My Lords, we have announced bold measures to make our housing market work better, including planning reforms and total financial support of over £44 billion to 2022-23. Furthermore, at Autumn Budget we abolished housing revenue account borrowing caps, which will help to bring forward a new generation of council housing. This supports our ambition to create, fund and drive a housing market that delivers 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and note his optimism, but I think that the signs are not good. The Minister will know that Shelter now estimates that there will be 320,000 homeless people over Christmas, that there are 1.25 million families on social housing waiting lists and that the country built only 222,000 new homes in the last year—that figure includes conversions. Is he aware that the National Housing Federation estimates that we need to build 90,000 homes a year for social rent for the next few years? Will the Government publish an action plan to show how they will deliver the homes that the country so urgently needs?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the challenges that we face, but I do not agree with what he said about the 222,000 homes in the most recent figures. That represents the best figure for 31 years, bar one year, and so is a considerable achievement. Yes, there is more to be done. We have committed money to social housing, as he will be aware. We have abolished the housing revenue borrowing caps, which we had been urged to do. That, too, will make a considerable difference.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee. In a recent report on off-site construction, the committee concluded that a presumption in favour of off-site construction, particularly where the Government have an opportunity to play a role in the procurement of housing, would help to achieve this target of 300,000 new homes a year. Do Her Majesty’s Government support that position?
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord about the importance of off-site construction. We are very much looking at encouraging that and giving it a boost in garden communities. The noble Lord will be aware of the growth in the market for modern methods of construction. We have a lot of domestic producers, which is a double win. It encourages not just more houses to be built, and fairly quickly, but also British jobs, so I very much agree with his sentiment.
My Lords, I refer to my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of Newcastle City Council, which in the first year I was elected built 3,000 council houses. Affordable social housing rents are defined as 80% of market rents, which are inflated. Will the Government review that unrealistic definition of what is affordable and will the Minister indicate how many of the 300,000 houses envisaged by the Government will be built by local authorities or housing associations?
My Lords, I acknowledge the distinguished service of the noble Lord—over 51 years, I believe, in Newcastle. We obviously face very different challenges from those in the years when the noble Lord was first elected. That said, I accept that these new challenges mean that we have to consider different tenures and ways of delivering. He will have noted what I said about raising the housing revenue account, which will to help bring forward a new generation of council housing in Newcastle and elsewhere. I note what he says about affordable housing, but it is a preferred measure to press ahead and tackle what is a very important challenge, which we all acknowledge.
Does my noble friend feel that over the forthcoming holidays he and his ministerial colleagues might draw inspiration from the Conservative manifesto for the 1955 election? It stated proudly that over 1 million homes had been built in four years, entitling the party at that point to say:
“Only under Conservative administration can the nation be sure of a housing policy in line with its needs”.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much indeed for referencing the success of past Conservative Administrations, under Macmillan particularly, I think. I reassure him that, if I find that I am getting bored over the Christmas period, I will indeed pick up that manifesto, but I have to say that I have other plans.
In the process of building social housing, can the Government try to return to the old days of social housing when it was sociable housing? The early council houses had a social mix, not just people who were in absolute deprivation, which creates social ghettos outside society.
The noble Lord makes an important point about the mix that there used to be in council houses and I am sure that that point will have been heard by housing associations, builders and local authorities. It is also important that we consider some of the earlier designs of council housing, which were probably much more commensurate to happy living than some of the more recent designs, but I remind noble Lords that design is now a factor in the National Planning Policy Framework, so that should carry us forward in that respect.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a direct connection between the lack of affordable housing or social housing and homelessness, as described by Crisis recently? Twelve months ago, in Oral Questions on 19 December, the Minister described the resource that was being allocated, but we have now seen 12 months of an increase in homelessness, in contrast with Scotland, for example. What does the Minister hope to tell us in 12 months’ time and why is it going wrong at the moment?
My Lords, before referencing the noble Baroness’s question, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for the work that he did on the Bill, which I omitted to do yesterday because I was out of time. I thank him and, indeed, the honourable Member for Westminster North for their considerable work on the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill. In answer to the noble Baroness, what I hope to be able to say in a year’s time is that we are making progress, that the 222,000 that we have just seen was not a blip and that we are continuing to make progress against considerable challenges. We look to see what is happening elsewhere, as the noble Baroness knows, particularly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but also on the continent of Europe.