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Housing: London

Volume 765: debated on Monday 26 October 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to address the shortage of housing in London.

My Lords, responsibility for housing in London has been devolved to the Mayor and the GLA, in line with this Government’s commitment to give local areas control over their development and growth. We work closely with London Councils and the GLA on increasing housing supply in London. Total funding to the GLA for affordable housing in London across 2015 to 2018 is nearly £1.5 billion, delivering 43,000 affordable homes under the programme.

My Lords, in the last five years the Government have failed to tackle the housing crisis in London: the number of people owning their own home in the capital is now below 50%; the number of private renters has gone up by 800,000; and there are the lowest levels of peacetime housebuilding since the 1920s and a 79% increase in rough sleepers. When are the Government going to take some real action to deal with the crisis? They have had five years to deal with it so far. Their record is poor. Urgent action is needed.

My Lords, I cannot agree with that statement. More council housing has been built since 2010 than in the 13 years of the last Labour Government. There have been more council housing starts in London than in the 13 years of a Labour Government, and there have been 800,000 more homes built in England since 2009—260,000 affordable homes delivered since 2010.

My Lords, given that average earnings in the capital now are just under £28,000 a year and given that research shows that in order just to get a foot in the property market in London needs an annual income of somewhere around £77,000 a year, what is the Government’s estimate of the number of people who will access starter homes in the capital?

My Lords, there will be 200,000 starter homes in total built. That is our aim. Of course the answer to demand in the capital is to provide supply.

My Lords, how do the Government view the fact that one impact of the housing shortage in London is that London boroughs are relocating families away from London and away from the communities and services they know, which puts pressure on receiving authorities in respect of their housing provision and services? I refer to places such as Stevenage, Milton Keynes and, of course, Luton.

My Lords, the noble Lord brings up a very important point, but of course London authorities have always done that. The important thing is to make sure that fewer families have to reside in temporary accommodation, and we have made sure that that is the case.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that one of the biggest problems relating to the welfare bill is the huge cost of housing benefit? This country will never get that cost down until we tackle the terrible shortage of land for housebuilding. We have vast areas of green belt. Will the Minister consider allocating 10% of the green belt to housebuilding in order to rack down rents and reduce the housing benefit bill?

My Lords, the Government are very clear that the green belt should be protected. However, as the noble Baroness will know, this Government are very committed to right to buy and to unlocking brownfield sites, with the brownfield register being available from councils, and we will put £1 billion into the brownfield fund. I have talked about starter homes and other affordable homes.

My Lords, why are the Government supporting a reduction in the percentage of the social housing contribution in London planning permissions?

My Lords, I think it is up to local authorities to decide what types of tenure they provide for the people who live in their localities.

My Lords, I understand that developers have a very large amount of buildable-on land held, as it were, in a land bank and awaiting changes in the economic climate. What consideration is given by the Government to bringing pressure to bear and getting this land released so that the price of housing goes down?

My Lords, the problem of land banking and not building on land that has permission is very serious and, yes, the Government are putting on pressure to get those starts moving.

My Lords, further to the question from my noble friend Lord McKenzie, what steps are the Government taking to monitor the numbers who have to leave London because they can no longer meet the cost of housing there, as well as monitoring the impact on families who are uprooted into new communities?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is high time that we paid as much attention to demand for housing in London and Britain as to supply? Can she say when the Government will publish an estimate of the increase in households without immigration—something that has not been done for five years?

I cannot answer the former part of that question but, in terms of the latter part, the Government are certainly keen to ensure that landlords know that their tenants have a right to be in the houses that they are renting. Therefore, we are cracking down on this and obliging landlords to ensure that the person tenanted in their house has a right to be in this country.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the Government’s policy of selling off social housing held by housing associations will further diminish the level of affordable and social housing? Does she not think that selling off housing association properties is, in effect, nationalising charitable assets?

My Lords, housing associations that have a charitable purpose will be exempt from that policy. However, under our new, invigorated right to buy policy, we intend to replace every house sold with a new home.

My Lords, would the noble Baroness care to reconsider the answer that she gave my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours? Viewed from some perspectives, there is no housing shortage in London: flats are being thrown up all over the city. However, they are being sold off at enormous prices and then left empty. Does she really think that in these circumstances it is appropriate to give—if I may say so without offence—what is more of a shrug-of-the-shoulders response on the subject of planning permission?

My Lords, I hope that I did not give the impression of a shrug of the shoulder. If one were to walk around certain parts of London, one may well be forgiven for thinking that many of the houses—certainly in certain parts of central London—were bought but not lived in. In fact, I understand that that rate has gone down; about 2% of all housing in London is not lived in. However, affordable starter homes, particularly for those in the age group that has found it difficult to get on the housing ladder, are a very good way forward.

My Lords, could my noble friend take account of the question that was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Green, on the need for statistics to be published that give us an indication of the increased demand arising from immigration? Is this not something that the Government should tackle?

My noble friend has foxed me: I do not know whether we have a million empty dwellings. What I do know is that the empty dwelling rate has gone down.