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House of Lords Hansard
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15 September 2016
Volume 774

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to reverse the decline in home ownership.

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My Lords, the Government have halted the decline in home ownership and are committed to going further. We are supporting first-time buyers who wish to get on the housing ladder through our Help to Buy, shared ownership and starter homes policies.

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My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the register of interests: I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. When does the noble Lord think we will next see the levels of home ownership that peaked around 2005? Does he agree with the comments of the Housing Minister, Mr Gavin Barwell, when he spoke about the need to build homes of all tenures and not focus on one single tenure? What are the implications of those comments for the starter homes programme?

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My Lords, as I indicated, the decline in home ownership has been halted. In fact, there has in the last year been a slight increase in home ownership, though not statistically significant. I agree with my friend in the other place, Gavin Barwell, about the need for homes of all tenures. We are also focusing on helping to rent, as well as helping to buy. Certainly, one thing we are very much focused on is council house building, where our record stands comparison with the Labour Party’s.

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My Lords, the Economic Affairs Committee’s report in July on housing said:

“The Government’s target of one million new homes by 2020 is not based on a robust analysis”,

and “will not be enough”. The Government turned their target into a commitment to build 1 million new homes by 2020 in the Queen’s Speech, yet last month Shelter reported they would fall short of that commitment by 250,000 homes. What action are the Government planning to ensure that they fulfil their commitment and produce a total housebuilding programme that is fit for purpose?

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My Lords, perhaps the most significant feature of the housebuilding situation is the budget commitment. We have increased the budget for housing for this Parliament. In fact, we have doubled it to £20 billion, £8 billion of which will help to deliver 400,000 affordable housing starts.

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My Lords, I must remind the House of my interests in the register, and a tenant of mine has just notified me that he has been able to be helped to buy his first home. Can the Minister assure me that these homes will be freehold and not part of an antiquated leasehold system which really means that people have only a very limited time in ownership of the property?

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My Lords, as I indicated, we are looking at various tenures. I am pleased that my noble friend found through her acquaintance that we are getting on with this policy. We are committed to 200,000 starter homes in this Parliament. As I indicated, that is with a range of tenures. Some leaseholds, such as 999-year leases, should be long enough for most people in this House.

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The Minister mentioned various government initiatives to encourage home purchase. Is the Government’s position clear about the Help to Buy ISA? Can the portion of the finance from the Government’s contribution to top up that ISA at the point of purchase be used towards the deposit for the house?

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My Lords, the Help to Buy ISA is helping many people at the moment: more than half a million people are making use of the scheme and 26,000 have already received the bonus. The bonus of £3,000, which is a considerable amount towards a deposit, is paid at the end of the process so it means an adjustment in the way that finances are organised.

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My Lords, would the Minister agree that we will never get to the 1 million homes if the Government insist that housing associations and others stick to home-ownership schemes rather than being allowed to do the affordable rented housing that they have traditionally done? Can we not get back to more of that, as well as the much-needed home-ownership schemes that we have heard about?

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My Lords, as I indicated, the Government are committed to home ownership. We are making sure that money is provided to encourage that. Also, we are certainly committed to homes to rent, and have committed money to rent-to-buy schemes as well. We committed £661 million to a build-to-rent fund which should, over the life of the Parliament, guarantee about 6,000 houses in addition.

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With a proposal for so many new buildings, what provision will be made for allotments?

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My Lords, I know that my noble friend is a great supporter of allotments. As I have indicated before, allotments are protected in relation to brownfield sites. We have committed that 90% of brownfield sites will have planning permission by 2020, but I am sure that she will be very pleased that allotments are protected in relation to that policy.

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My Lords, is not the problem the price of land for housing? How can we justify a hectare of land being sold outside London, in the provinces, for £12,000 or £15,000 an acre which when it receives planning permission can be worth £2 million, £3 million, £4 million, £5 million or, in some parts of England, £6 million a hectare? Is that not the real blockage in housing development in the United Kingdom?

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My Lords, the noble Lord is right that one of the issues is supply. That is why we are focusing very much on housebuilding, whether for purchase or for rent. He is also right that one considerable challenge we have is in relation to the price. That is why we have committed £20 billion, as I indicated, and doubled the budget for housing over the length of this Parliament.

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My Lords, while the price of land continues to increase so rapidly, landowners have much less incentive for immediate development, particularly if they are negotiating with local authorities over their desire for more affordable housing requirements. Will Her Majesty’s Government take further steps to tackle land-banking, so that we can get more houses up more quickly?

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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate rightly draws attention to land-banking, which I have indicated before is a very real issue. We are looking on a weekly basis at the prices of land, post the Brexit vote. A levelling off of prices is indicated but it is too early to draw many conclusions. One consequence if prices are levelling off is that it will make it easier to tackle the problem of housebuilding.

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My Lords, how many of these affordable homes have been allocated to rural villages and hamlets, to enable young people who are either already working in the countryside or would like to do so to afford houses near where they work?

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My Lords, the noble Countess draws attention to a particular problem in relation to rural areas. I confirm that the starter home policy is available to rural areas, as is the affordable housing policy. It is open to people in those areas to make use of those and I certainly encourage them to do so.