about the specific building of different properties. With affordability, we clearly need to make sure that homes generally are available at an affordable rate. That is important to everybody who seeks to buy their own home.