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Housing: New Homes

Volume 805: debated on Tuesday 8 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of (1) how many new homes will be needed by 2025, and (2) how quickly they will reach their target of building 300,000 new homes per year.

My Lords, the Government are committed to meeting the country’s housing need, delivering 240,000 new homes last year—the highest number in over 30 years. The Covid-19 pandemic presents a real economic challenge to the housing market, and our top priority will remain a safe, sustainable recovery. That is why we will continue to take appropriate measures to support housing supply, such as the recent Planning for the Future consultation.

My Lords, there is a dire shortage of housing in this country, especially in areas which have shown a lot of growth, such as the south-east. While I very much welcome the consultation on Planning for the Future, it does not stress the early action that we need. The proposed zoning system, about which I have some concerns, will, in practice, take an age to establish. Why do we not instead put a Macmillan-type in charge to focus on nothing else—it might even be my noble friend the Minister himself? He could make use of the planning guidance; release plots of land to help small builders, including on government-owned land; encourage builders to use planning permissions; and give rapid approval for building in local materials and styles, applying the spirit of the late Roger Scruton.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for putting me forward for a new role. There is an unprecedented amount of initiatives to boost housing delivery, including grant funding, a substantial amount of which is through the affordable homes programme; guaranteed funding to enable access to finance at lower cost; loans to enable short-term funding; and ensuring that we can accelerate the release of land and invest in the infrastructure required for housing delivery.

The Minister will be aware that council housing lists are running at over 1 million, and in my diocese, private rental is a prohibitive drain on all but the most generous of incomes. Will he outline what proportion of the 300,000 new homes will be assigned to social housing?

My Lords, in the last year, 57,000 of the 240,000 homes were affordable homes, and the Government have committed the largest single funding commitment to affordable housing in over a decade, with £11.5 billion out of the total £12.2 billion set to enable the building of affordable housing. This new programme aims to deliver more homes for social rent.

In the light of the over- whelming evidence gathered by the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission of the importance of popular and beautiful design for our mental and physical health, for support for new homes and for our connectedness as local communities, what assessment has my noble friend the Minister made of the 45 recommendations of that commission for promoting health, well-being and sustainable growth in achieving the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes per year?

My Lords, the Government welcome the report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, and are at this point carefully considering its recommendations. A government response will be published in due course.

My Lords, only a quarter of households in most places have a high enough or secure enough income to buy, even with support from schemes like Help to Buy and First Homes. Does the Minister agree that we cannot achieve 300,000 homes a year by continuing to rely on the housebuilders building homes affordable to only a quarter of households? Does he agree with Professor Glen Bramley that we need to build 140,000 homes a year that are affordable to those on average and lower incomes—in other words, more than twice as many as are being built by housing associations and councils today?

My Lords, I recognise the importance of delivering housing of all types and tenures, and that is reflected in the new approach to housing need, which takes into account affordability as a key plank of the new approach to the formula. I just referred to the enormous amount of money— £11.5 billion—that is being set to deliver affordable homes in the next five-year period.

My Lords, today’s commitment to social rent as part of the new affordable homes programme is welcome, as is the Government’s housebuilding ambition of 300,000 new homes per annum. However, that is a level that the private builders have never achieved since World War II, while investment in social housing could create a countercyclical boost for the construction sector. The Minister seems to have recognised that in the announcement today, but it contains some untested and risky policies. Can the Minister assure the House that his department will take steps to ensure that these policies do not slow down the Government’s housebuilding plans at a time when they are most needed to provide new homes for lower earners and key workers?

My Lords, I can assure the House that all the new policies that have been announced recently, including permitted development rights, will be kept under review, and we will see what impact that has on housing supply.

My Lords, has the Minister seen Shelter’s latest analysis, which says that there is a backlog of 380,000 “phantom homes” with planning permission but not completed? Does he agree that the planning reforms, which may take as long as 18 months, will not be a quick fix for this problem? Surely Oliver Letwin’s recommendation for a much greater mix of tenure is therefore suitable, and proper investment in social—not affordable—housing is where there is a market. There is desperation as well as demand, and that should be the urgent goal.

My Lords, I restate that there is a commitment to all forms of housing—all types and tenures—including social housing. That is one of the reasons why the borrowing cap on the housing revenue account was removed, so that we have seen a generation of councils build more homes than in the previous decade. I also point out that Sir Oliver found no evidence in his review that speculative land banking is part of the business model for major housebuilders.

My Lords, can my noble friend ensure that the building regulations are fully up to date and enforced, and that he will have due regard to the importance of green spaces and gardens, as we have seen during this Covid epidemic?

My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that building good-quality and beautiful housing is a top priority for government. The Covid pandemic has shown just how important housing is, and the importance of access to green space. I can assure my noble friend that the building regulations will be continuously updated.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. We have got to make housing more affordable right across the spectrum of need. That means more council and housing association properties available on social rents, not affordable rents. How does the Government’s housing strategy deliver those social rent homes?

I point out a number of measures. Obviously, the investment in affordable homes of £11.5 billion that I just announced is the largest investment in affordable housing in over a decade. In addition, the removal of the borrowing cap enables housing to be built. Councils have built 10 times more council housing in the last decade than in the previous one.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to drive up the construction of much-needed new homes but, with social distancing on building sites, the loss of many skilled construction workers as they return to Europe and the vagaries of the British weather, is the case not stronger now for investing in modular off-site construction, with higher safety standards, higher quality standards and improved productivity? What steps are the Government taking to increase these new methods of building the homes that we need?

My Lords, my noble friend is right in highlighting the importance of boosting the use of modern methods of construction, and we are helping to create a pipeline of opportunities to give confidence to the sector and investors. We are providing financial support for the sector through our £4.5 billion home building fund, and a further £450 million was announced for the home building fund this summer in response to the coronavirus crisis.

My Lords, in my experience of local government, I found the public to be very resistant to new development, changing from nimbys into BANANAs—build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody. Planning for the Future further reduces their ability to object, preferring instead to front-load the process involving residents in master planning and the local plan. From the Minister’s own experience, how realistic is that assertion? Given that even Conservative MPs are now concerned about the proposals, how will imposing more top-down targets result in more homes and a happier public? How do we actually engage with the public in this very serious issue?

My Lords, I recognise the antipathy for development in some places that the noble Baroness has pointed out, but two-thirds of local authorities are building in line with their housing need. The current approach and the consultation on housing need to take into account a number of factors and provide a start point for a dialogue about the number of homes that are needed to be built in next decade.