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Housing: Local Plans

Volume 792: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the announcement of a Housing Delivery Test in the revised National Planning Policy Framework published 24 July, what measures they will take to prevent developments which do not comply with local plans agreed at a local government level.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, the revised National Planning Policy Framework gives greater certainty to areas that are delivering developments in line with the local plan. However, where there is underdelivery, the housing delivery test will hold local authorities to account for their role in delivering the homes we need by making more land available through a buffer on land supply, or by invoking a presumption in favour of sustainable development. Additionally, locally produced action plans will enable local authorities to understand what is preventing plan delivery in their areas.

I thank the noble Lord for that interesting Answer. While the new NPPF has much to commend it, does he agree that this housing delivery test is set to become both controversial and challenging? What powers do the Government think local government has now, and what powers will it have in the future to hold the housebuilders to account for prompt completions following planning permission, as this housing delivery test demands?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her comments and her welcome to the National Planning Policy Framework generally. It certainly is challenging; the evidence is that local authorities are stepping up to the plate. Where they do not, there is a sanction involving a buffer on land supply. But it is in response to what we regard as most important: providing housing for the nation. Last year—the last year for which records are available—we hit the best year for 30 years. Let me correct myself: only one year in the previous 30 was better. But there is still a challenge and that is why we are doing this.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Porter, who sadly is not in his place, has come up with another prescription as to how the country might meet his targets? He said:

“To boost the supply of homes and affordability, it is vital to give councils powers to ensure homes with permission are built”—

and we know how many there are outstanding—

“enable all councils to borrow to build, keep 100 per cent of Right to Buy receipts and set discounts locally”.

Is this not the better prescription? Can he explain why the Government have not followed it?

My Lords, indeed, I wish my noble friend Lord Porter a speedy recovery, and he is well on the way to that. In his absence it is good to have the noble Baroness putting forward his views. In the meantime, we engage very regularly, as she will know, with the Local Government Association. Many good ideas come from it, and my noble friend Lord Porter does a very good job in putting forward the arguments for local government.

My Lords, did the Minister see the double-spread story in the Times last Saturday, headed:

“Help to Buy boom could leave a generation in negative equity”?

It shows how the scheme has helped housebuilders to double their profits while the number of the affordable homes they have produced has been halved from the local plans. I too applaud the revised National Planning Policy Framework, but can the Minister confirm that the contention by builders that they may not make a profit of at least 20% will no longer be used as the test for whether they can renege on their obligations to provide affordable homes?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for all he does in this area, which is considerable, and for his comments about the National Planning Policy Framework. On his question about the Help to Buy scheme, we should remember that more than 420,000 people have been helped to buy their own homes through the scheme. Yes, of course, we hold to account local housebuilders across the country for ensuring that they are delivering. We are constantly looking at the case for ensuring that, where there is a shortfall in delivery and they are at fault, we do something about it—so we expect them to step up to the plate. However, Help to Buy provides assistance for an awful lot of people who want to own their own homes and are unable to do so, and we should be thankful for that.

My Lords, will the Minister please return to the question asked of him by my noble friend Lady Andrews and answer it? She asked him why the Government have not accepted the advice offered to it by their own party member, his noble friend Lord Porter.

My Lords, in fairness, I think that I said consult regularly my noble friend Lord Porter. We receive advice from all quarters and listen to it carefully. We will take forward some of the points that my noble friend has made and responding to them. Of course, he has a role to play in representing the interests of local government. He would be the first to acknowledge that, very often, we heed his words. I will give a more detailed response to the noble Baroness in relation to quite a few of the issues that she raised.

My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interests. Is the Minister aware of reports that approximately 160,000 homes could be built by bypassing local plans by 2020 as a result of the housing delivery test? Does the Minister recognise this figure? If it happens, what is the point of local plans?

My Lords, the local plan is paramount— the noble Lord, along with many people in this House, was instrumental in getting broad, cross-party agreement on the neighbourhood planning scheme. That will remain the case, but the National Planning Policy Framework will provide an overlay of the number of houses that need to be built in conformity with the national plan. I do not see any consistency there—it is something that we will watch like hawks—but the local plan is paramount in terms of the needs of an area. Related to that are the housing delivery plans, on which we consulted widely and for which there was significant support, as the noble Lord will know.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The Minister will be aware of the hundreds of thousands of approved planning applications for housing across the United Kingdom where not a single brick has been laid by developer or builder. What is the benefit to local communities if the result of the test is just speculative, unsuitable developments that fail to meet local plans, fail to address local needs or have any connection with local demands?

My Lords, the noble Lord will have heard me just say that the local plan will remain paramount. He will also have heard me say that, last year, we had record delivery of housing—only one year in the past 30 was better than that. Last year, permission for 304,000 homes was given in the rolling year to 31 March 2017. That is the challenge we have. The noble Lord is right about some speculative building. He will know that we are looking at that and remember our response to it in the Housing White Paper—it remains very much business that we want to attend to. In the meantime, we should realise that we are making progress. We should not be complacent—there are challenges, which I freely acknowledge—but, against the backdrop of the challenge we have of 300,000 houses per annum, we will be treading on some toes to achieve it. I am sure that we will have widespread support for doing that.