Wednesday 24 March 2021
The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded, or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The time limit for this debate is five hours.
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am very grateful to the usual channels for permitting this debate and to all noble Lords who are taking part. I express my sadness at the beginning at the sudden death of Lord Greaves, whose voice in this area, as in so many others, especially those involving the day-to-day concerns of people, will be deeply missed.
The Archbishop’s annual debate is normally held every year, just before Christmas—although I am not sure that it counts as a Christmas present. Due to the pandemic and other issues, it has not happened for a couple of years. You may have thought you were spared but that is not so, for, like Jairus’s daughter, the debate is not dead but was only sleeping. And when better to resurrect it than just before Easter?
While the rollout of the vaccine is a light at the end of a tunnel, people have experienced hardship in many different ways. I pray for noble Lords and parliamentary staff who have suffered in this time of turmoil, for those who have lost loved ones and for those who have felt afraid and isolated this year.
The Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community is independent and comprised of people with very different views: academics, theologians, industry experts, people of faith and no faith, and people of different political persuasions. It has published what I believe, having not been on the commission, to be a brilliant, seminal piece of work, titled Coming Home: Tackling the Housing Crisis Together. It has not shied away from challenging the Church before it has challenged anyone else. I am very grateful for the strongly positive reception that this report has been given by the housing industry and by many across the Church. We have been overwhelmed by letters and offers of support from every part of the housing world, including developers, housing associations, charities and far beyond.
The way we have lived over the past year has shown us how important our homes are to our lives. Where we live is vital for our health, well-being, opportunities and flourishing. Our homes are the places from which we go out to grow and to which we return to feel secure and safe.
When we launched this commission, we knew that the focus had to be not simply on building more houses but on better communities. We wanted to build a positive vision for housing, one that has been lacking in our English national understanding for many decades and that has a holistic understanding of being human at its heart. I say “English” because two of the devolved Governments are ahead of us. Scotland’s Housing to 2040 strategy deals with the number of affordable homes, the number for social rent, zero carbon, housing standards and existing stock. The Future Wales strategy deals with co-locating homes, jobs and services, zero carbon, improving the well-being and health of communities, new priority areas for green energy, affordable housing and remote working.
As the Church of England, we have a major role in realising the vision we are proposing. Because of history, we are one of the largest landowners in the country. Collectively, we hold over 200,000 acres of land and a large stock of historic and many other buildings. But more than that, with 12,500 parishes and 18,000 clergy, we have a committed and continuing presence in every community in this country.
We incarnate Christ’s promise of love and hope, not just through our worship services but by offering food banks, debt advice centres, night shelters and so much more—worship reaches people online. There is precedent also for the Church’s involvement in housing; from almshouses to housing associations, it has for centuries been involved in the provision of decent places to live. We do not do this just to be nice—we are not an NGO with a pointy roof—but because we believe that Christ commands us to love our neighbour.
The Church can and should make a substantial contribution to the housing crisis, using our resources well to serve others. That is why I have submitted a motion to the Church of England’s General Synod, calling on it to recognise that
“addressing housing need and strengthening communities is an integral part of the mission and ministry of the Church of England”.
I am delighted that Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani, the new Bishop of Chelmsford, has agreed to take up the role of bishop for housing, leading a national executive team in the next stage of the housing commission’s work. I look forward to her joining us in your Lordships’ House this summer.
That is also why the report has challenged the Church Commissioners, part of the Church of England, to consider how the 92,000 acres of land they own can best be used to resolve our housing crisis. It is why we have mapped, through Knight Frank, all Church-owned land across the nation and why we are endeavouring to remove every obstacle that currently stands in the way of parochial church councils, trusts and dioceses when they attempt to use their land well. We are prepared to put our money where our mouth is—some might say that we first have to remove our foot.
The commission has developed five values as a framework for building good housing which enables and encourages strong communities, each value beginning with S. Good housing should be “sustainable”: it should not undermine or harm our precious planet; we are called to be stewards of the Earth. It should be “safe”: our homes must be places where we feel safe, with security and privacy from unwanted intrusion by people, pests, danger or disease. It should be “stable”: our homes should be places where we can put down roots and plan for the future, and where we can build lives, families and communities. It should be “sociable”: we need to be able to offer hospitality to friends, family and neighbours, with public spaces which create strong community bonds. It should be “satisfying”: good houses should be a delight to return to, giving us pleasure and pride, both to live in and to look at. In summary, good homes, affordable for all. Those five values have resonated strongly across the industry, including with those with no connection to faith.
“Good homes, affordable for all”—far too many people live in housing that falls well short of that aim. The National Housing Federation records that 8 million people in England live in unsuitable, unaffordable or unsafe housing. Among them are more children than were in such housing when Ken Loach made “Cathy Come Home” in the 1960s. This number is likely to have risen as a result of the pandemic. This is not just one crisis: housing need looks very different depending on who you are and where you live. It affects many of us, but not equally. The brunt is borne by those who are in the most vulnerable positions—the poorest among us and often those with no voice. It is a national scandal.
My first question is this: will the Government and opposition parties agree with this definition of good housing, as set out by these five values? As a nation, we need an agreed vision, in the same way that we have one for the NHS which is beyond politics.
There is also a sixth S, which runs through this report and needs to be at the core of everyone’s response to the housing crisis: sacrifice. No one, not even government, can solve this on their own. Historic failure under all parties shows that. The Church wants to partner with other institutions on the ground: faith groups, local government, charities, housing associations, developers and anyone else who wants to work with us.
But to transform our housing landscape, there is a need for sacrifice, which will be required from all of us, whether we are individuals inclined to nimbyism, organisations and companies whose primary concern is profit or Governments whose priorities are influenced by short-term election cycles. As the report says, now is the time for a “bold, coherent, long-term” housing vision, which focuses on those who are facing the greatest need and which can be supported by all parties—good housing, affordable for all.
The housing commission makes two key points: first, it defines good housing through the five values; secondly, it calls for a long-term non-partisan strategy to deal with the crisis. The mess we find ourselves in is not the fault of any one Government of the left or right; it is more than 40 years in the making. Simply building more houses will not solve the problem. We cannot build them fast enough to make any meaningful impact on prices and, realistically, what Government would intentionally reduce house prices and thus the housing wealth of a large part of the electorate? Even if they did, electoral cycles are not long enough to incentivise long-term strategic thinking.
The commission has recommended implementing a 20-year strategy for housing to cover both new and existing homes, with a particular focus on those in the most need. So will the Government and opposition parties commit to developing such a strategy, and will they agree to work together to deliver the housing that people in this country so desperately need and deserve—good homes, affordable for all?
In the short term, our social security system, which supports those with no other way to cope, must urgently be reviewed. Families, both out of and in work, are being forced to choose between eating, heating and paying their rent. Also in the short term, we need to ensure longer-term security of tenure, introduce an explicit duty of care on landlords and improve the quality of temporary accommodation. The Grenfell tragedy reminds us of the urgency of removing unsafe cladding from buildings, without the costs falling on leaseholders. The vote in the other place to overturn your Lordships’ clear amendment on this subject was, frankly, a great tragedy and grave error. I will leave it to my right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester to comment further.
As for the long term, we must build more homes—no one questions that—but there is no use building more homes if people cannot afford to buy or rent them, and then cannot afford to live in them. Affordability is as important as availability. We need a definition of “affordable” that is pegged to income levels and not based on market rates. A long-term strategy for housing needs targets for affordability that mean affordable in the sense that most people mean it—not discounted to market rate but still unobtainable for most. The noble Lord, Lord Best, has done important work on affordability with the Affordable Housing Commission, and I greatly look forward to his contribution today.
In previous Written Questions to the Minister on this topic, I asked what assessment the Government have made of the level of household income that would be needed to afford a home defined as “affordable”, and what assessment they have made of whether their target for the number of affordable homes that they want to see built is sufficient to meet the demand for such homes. The Minister graciously answered, but he did not describe how the cost of housing relates to household income, nor give the overall numbers of affordable homes that are needed. These two factors, essential ingredients for any national housing strategy, have been missing for too long.
So will the Government adopt a definition for affordable housing that is based on income, and will they outline any plans they have to increase the proportion of new homes being built that are genuinely affordable? To bridge the gap between market cost and truly affordable homes, we see no alternative, in the short term, to an immediate increase in public capital subsidy. However, the Coming Home report also sets out how Governments might use the current planning system progressively to reduce land prices and the windfall gains to landowners to share the financial burden of delivering more truly affordable homes. I commend these ideas to the Government for serious consideration.
Land needs to be used to maximise long-term social and environmental benefits, not simply to sell for maximum price. Changes will be needed in charity law if we are to facilitate this across charities generally and I am delighted that the commission has started by seeking to clarify the law around Church land. But, according to data from the Government’s Public Land for Housing programme, only 15% of housing on land sold by the public sector was affordable, and less than 3% was for social rent. We must rethink our principles when public sector land is sold.
The early Church father, St Basil the Great, warned against making
“common need a means of private gain.”
So will all parties commit to ensuring that the law enables the use of all public sector and charitable land to maximise long-term social and environmental values, not just a crude measure of highest price?
Matthew chapter 6, verse 21 reads:
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I believe that this is a fight for the heart and soul—of the Church of England, yes, but also of our country. Where is our treasure? Is it in shoring up riches for ourselves, or do we say that our treasure is in our neighbours, our communities, those who are impoverished and struggling? Where are our hearts?
In the ruins of the Second World War, a group of people got together to reimagine the heart of the nation after 1945. Many of them—Beveridge, Tawney, my extraordinary predecessor William Temple—were Christians. We can seize the moment, as they did, or we can allow it to slip by and suffer the consequences.
Over the past year, we have seen a disproportionate number of cases of infection and death where people have had to live in unsuitable and overcrowded accommodation. Overcrowded families have struggled to find space to educate their children and to work from home. Outdoor space has been vital to our well-being but often limited to those who can afford a garden. Where we live is connected to our health, our opportunities, our relationships, our education—our capacity for flourishing.
The crisis has revealed the underlying conditions which have exacerbated the devastating effects of the pandemic. It is the poorest and most marginalised people among us who are suffering the burden of the housing crisis, and that will change only if we take collective responsibility and action.
This has been a lot of words—far more than noble Lords wished to hear from me today, I am sure—but I am adamant that the work of this commission cannot result simply in words. There has to be action—in the Church and elsewhere. There must be change. Good homes available for all is a moral imperative.
As the report shows, the Bible is a story of home—from the Garden of Eden to the new Jerusalem. God cares deeply about how we live here on earth, and I am determined to be part of a Church—and pray that I might be part of a country—that channels that care. Millions of people have stayed in their homes to protect their fellow human beings this year. Let us repay them by making sure that everyone has a home which is sustainable, safe, secure, sociable and satisfying.
This report is a challenge to us all. Sacrifice is never easy, but the example of Jesus Christ, which we remember in this season, shows us that it is transformational. The Church is determined to play its role in meeting this challenge. Let us work together to make good housing affordable for all a cornerstone in the architecture of post-Covid Britain. I beg to move.
I congratulate the most reverend Primate on securing this debate and, above all, on the powerful and heartfelt way in which he has presented what I think is an unanswerable case. I echo his words about the tragedy of the death of Lord Greaves. I shall miss his interjections and his dulcet north-western tones greatly.
This is a very appropriate moment for this report and the commitment of the Church of England to be presented to us. I am a Methodist, so I hope your Lordships will forgive me for intruding on the debate in terms of the stewards taking forward this report. I put on record my thanks to Charlie Arbuthnot for the conversations I have had with him and congratulate all those who have taken part in putting this excellent report together.
In a moment I will talk a little more about social value, to which the most reverend Primate quite rightly referred, but first I will talk about housing. When I was leader of Sheffield City Council, I discovered that all of us—because, thankfully, all of us had a home—thought we were experts in housing. I am not. I am quite clear that there are others contributing this afternoon who have much greater expertise, both in the economics of the housing market and in the critical issues that the most reverend Primate referred to in terms of the balance, the importance of affordable housing and the setting aside of the ideology that we are in favour of either renting or buying.
Actually, we are in favour of building houses for people to live in as a basis for them to be able to grow a family and to be active and committed members of a community—to secure, as described in those five pillars, a safe and environmentally acceptable way of living their lives. It is an absolute basic in terms of everything else that we stand for, all we talk about in terms of the security of the family, the safety of the neighbourhood, the commitment to building social capital and the capacity of communities, such as at the moment, to be able to deal with major catastrophes such as the pandemic.
It is fundamentally about the building blocks of a civilised society. It is also a major contribution not only to the well-being and lives of young people and their ability to build a future but to how we care for our older generation. It is about the importance of creative ways in which we can develop social care so it is neither isolation without support nor encapsulation in often very committed social care, which, by its very nature, removes independence and presents real difficulty in terms of uniting, and keeping united, couples in old age where the wife or the husband has fallen ill or become severely disabled.
I hope that all parties will be able to commit to the clarion call from the Church of England. I have a close friend, the Reverend Dr Alan Billings, who is now the police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire. I have spoken to him at great length over the years about his time serving on Faith in the City back in 1983-84—another era of great division. He assures me as a Methodist that it was a commitment underpinned by radical and sustainable theology. I cannot speak to that, but I know that carrying forward reports such as the one we are debating today will happen only if there is political commitment. The most reverend Primate referred to the welcome that this has received from right across the housing market, from housing associations to local government. I hope that will continue to be the case in the months ahead.
I want to say a word or two about what the most reverend Primate referred to towards the end of his excellent contribution: the need to change the legal framework—obviously, this includes the Church—for selling church assets and to amend the law so that we can include social and environmental values. The report talks about church land and buildings being used for social and environmental, as well as economic, benefit. To be able to do that, it is really important that the Church continues to join others in ensuring that there is a redefinition of the maximisation of value.
I know that the practice note that has been agreed with the Charity Commission will help the Church do this. But my point this afternoon is that, if this is to be a combined effort, I hope that, despite the agreement it has reached on the use of its own land and property, which is very welcome, the Church will continue to work with others to make any change requirements that are necessary to the wider interpretation by the Charity Commission of how land and property can be disposed of.
The most reverend Primate will know that a very old friend of mine is Geraldine Peacock, who now has the major challenge of severe Parkinson’s disease, who was head of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and then the Charity Commission itself. Nobody can ever forget being approached by Geraldine because her tenacity and terrier-like focus on what needs to be done can never be overlooked. I very much welcome that. I hope we will be able to find a way forward, following the excellent appointment of the Bishop of Chelmsford, and find solutions to problems that have arisen in North Yorkshire and in Wells, where Geraldine has been attempting to develop a community asset. I make no bones about mentioning that this afternoon, because it is an important example of a community asset, following the sale of the deanery in Wells, being used for the benefit of the wider community.
If we can pull together and understand the critical importance of housing as a centrepiece of the community, and if we can overcome barriers—easily done through a statutory instrument—to ensure that the social value Act 2013 is carried into practice right across our country, so much the better. Critically, we must back the Church of England as being in the vanguard of ensuring that we take forward what is necessary now to provide housing solutions for the future.
My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for enabling us to have this debate today. I remind the Committee that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I am particularly pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who said very many things with which I agree, not least on the importance of social value. He referred to the “clarion call” of the Church of England; that indeed is what this report is.
The report, Coming Home, from the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community, is a major contribution to current thinking on housing and on the need for a 20-year strategy. I want to talk first about values. Strategies and policies are built on values, and social values were very close to the thinking of my noble friend Lord Greaves, who spoke in the House only last week on housing and the private rented sector. The news of his death yesterday is deeply sad. He would have welcomed the commission report so very strongly.
There are several core values in the report. Homes and communities should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying. All of these are important words with which I concur. I will say something about safety first. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York has talked recently about resetting our compass. I agree. We should not accept homelessness, with all the risks to personal safety that it leads to. I wonder if the Minister might commit to speeding up the scrapping of the Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes it a crime to sleep rough. It belongs to another era, yet it is still being used to prosecute people who suffer from a variety of personal problems.
Then there is the safety of homes and the need to ensure the highest standards; for example, of electrical safety. The Grenfell inquiry has served as a wake-up call to address the shocking standards of building regulation in which hazardous products were allowed on to the market. There has been a culture of poor-quality building, in which cost-saving has been allowed to become the dominant consideration.
Some builders urgently need to improve quality and restore public trust. For example, a few days ago, the Competition and Markets Authority ordered two companies to remove contract terms that have meant that thousands of leaseholders had been paying excessive ground rents. Further, some owners of new homes have been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements when their builder undertakes repairs on their new-build homes. Why is this permitted?
The commission has made important points about sustainability. In that respect, I want to comment on the Green Homes Grant policy. It was welcome in theory, but it suffered from an excess of media spin and insufficient attention to detail. It proved very difficult to get a grant. Delays, plus a lack of advisers and builders with the right skills, have meant that just 8% of the scheme’s target of 600,000 will have been reached by the end of the month. I understand that 128,000 householders applied for a voucher but only 5,000 have actually had the work carried out because of the lack of capacity in the industry. I wonder whether the Minister can explain a little more about how this situation was allowed to arise.
The commission has also talked about the importance of stability. Stability of residence leads to stability of communities, and stable communities mean more sociable and satisfying places to live.
On affordability, the truth is that affordable homes are so very often unaffordable. The word “affordable” should never be used to suggest genuine affordability, which surely relates to income. Everyone needs a secure job, a good education and a decent home—those are values to which we should all subscribe—yet household poverty has risen sharply during the pandemic. Some 220,000 more households live in destitution today—the number has doubled in a year. Furthermore, the pandemic has put 700,000 more people into poverty; the figure would have been twice that had the additional £20 a week in universal credit ceased.
As the commission says, 8 million people in England live in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable homes, with many caught in a poverty trap made worse by the pandemic. Although the Chancellor’s recent decision to deliver 95% mortgages is welcome for those able to take advantage of it, the benefit freeze will hit low-income families. As Shelter has pointed out, some tenants can get £100 less a month than their rent. I have concluded that the social security system is failing to provide adequate housing support for many low-income families.
I challenge the notion that the current affordable homes programme is adequate. There are grants available for socially rented homes, which is welcome, but there is nothing like enough to build the number of social rented homes that we need. Only 7,000 social rented homes were built in 2019. Can the Minister tell the House how many are currently being built?
It seems that the Government’s priority is to subsidise owner-occupation over social housing. First Homes, which sells to first-time buyers at a 30% discount, is to be financed from planning obligations paid by developers. It therefore seems that there will be less money for social and affordable homes from that source, and yet council housing waiting lists are likely to rise significantly as a result of the pandemic.
I am very glad that the Church of England is to use its land assets to promote truly affordable homes. The Government should follow suit by ensuring that part of rising land values is always captured for social and community benefit.
I have one final point: overhauling the planning system will not support the Government’s ambitions to build 300,000 homes a year or the social homes we need. Nine in 10 planning applications are approved by councils and more than a million homes given planning permission have not yet been built. We should also note that 1 million homes are awaiting development—that is, homes on land earmarked for development that have yet to be brought forward for planning permission. I venture to suggest that it is the housing delivery system that is broken, not the planning system.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said earlier that we need good housing that is affordable for all. Surely that is an objective that we all share.
My Lords, I congratulate the most reverend Primates the Archbishops on their report on the housing shortage and I particularly congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on the way he introduced it today. I welcome the report, first, because it recognises and highlights the importance of the housing crisis in this country. It is amazing how little attention is given to this problem, yet in my experience nearly all the social problems and many of the economic problems we face in this country are caused or aggravated by the shortage of housing. I fear it does not receive the attention it deserves because most of us in the chattering classes already own our own homes and subconsciously, or consciously, enjoy their rising value as demand outstrips supply and prices go up. The most reverend Primate’s reminder about where our true wealth lives is well made.
The second reason I welcome this report is because it urges the Church and Christians to lead by example by using Church land to build more homes. However, there is one thing that puzzles me about its conclusions and about the remarks the most reverend Primate made today.
The report advocates that housing should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying—jolly good things—but, despite its willingness to build more homes, increasing the supply of homes does not figure in the report’s alliterative list of priorities. I suggest that the word “sufficient” should be added, and that it be at the top of the list, because the only way to alleviate the housing shortage is to build more homes.
When I made this point in a speech in the Commons in 2014, it generated a headline in my local newspaper. For once, the headline was an entirely accurate precis of my speech: “MP says solution to housing shortage is build more homes”. Uncontentious, I thought, but what astonished me was the number of people who wrote to me and to the newspaper denouncing this assertion as ridiculous. Surely, they argued, our MP must realise that the housing shortage is the result of house prices, rents, land prices or mortgage interest rates being too high. The solution, they asserted, is for government to control house prices, rent, land prices and interest rates—and anyway, they invariably added, “We certainly don’t need to build any more houses in Hertfordshire”.
I am sure the most reverend Primate, who has worked in industry, knows that high prices, including rents and interest rates—which are prices—are symptoms of a shortage, not its cause. I shall put it very simply: the simple fact is that if you have 25 million dwellings and 26 million households wanting a home, a million of them are going to be disappointed. That is arithmetic. Young people may have to stay longer at home with their parents, others may have to share overcrowded flats with friends, and dwellings may have to be split into smaller units, even though the average size of our homes in this country is far smaller than anywhere else in the developed world. Those with no or low incomes will have to be helped by housing benefit to acquire a roof over their head, which is one reason why the housing benefit bill has been soaring. But every dwelling they occupy means that someone else, a bit higher up the income scale, will have to share or will be forced to occupy overcrowded properties.
We can ration housing by prices, rents and incomes, supplemented by housing benefit, or we can keep prices and rents below the market clearing level, and the Government will then have to allocate the supply of housing according to some assessment of need. In practice, we do a mixture of both, but, either way—however we switch the emphasis between the two—it does not alter the fundamental arithmetic. If there are only 25 million homes and 26 million would-be households, 1 million of them will have to share.
What should be clear is that reducing the rents of some of those 25 million dwellings below the market clearing level will not create a single extra dwelling, though in the long run it will reduce the supply of rented accommodation. Reducing the price of houses below the market level will not add a single home to the housing stock in the short term, though it will reduce the supply of homes in the long term. Reducing mortgage terms below the commercial level will not add a single home, though it will quickly add to demand and drive up prices facing those without access to cheap mortgages, as the Government are about to find out.
There is only one way to alleviate the housing shortage and that is to build more homes. Sadly, the report, and indeed the remarks of the most reverend Primate, were somewhat equivocal about that. On page 80, the report says:
“It is disingenuous to imply that ever higher targets for building new homes will somehow make them more affordable. It won’t and it hasn’t. Adding around 1% to the housing stock each year will not have much, if any, effect on housing prices.”
I am afraid that that statement is disingenuous: of course extra supply will not bring down prices relative to incomes if the demand is rising as fast or faster.
That brings me to my second question about this report. Where in it is the analysis and recognition of the causes of the housing shortage? I found it difficult to extract. Why have house prices in the UK outstripped incomes during the past 20 years, as it spells out? Why are they so much higher relative to incomes than in France, Germany or even Switzerland? There is only one possible answer: that the growth of supply has fallen short of the growth in demand. We have been building far fewer new houses now than was achieved decades ago by Harold Macmillan, and even our target is below the level he achieved.
At least part of the reason for that is nimbyism, the selfish attitude of those who own homes but oppose plans to build homes anywhere near theirs. The document mentions the issue, though only a couple of times. It rightly condemns it, though in rather equivocal terms, saying that
“There may be some good reasons to be a Nimby”
and then saying that there are not really any if you are a Christian. I would rather it to be a more ringing denunciation of nimbyism.
It is possible, though difficult, to overcome nimbyism. I faced it in my own constituency, where, before the 2015 election, a group of people said that if I did not agree to oppose all new housebuilding in the constituency, they would run a candidate against me. They belonged to the Harpenden civic society, which is the 1,000 most important people in Harpenden. I faced them down. I managed to persuade a big public meeting which they held that it was a moral obligation to support building more houses, for the reasons spelled out in this report. The Church will have to be prepared to be pretty robust when it starts building on church land, because it will be faced with nimbyism, but, as I say, it is possible to face it down.
Why has demand outstripped supply? Until 2000, the main factor in increasing demand was the declining size of the average household. It was declining by 0.5% a year, because of people living longer after their kids left home, so that there were only two in the home instead of four or whatever; some elderly people living alone after the death of their spouse; and, sadly, the break-up of marriages. For all those reasons, household size was declining. Actually, it ceased to decline, because people cannot afford to break up with their spouses and leave home early, and children are having to stay with their parents much longer and so on.
That was the main factor, but, in the last couple of decades, another factor has overtaken it: namely, net migration into this country. In recent years, typically 600,000 people have come to live in this country and 300,000 have left. We have had to build houses for the net 300,000 who have come here each year. Since Tony Blair took the locks off immigration, a net 5 million people have come here. We seem reluctant to mention this—it certainly does not get any mention in this report. The ONS says that, over the past decade, over three-quarters of additional new households are headed by someone who was born abroad.
This is an important issue. This is not the place to discuss whether we should have a higher or lower level of immigration, but we can surely agree that anyone who believes that this country should continue to be a destination of mass migration and settlement—which it has never been historically—must not then oppose every proposal for housebuilding in their area. Sadly, I found that it was very often those who criticised any tightening of immigration controls who also opposed every planning application in my constituency. I hope that I will have the Church on my side when I criticise such hypocrisy.
My Lords, I declare my relevant interests as in the register, including as chair of the Affordable Housing Commission and as a Church Commissioner for the Church of England. I congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on establishing this housing commission and thank him for his inspiring presentation of its findings today, and I thank its chair, Charlie Arbuthnot, and the commissioners, for bringing together an excellent analysis of this country’s severe housing problems and their potential solutions. My comments are in two parts: first, a ringing endorsement of the commission’s main conclusions, and then a commentary on the specific recommendations to the Church of England on the use of its land assets.
I greatly welcome the commission’s housing policy recommendations. Its core conclusion is that
“the primary issue with the housing sector is not just a lack of housing”—
the lack of housing to which the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, rightly refers—
“but instead a lack of truly affordable housing, particularly for those on low incomes.”
This chimes with the theme of the Affordable Housing Commission, organised by the Smith Institute and funded by the Nationwide Foundation, which reported last year. We showed that, in large parts of the country, even if a landlord is willing to offer you a place, the rent is likely to absorb so much of your income—40% or even 50%—that you will end up in poverty, in debt, in arrears or, at worst, homeless.
I cite as an example the official statistics for poverty from Brent Council’s Poverty Commission, which I had the privilege to chair last year: before housing costs, 17% of households and 22% of children in the borough were classified as living in poverty; after housing costs were taken into account the figure rose to 32% of households and 43% of children. So the housing costs doubled the numbers living in poverty, to say nothing of so many being in the overcrowded, insecure and unhealthy conditions that have been shown up by the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on these communities.
Our Affordable Housing Commission noted that so many more households are struggling with housing costs because of the switch to the private rented sector, with its market rents, which has doubled in size in less than 20 years, to 20% of the nation’s housing, while the social housing sector—housing association and council housing—with its much more affordable rents, has halved to just 17% of our homes. The solution is for the Government to support councils and housing associations to increase their output of so-called social rented housing to around a third of the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes per annum.
I turn to the special ingredient in the commission’s recommendations which relates to the Church of England itself in addressing the housing crisis. The report highlights the wonderful work done at the local level by members of faith groups in social action that helps homeless people and engages with housing support of different kinds. The commission sees a special opportunity for practical assistance to extend this commitment through the use of land and buildings in the Church of England’s ownership. This is enormously important because the price and availability of land is perhaps the greatest stumbling block to producing the affordable housing we need. However, this is by no means a straightforward matter, as my three years as a Church Commissioner, under the skilful and sensitive chairmanship of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, have taught me.
The first obstacle to attempts to dispose of a piece of church land or buildings on favourable terms—for example, to a community land trust or a voluntary body working for the homeless—is the confusing legal obligation on any charity to reject all but
“the best terms reasonably obtainable”.
In reality, the definition of “best value” should not be such a problem. Indeed, the price a housing association or other voluntary body can pay will often not be appreciably lower than that obtainable from a speculative development and other benefits will more than compensate for any difference—benefits not just to society but in the wider work of the Church itself, sometimes even with the provision of a nomination right to a rented flat for a church worker, curate or a retired vicar. I hope that ongoing discussions with the Charity Commission will resolve this long-standing valuation issue. However, it is possible that your Lordships’ help will be needed for legislative change to remove this irritating obstacle.
Then there is the anxiety that disposing of church land or buildings at anything less than full open market price will diminish resources for the Church’s core ministry. Land is a highly significant part of the Church’s historic assets. In addition to the commissioners’ land holdings of over 90,000 acres, there are hundreds more sites and buildings with development potential within the Church’s 41 dioceses, with initiatives in Gloucester and Newham, for example, already showing the way.
The Church Commissioners have been highly successful in promoting ethical investment for their stocks and shares, most prominently in exerting pressure on oil companies to decarbonise and meet sustainability goals. This sets the precedent for the commissioners to be a pace setter also in respect of the Church’s investments in land. The commission calls for generous, “sacrificial” action but I see a number of good reasons why ensuring that land assets serve a social purpose need not be in conflict with the need to achieve proper returns from this source.
First, it is the obtaining of planning consent that makes a development possible and unlocks its hidden value. This requires the backing of the local planning authority. There is widespread disenchantment with the volume housebuilders because, despite making substantial profits, so often they have demonstrated poor quality, poor design, lack of space and community facilities, leasehold scams, unjustified bonuses and, prominently, an antipathy to including affordable housing in their developments. Local authorities are likely to be far keener to deal with Church bodies that exercise responsible stewardship in the use of their land assets. Similarly, the locals who protest—often with much justification—at low-quality developments with no green spaces or community components, and with few, if any, homes affordable to local people, can be brought on side when a responsible stance is taken for Church-owned sites.
If the Church nationally and at the diocesan level has the reputation of insisting on high standards and achieving public good, those vital planning consents can and should be more easily secured. I am delighted that the Church Commissioners have signed up to adopting the good behaviour of the 2020 stewardship code when selling land. This is a step in the right direction and translating this into specific outcomes, with a stewardship kitemark, is the important next move.
Secondly, doing the right thing in utilising land holdings can also be a way of improving the return from this asset for years to come. By following the example of a growing number of other major landowners—including the Duchy of Cornwall with its successful Poundbury urban extension and its new scheme at Nansledan—and being a patient investor, long-term gains can be obtained. Simply selling to one of the oligopoly of housebuilders only enriches those companies. Instead, retaining land ownership and organising high-quality, community-enhancing developments, often in partnership with smaller building firms and housing associations, can keep the development profits in the Church’s hands.
It is good to note that investigations are now being undertaken by the Church Commissioners, with top-level property experts, to explore these opportunities. I commend the Citizens UK initiative, with which the Church of England is closely associated, alongside the Methodist Church and others, for a partnership with the Government that offers land release for social housing in return for funding to cover all the initial feasibility work. The Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, has agreed to discuss this proposition further and I hope that the Minister will also engage.
In these ways, I am hopeful that, without weakening its financial position, the Church of England, and perhaps other denominations if they see fit, will maximise its direct contribution to easing the nation’s housing shortages. By encouraging responsible action by other landowners, from Oxbridge colleges to the Ministry of Defence to academy trusts and charitable foundations, it can magnify its influence for good, just as it has done so well with its ethical equity investment policies.
I conclude by reiterating my thanks to the most reverend Primate and I hugely welcome the appointment of the new bishop for housing, Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani, who can take forward the Church’s renewal of its historic engagement with the housing scene. I wish her every success in helping all of us to up our game in tackling this most fundamental of our society’s problems.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Best, whose work and witness in housing has been such an inspiration to many of us. I pay particular tribute to the work that he has done as a Church Commissioner in recent years. It is an honour to speak in this debate and support my dear brother, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose visionary leadership in this and other issues of social policy draws people of faith and good will together in developing a narrative of hope. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for his reference, as this is the first speech I have made since returning to the House of Lords as the 98th Archbishop of York.
We need to reset our compass. As we emerge from the horrors and sorrows of Covid, we have all become much more aware of our interdependence. Just as Covid cannot be dealt with anywhere until it is dealt with everywhere, so it is with other challenges facing our common life. When we cheered the NHS last summer, we were also cheering a set of ideas that are precious to our national life—namely, that we belong to each other. There are some things, like health, that are so basic that we cherish the fact that they are available to everyone at the point of need and regardless of one’s ability to pay. Should not this principle apply to other things as well, such as food on everyone’s table and a roof over everyone’s head?
Unfortunately, part of the housing challenge facing our nation is that we have not approached this in a sufficiently joined-up way; we tend first to think of homeless people on our streets and the human tragedy and political, policy and social failures that this represents. However, as we know, this is just the visible misery on the surface of a larger and far more extensive set of challenges. Behind those who literally have nowhere to live are the hidden homeless, who move from place to place and sofa to sofa, in temporary and insecure accommodation. There are also those who are forced into inadequate and unsatisfactory housing because nothing else is available. Then there are those who cannot afford to live in the communities where they grew up—and the concomitant damage to morale and social cohesion. As we know, this is a big and complicated challenge—but it affects millions of people, not just the homeless, though they must always remain our most immediate concern. In this debate, may we then also take the opportunity to thank the amazing charities, up and down our land, who minister to the needs of those who currently live on our streets, with whom churches, faith groups and others are so involved?
The other visible sign of the problem we face is, however, less obviously a problem at first: the vast new estates that we are building. The housing may be very nice if you can afford it, but so much of the motivation is profit, and the infrastructure needed to make houses into homes and homes into communities is often lacking. There are of course marvellous exceptions to this—we must build on them, literally. That is what the Coming Home report is all about: establishing the values and finding the political will to tackle the housing challenge together with long-term, joined-up solutions. This requires a reset in our attitude to housing and how we approach what so often appear to be intractable problems.
The key word in this discourse, as with so many of the political challenges facing us at the moment, is “together”. We are unlikely to make significant progress until all parts of our society and all parts of government cohere around a common vision and, as this report identifies, a common set of values that can drive policy over a longer period of time, transcending the short-term fixes that are often dictated by short election cycles. Yes, this is a challenge to all of us—national, local and regional government, landlords and landowners—but there can be exciting ways forward and practical steps that we can take, when we move together.
As my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury said, the Church must lead by example and face these challenges itself, which is why the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the changes that may be needed in the Church’s use of land and that of other charitable bodies is so important. Working together will be helped by cross-party recognition of the sorts of values and approaches outlined here. At the very least, we should start by adopting a definition of affordable housing that is linked to income, as others have said.
Of the five values identified here as being fundamental to our vision for homes and community, I will, in the few minutes left to me, focus on the last one: satisfying. It would be possible to build sustainable, safe, stable and sociable houses, but they would not necessarily be things of beauty or a source of joy. I am delighted that this fifth element, which could so easily be seen as an optional extra, is kept in the mix, because it will encourage architects, builders, interior designers, artists, craftspeople and those at the cutting edge of developing the new technology we need for our homes to be sustainable to think and imagine how this can be achieved with beauty as well as simplicity and economy. We need to draw again on some of the great architectural visions of our history and European history to raise our expectations.
While being interviewed on the radio a few years ago—it was not a very hard-hitting interview; it was not Jeremy Paxman—I was asked about my likes and dislikes, foibles and peccadillos, of which there are many. I was asked about my favourite journey. I replied that I really liked driving round the M25 and up the A12. The interviewer looked at me askance—this was not the expected answer—but this was my favourite journey, of course, because it was my journey home. Now, having moved, I would say how much I love the A64.
However, my experience of joy and expectation when I turn the corner to arrive home is not the experience of many of our citizens, either because they have no home or because their home is not what it should be. During this past year, we know that inequalities in housing have callously accelerated the spread of Covid, where cramped conditions and lack of access to outside space have meant that those without good homes are also those without good health. This must change. Asking for such a change is not naive optimism; it is a vision of hope that can lift our spirits and stiffen our resolve. To do it is within our grasp. It is a matter of policy and political will. It is the right thing to do, but it will also save us money through improved health, social cohesion and well-being.
This report is called Coming Home. It aims for nothing less than ensuring that everyone can come home—and find joy and stability in that home. To build homes is to build community. To build community is to build stability. To build stability is to build peace—and is that not the first responsibility of government?
My Lords, I want to pay my respects to Lord Greaves and his family after his untimely death. If he had been able, he would have been with us here today. It is very sad.
I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and welcome the commission’s report. I also thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who set out so well the situation for families living in bad housing or bed and breakfasts, or sofa-surfing—perhaps for not just weeks at a time but months and years—dragging children and unwell relations with them. This is difficult because the most important thing for children is space, including space for them to learn and have a sure start. As we come out of Covid, they must be our priority.
I commend the commission’s recommendations and support its actions, particularly its call for action to be taken by the Government and other actors in the housing market. We must continue to take firm resolution not to evict families or individuals at the present time; I hope that this can be extended for another year or so while we come through Covid, because it is not over yet.
Above all, there must be a national strategy, perhaps for 20 years. It must have clear objectives, it must not be short-term and it must be cross-party so that it can continue election after election. It must identify the roles of central and local government. Land must be released. At the same time, we must look at what is holding up planning. If the planning is agreed but it takes time for building to start, we must look at that too. It is necessary to improve the quality of our existing stock, the safety of which is deplorable and unsuitable. We really have to keep relooking at our stock.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, reminded me today of the London Borough of Brent, which I know extremely well. I have to say that the housing stock there needs a lot of support and improvement, like in many other inner-city boroughs. This report brings out to us what we have to do to increase the supply of new housing, which is vital. The new supply of housing must be truly affordable, with lower land prices and much greater public subsidy. That is vital for the future of Britain plc. If we do not do this, we will have to spend much more money on health, we will have undereducated children and we will not have the opportunities that there ought to be. The issue is well addressed in the commission’s report.
Part of housing is also green spaces, as some noble Lords have mentioned. Community areas should be available to residents but not only that: I have seen estates in other parts of the country where we insisted that banks were there so that they were accessible. I know that that is now online but in some way there should be access to finance, to the post office and to medical care so that people do not have to go miles and miles. There also needs to be access to transport and so I call on the Government to look clearly at their bus transport ideas that have just been mentioned and inner-London transport. It is vital that housing is comfortable and that when people go home they feel happy. We also have to help with rough sleeping and try to remove that from the future.
I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Lord Bradshaw? I understand that you are muted, Lord Bradshaw. Can you unmute?
We will have to move on to the next speaker and perhaps we can come back to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.
My Lords, I add my welcome to the Coming Home report and offer my congratulations to the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on their obvious and real commitment to this issue.
Before getting into the debate about housing per se, I will highlight the three aspects of the report that I want most to commend. First, the report is written in the most practical way that will ensure that much-needed housing is actually built. The report highlights the needs of 8 million people that are currently going unmet, so the issue of housing supply and quality is real and tangible. Secondly, the report is written in a way that understands the longing of the human heart for home and homes that are sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying. This understanding that a home is more than just bricks and mortar is crucial to the Britain we want to build and to building back better. Thirdly, it is a written in a way that takes responsibility and leaves us all asking ourselves: what can I do?
The Church of England is saying quite clearly that it wants to bring its land and lay it at the disposal of those in need, to find a way through on the issue of affordable housing. In the report it commits to using its land assets to promote more truly affordable homes. The response of every government department, business and owner of land needs to be: “What can we do?” I say to any Church Commissioners who are listening: I am aware that you hold the power to make this happen. I urge you to think about unlocking the potential of this recommendation as the Church seeks to lead the way.
The report finds that around 8 million people in England live in unaffordable, overcrowded or unsuitable homes. Whole sections of our society, including people of all ages, are affected by the UK’s housing challenge and history but those in poverty and who are vulnerable bear the brunt. The housing crisis has been driven by a number of factors and, as the report says, it has been a developing issue through the tenure of successive Governments but I am going to pick up on just three of the themes in the report and one of the recommendations. I am going to look at affordability, overcrowding and the stability of our homes, and then the call for a long-term housing strategy.
Turning to affordability, the report rightly identifies unaffordability and lack of supply as major issues. Any noble Lord with children in their 20s would be inclined to agree. The Government made strong commitments in their manifesto saying
“we will continue our progress towards our target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. This will see us build at least a million more homes, of all tenures, over the next Parliament–in the areas that really need them.”
The report says,
“good housing policy creates stable communities, where, if they wish”
to stay, people are can buy or rent at truly affordable prices,
“put down roots and build lives, families”
and communities, but even most small homes are too expensive for most buyers in the UK. The average house sells for eight times the average annual income, and small overpriced homes are the result of a system that is simply not creating enough homes to meet demand.
Whether homes are owned or rented, we need an honest assessment of what “affordable” means. A 2018 CSJ report found that hospitality staff, hairdressers and supermarket employees on average salaries for their respective sectors would need to put away 10% of their wages for more than 100 years to afford a deposit on the average UK home and that most starter homes and shared ownership products are affordable to no more than 3% of new social tenants. This is unsustainable and has knock-on impacts.
As the gap between average incomes and house prices has widened, the proportion of all households renting privately has doubled since 2001. The sector now houses some 4.7 million households and around 12.9 million people. This, in turn, has put enormous strain on those in need of social housing, and there are some 1.2 million families on social housing waiting lists across the country. This, in turn, puts pressure on those in temporary housing, many staying in such homes for far beyond the legal guidelines—for months, if not years.
We are a nation that rightly values home, being able to put down roots and staying close to our family networks. We like our families. People’s impulse to home ownership is right and natural. People who own homes have a stake in their community; they feel secure and able to invest emotionally and financially in the place where they live. This is something that we want to encourage, and asset ownership of any kind makes people responsible and orientated to the long term.
The Coming Home report importantly recommends that
“The Government’s long-term housing strategy should include a specific goal to reduce the number of households living in temporary housing, which is by definition unstable.”
Furthermore, it recommends that there should be
“a new quality standard for temporary accommodation, and an effective”
“resolution process when this standard is not being met.”
We all know that the principal cost of a house is the land that it sits on. I have previously written and spoken about the need to develop new models of land ownership, including via community land trusts, which acquire land on behalf of local people and sell only the bricks and mortar, at a greatly reduced cost compared to the price of the house plus land. We must also be wary that, as we grow the supply of homes required to reduce demand, the additional capacity is not consumed just by high-end buyers and investors, without benefit for the majority of people.
The second issue is overcrowding. This crisis, although referred to as a housing crisis, should not be underestimated for what it really is: a home crisis. As the Coming Home report eloquently puts it,
“good houses are places we delight to come home to, that give pleasure and satisfaction, both to live in and to look at.”
The average new home in Britain occupies a tiny 76 square metres, 40% less than the average new home in Germany and 30% less than in France. We should not seek to solve the housing crisis by creating more and more tiny flats that cement the fragmentation and atomisation of society. Instead, as we support our families with increasing relationship stability, we need to build homes that support community.
Thirdly, on the stability of housing, with unaffordability as a key challenge, many have resorted to the private rented sector, but here they have found that life can be precarious and certainly not stable. Landlords have a particular duty of care to their tenants but, with the threat of a no-fault eviction, vulnerable people are often hesitant to approach landlords when safety issues arise with their property, especially when children are involved. There are often no consequences for landlords who would rather evict their tenants for being difficult than address their concerns. For many across the UK the availability of homes is not the issue but the stability of tenancy. A stable home provides a period of predictability and security so that households have a reliable base around which to organise working and family life. One study found that, controlling for other factors, two or more moves in the first year of life could be linked definitively with behavioural problems at the age of nine, and for older children, home moves can mean school moves. Only 27% of pupils who move schools three times or more during their secondary school career achieve five A to C grades, compared to the national average of 60%.
However, of the many recommendations of the Coming Home report, the first—the recognition of the need for a long-term housing strategy—is perhaps of greatest importance. We have set a long-term vision for pensions, as well as for defence, development and foreign policy. It is time for a long-term strategy to be developed to address the issue of housing in the UK. It is interesting how across the social policy space, more and more of our challenges need a long-term approach. I have frequently highlighted the need for a poverty strategy, and those involved in social care are calling for a long-term social care strategy. There are serious reasons behind this.
First, we want to ensure that we are tackling the root causes of the problem and not just the symptoms and that our actions do not have unintended consequences. Here it is important that our actions do not, for example, lead to an artificially inflated housing market—it would be so easy to do so. Secondly, it is those who are most vulnerable who often interact with government policy at a greater number of points in their lives, so it is the most vulnerable who deal with government more than anyone else. What many of these people cannot take or cope with is swings in government policy—they are deeply destabilising. They also need to be able to rely on a strong social contract. For this reason, I echo the Archbishops’ call for a long-term strategy. However, this is also important from a planning perspective too. We are a nation starting out on a new journey. How great it would be if future generations were able to look back and say that we were characterised by such ambition that served them well and that we made the right calls to build this nation well at a moment of transition, that our legacy was one where homes became affordable, peaceful and stable.
My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate for the opportunity to discuss on a non-political basis the position of homes and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Greaves, with whom I worked very closely.
What I think about—I have listened very carefully to the debate—is who are these 8 million people who live in homes which are not fit to live in? Many of them are the people who do the jobs which are at the bottom of the pile and yet are so essential to the well-being of most of us. They are people who drive buses, empty dustcarts and sweep the streets, who do the mundane jobs on which all of us depend, and yet it seems we cannot afford to house them comfortably or properly
While I welcome the initiative described in Coming Home, I am worried that, if houses are let go at less than market value, a means must be found of ensuring that those houses remain within the public sector and can be let again to other people rather than that the people who buy them make a lot of profit and the houses become unaffordable to anybody else.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, called for a long-term strategy, as did my noble friend Lord Shipley. It is the only way in which we can come to a new dispensation where the land that is acquired by public subsidy or from charity law is land with social value that must be safeguarded for the future. Otherwise anything we do will be only a short-term solution to our problems. I accept that there are tremendous social problems associated with poor housing. I am sure that the only way out of this situation is the way described in the report, but on a much larger scale because the number of houses that can be built on church land is relatively small, but we can think of lots of other land which is semi-public sector land, for example, land belonging to Oxford colleges. If this is realised, it should carry some sort of social contract with the public that they should get a share of the benefits.
I hope that this report bears fruit and that we will see legislative action. I wish the Church the very best in its endeavours.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I welcome this report by the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community and the leadership the commission is taking to address this crucial policy area. The current housing crisis is one of the most pressing policy challenges of our time. I have been involved in work associated with the need for housing for many years. I remember that many years ago it was in York that forward-looking leaders in the Church first adapted local churches, unused in the week, to accommodate older people’s groups which were able to enjoy many facilities and activities, including following their various hobbies, and the churches were reshaped for worship at the weekend. This was then a very innovative, new approach, and the churches were the leaders in this development. I welcomed it then and still welcome it today.
In addition to the many recommendations in the report, which I strongly support, I draw attention to providing appropriate and affordable housing for older people in our ageing society, so well described by many noble Lords. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated and intensified the desire of many older people to retain their independence for as long as possible, to avoid moving into care homes and to be part of a community. A solution to this is often housing with care, through which people can maintain independent living while getting the support they need in community housing where care and support are available if they require it.
We need to be building far more housing with care, which is enjoyed by so many people, as our tendency to live longer increases. There are currently 11.8 million people aged over 65 in the UK and this number is expected to rise by more than 40% in the next 17 years to over 16 million. Despite this, current planning and regulatory systems make it extremely difficult to help new housing with care facilities meet the demands and needs of our ageing population.
Therefore, we need to consider how we can support the development of housing with care both when reviewing planning regulations and in the coming changes to the social care system that the Government have promised to make later this year. Part of the challenge will be to ensure that there is land available to develop new housing with care accommodation. This is consistent with what the Archbishops’ Commission recommends in its report and with the Government’s stated aim of supporting people enjoying at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035.
The very different situation that has emerged as a result of the Covid crisis is that many office blocks, currently unused, will become redundant as people continue to work at home for a large part, if not all, of the working week. Surely it would be sensible to convert many office buildings wholly or partly to affordable housing, particularly housing with the sorts of facilities that older people can enjoy and benefit from, and to consider, where appropriate, housing with care, which can and does transform many older people’s lives, giving them safety, security, care when needed, valuable social lives—and hope for the future. I hope that the Government and others involved in housing will take this very seriously indeed.
My Lords, I thank my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury for sponsoring this debate. My personal interest and passion in tackling homelessness and creating good homes for the people of our nation go far beyond the interests contained in the official register, to which I draw your Lordships’ attention. Alongside those, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, has indicated, I now chair the board of governors of the Church Commissioners, as deputy to my most reverend friend. I gladly confirm to your Lordships that the board welcomes the report, and indeed I am member of the group set up by the Church charged with overseeing its implementation.
Today we have no Bill to scrutinise, no complex Marshalled List of amendments to work through; what we have is something that runs far deeper, something that should underpin and equip us for such future legislation on the matter of housing as is brought forward to your Lordships’ House to determine. The five values for housing that the Archbishops’ Commission has set before us—sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying—have been implicit in much of the work I have engaged in over the years. But now we have them encapsulated in a simple and memorable form. Not least, they recognise that a home is far more than walls, roofs, bricks, tiles, glass and mortar. A home is somewhere we can belong.
Some years ago, I was speaking at the official opening of a building that housed several asylum and refugee support services in Birmingham. After those of us numbered among the moderately great and modestly good had all had our say, a young man from one of the charities based in the centre spoke. He said, “For all my time in this country so far, I have been your guest. Today, for the first time, I am the host and you are my guests, and that makes all the difference.” A home is not fully a home until it is a place where we can do what that young man did—offer hospitality and receive guests. That, I believe, is why the concept of home as a sociable place—the fourth of the core values set out in the commission’s report—is so important. I also learned that day in Birmingham that other cultures have much to teach us about the centrality of hospitality to human flourishing.
My most reverend friend referred in his opening speech to his predecessor William Temple. Temple was of course translated to Canterbury from York, having prior to that been Bishop of Manchester. So three of us speaking in Grand Committee today hold offices Temple once held and seek to inhabit that inheritance. Worn out by war and restricted by rationing, the Britain of the 1940s could all too easily have become a divided nation, but Temple and those with whom he worked had a greater vision of a society where all were provided with basics, such as healthcare and education, so that they might have space to flourish.
The mass social housing efforts of the post-war years demolished the slums of our cities, including the house where I was born, in order to replace them with something better. Not everything that was built proved a lasting success—things are rarely that straightforward —but huge progress was made in creating homes that could be lived in with dignity.
In a Britain reeling from 12 months of pandemic, a nation still seeking to redefine itself outside the European Union, we need to recover the boldness of Temple and his generation. We need to make decisions about housing not based on short-term political expediency—whatever might garner a few more votes in a marginal council ward or parliamentary constituency—but on a vision of the good society we wish to bequeath to our grandchildren. Recommendations set out in the commission’s report offer us a road map, if I may use that fashionable term, towards a nation housed for living in the 21st century.
I cannot let this opportunity pass without some reference to one piece of legislation currently before Parliament. It is my privilege to support the Manchester Cladiators group. Its members are leaseholders in high and medium-rise buildings who have been caught up in the aftermath of the dreadful tragedy of Grenfell Tower. The ramifications of that disaster reached much wider than merely to residents of high-rise blocks beset by poor cladding. The deaths at Grenfell have, like the deaths of George Floyd and Sarah Everard, made our society aware of more widespread failings, albeit in this case in our physical rather than our social fabric.
Many buildings formerly considered safe, and homes in them bought on that basis, are now deemed sufficiently at risk as to be unmortgageable. Residents who may need to move for work or family reasons are trapped; some are facing service charges and bills of orders of magnitude higher than in previous years in order to pay for waking watches, insurance or building refurbishment. In many cases the freeholder is little more than a shell mechanism through which leaseholders pay their service charges to the developer who constructed the block. This is a problem too big for anyone other than government to solve, and too urgent for it to be allowed to fester a moment longer. Will the Minister speak with his Treasury colleagues and use his good offices to gain their commitment to attending the next meeting that he and his ministry are due to have with the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign?
Noble Lords will remember, I hope, the famous words written by Lewis Carroll—like me, both a mathematician and an Anglican clergyman:
“‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master—that’s all.’”
In housing terms, an “affordable rent” is now defined by Her Majesty’s Government as being one at or below 80% of the market rent for the local area. But if I were looking in the window of an estate agent and saw one house on sale for a million pounds and one next to it for £800,000, that would hardly convince a mortgage lender that I could afford, on a bishop’s stipend, to buy the cheaper one. As several speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, have reminded us, affordability has to mean what the purchaser can afford. Redefining the word, Humpty Dumpty-like, to mean something entirely other may assert mastery over the language but only at the cost of confusing and damaging serious discourse on Britain’s housing crisis. Please may we have our word back, and some truly affordable homes?
Shortly before lockdown became a word, I was standing one morning in a room high up in the centre of Manchester, speaking with Sir Richard Leese, the leader of the council. Looking out through the windows, we began to count the number of cranes visible. Each one was a symbol of the economic regeneration that had revitalised the city that we both serve, and many of them were building blocks of high-quality apartments.
The number of people living close to the city centre has rocketed so much in recent years that I have had to reverse the practice of my predecessors and buy new city-centre vicarages to house the clergy of the city churches closer to their new parishioners. I welcome the growth in city-centre living, locating people close to where they work, cutting down commuting costs, while helping to support shops and leisure facilities.
Sadly, however, we have also seen something of a trend first spotted in London: blocks are built and apartments are sold, but no one ever moves in. Instead of homes, we are constructing bank vaults in the sky: edifices intended purely to hold value, never people. They have more in common with gold bricks than the bricks that build our homes. While so many of our fellow citizens remain homeless or poorly housed, they are a scandal.
I accept that appropriating them directly to rent out affordably would probably prove too complex to achieve in law, but a stiffer tax regime, radically reducing the incentive to hold much-needed properties empty for long periods, would not only bring more homes into occupation but raise funds from the others—money that could then be redeployed to address our housing crisis. I urge the Minister in this debate to let us know what plans the Government have or will consider, including the taxation of such properties, so that they no longer lie empty in our cities, while, mere yards away, our fellow citizens lie down to sleep in shop doorways each night.
To conclude, today is a day for words, but, like those in the Archbishops’ commission’s report, they must result in action. I thank my most reverend friend for giving us this opportunity to debate these matters, and I pray that his efforts may be richly rewarded.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach. Lord Griffiths? The noble Lord cannot unmute, so we will move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and hope we can go back to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, later.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part today, and I congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on securing this debate. I declare my interests as the chair of the National Community Land Trust Network and a vice-president of the LGA. I welcome the report and the introduction given by the most reverend Primate, and I share his desire for good homes that are affordable for all.
My first involvement in campaigning for and against housing started 40 years ago. Newly married, we moved into a new cul-de-sac of 11 houses on the edge of the village. A year later, a woman knocked on the door, asking me to sign a petition against further houses on an orchard in the centre of the village. I asked her if she had similarly campaigned to prevent the building of the house we were living in; she was honest and said yes. I refused to sign her petition.
Later, when I was on the parish council, it was obvious that there was a desperate need for affordable homes, especially bungalows to enable the elderly to downsize. We searched with both the district council and the housing association to no avail. The village is still without these benefits. However, some swanky bungalows are now being built on redundant farmland—not quite what we originally had in mind.
The glebe land in the centre of the village had a village room at one side, a play area with equipment and an area for ball games. The playschool, as it was then, operated three days a week from the church room. The Church Commissioners, having a hard time financially, were looking for areas to develop and cast their eyes on our piece of land. As you might expect, I wrote to the bishop at Wells, and the Church Commissioners subsequently looked elsewhere. This was not a case of “not in my backyard” but of preserving the essential area that belonged to the children and young people. There were seats there for the mums and elderly to sit, chat and watch the children play.
The sense of community exists only when everyone is catered for: young couples starting out, growing families, young people exploring independence, empty nests and the elderly not wanting to move away from lifelong friends. A home is where each of us should be able to relax, shout at the TV, play music, read a book, and share meals and the experiences of the day. I regret that I probably take all this for granted, but it is not so for others. In cities, towns and villages, there are those who have no settled base. Their accommodation is shared, overcrowded, temporary, poorly built or maintained, not on a bus route, or a long way from the school. Children need a secure home in order to flourish. This has been brought into sharp contrast during the pandemic, as children often have to share a computer with their siblings to access education, often all sitting round the kitchen table to do their schoolwork.
Good housing, as the commission’s report Coming Home sets outs, should be
“sustainable, safe, stable, sociable, and satisfying”.
It is essential that all new housing should have minimal impact on the environment and be good to look at. Finding land that is available, in the right place and affordable is often the stumbling block. The Church has land. Developers and housing associations are looking for land. However, the best solutions come from the communities themselves, recognising the need for housing and working with others to make this happen. Forming a community land trust—a CLT—is one way of ensuring this happens. Like-minded residents come together to plan what their community needs, engaging in consultation with residents, and the national network is on hand to assist with providing advice and support. These homes can be of mixed tenure, and some CLTs run local post offices and shops—all vital for communities.
The most reverend Primates’ report features two CLTs: Keswick CLT and London CLT—two very different areas of the country. In both cases, local churches were there at the start. In Keswick’s case, they built on church land. There is obviously a lot of potential for this to roll out across the country. Being able to develop on church land, and with churches themselves as active partners in their communities, has been key in setting up the CLTs.
Decent, truly affordable housing is not a single political party issue; it stretches across all parties and none. A long-term, 20-year, deliverable housing strategy—not here today and gone tomorrow—will provide healthy communities, whether in the inner cities, market towns or deep rural areas on the edge of the moors.
The challenges for churches, of all denominations, is land. I was pleased to see that the Church Commissioners, the United Reform Church and the Methodists have all endorsed the report—all have land. In the case of the Church of England, the various diocese will need to know who to talk to if they want to support a new CLT. I sincerely hope that all diocese will embrace the challenge. How do they go about it? How do they bring a community’s project forward? The NCLT has a network of enabler hubs. I welcome the appointment of Bishop Guli Francis-Dehqani as the new bishop for housing. This is a huge step forward and gives a point of contact for those wanting to support affordable housing in their area. I welcome the move to allow the disposal of land for the charitable purpose of providing homes for the wider community at less than full market value. This is absolutely key.
The NCLT enabler hubs were supported by the Community Housing Fund from 2018 to 2020. This was a huge success and the driving force behind the increase in the total number of community-led homes in the pipeline from 5,800 homes to over 23,000 homes. However, that funding ended in March 2020 and there is no provision for a continuation in the Community Housing Fund money announced for this coming year. The research shows that, in order to be truly successful, community-led homes need four to five years of funding to become self-sustaining, not one or two years. The Government have achieved a great success and then pulled the rug out from under their feet.
Some of you may ask what is so special about a community land trust. The short answer is that communities themselves are in charge and the affordability element is enshrined in perpetuity—yes, in perpetuity. Currently, housing associations and local authorities may build affordable homes, but nothing like the 100,000 needed every year, and these homes are subject to the right to buy. While I respect the wish of tenants to buy their own homes, the current system does nothing to solve permanently the problem of affordability.
Affordability is key. I live in a village of some 300 inhabitants; we have a shop, a pub and a church, but the preschool has closed and there are no buses. There were local authority houses in years gone by, but all have been sold under the right to buy. Prices have risen exponentially. Young families have no chance of securing a home here. This is typical of thousands of rural villages. They are rapidly becoming middle class ghettos, where only the middle-aged and the middle classes can afford to live. But a mixed age range is needed to secure thriving communities, especially the chatter of young children.
There are a large number of homeless people in our community. One of them has been sleeping in our church on an annual basis. My noble friend Lord Shipley raised the Vagrancy Act. The vast majority of the homeless do not choose this way of life and the provision of overnight hostels is essential. Anything has to be better than a shop doorway.
I welcome this report and wish the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, along with the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Manchester and the Bishop of Newcastle, every success with its implementation. If there is anything I can do to assist, I am happy to do it, including waving a supportive banner as delegates go into the General Synod later this year. Hopefully, this will not be needed. I look forward to the Minister’s response, which I sincerely hope will be positive on helping to provide good, affordable homes for all.
I will call the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, again, in the hope that he is now on the call. Lord Griffiths? No? We shall go to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.
My Lords, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England’s commission on producing such a seminal report and policy document on the need for a long-term housing strategy for England. I also commend the most reverend Primate for securing this debate on this important and timely issue, particularly given the pandemic situation, which has pointed up the fragility of human relationships and our interdependence on one another and our communities.
This housing report is set very much in social justice terms. I agree with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that the central tenet or thesis of the document is the need for good, affordable housing for all and to help people, particularly in the post-Covid scenario. Therefore, I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate.
Access to suitable housing, whether in the social or private sphere, is a fundamental human right. Coming from Northern Ireland, I can cast my mind back to the civil rights movement there in the late 1960s, where access to housing was a major issue and was caught up in sectarian constitutional politics. One of the slogans of that campaign was “A house based on need and not on creed”. It is interesting to note that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive was formed out of that campaign in the early 1970s. It established an allocation system for social, or public authority, houses based on the principle of need. In fact, the housing associations allocate houses according to where people appear on the Housing Executive’s list. That principle has lasted to this very day. There is absolutely no doubt that housing provision and housing allocation should be based on need.
Access to suitable housing is particularly important during the pandemic and post-pandemic phases. People have to feel safe and secure. As we consider those from the BAME communities, many of whom feel marginalised and isolated, it is important that they have secure shelter within thriving, healthy communities with plenty of open space for recreation.
Therefore, this report from the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York is very timely. It estimates that so many people are living in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable homes. Responding to these issues, it makes a number of recommendations, all of which I support, aimed at those involved in the housing sector, including the Government. The report sets out a number of recommendations to address the issues, based on five core values: sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying for all. They should be central to any housing strategy or policy.
The report’s recommendations include actions for the Church of England, the Government and others involved in the housing sector. It recommends that the Church of England commits to using its land assets to promote truly affordable homes and calls on the Government to produce a 20-year housing strategy backed by an increase in public capital investment and a phased reduction in the price of land. It argues that, in the short term, the Government should review the social security system as it fails to provide adequate housing support for a large number of low-income households. I have argued for some time in your Lordships’ House for the need for a root and branch review of the social security system to focus on the income needs of individuals, which will obviously become more acute as a result of the pandemic.
Other recommendations aimed at a variety of those involved in the housing sector include ensuring longer-term security of tenure, introducing an explicit duty of care on landlords, improving the quality of temporary accommodation, and removing unsafe cladding from all buildings. I note the Government have stated that they welcome the leadership of the Church of England and that taking action to tackle our growing housing emergency and looking at how church land can be used to fight homelessness is welcome.
I have some questions for the Minister. What positive, concrete steps will the Government take, working with all sectors within the affordable and social housing regime, to increase the supply of houses and ensure that planning policy and strategy involve the healthy development of communities with recreational space? Will the Government bring forward a composite housing strategy encompassing homelessness, the affordable and social housing sectors, overcrowding, increasing the supply of houses, the rights of renters, unsafe cladding, energy efficiency of homes, and fuel poverty? What legislative provisions will be introduced to address standards in the private rented sector, houses in multiple occupation, and overcrowding to protect the health and well-being of occupants?
What further measures will the Government bring forward to ensure that all houses, apartments and flats in the public and private rented sectors are safe from fires and that all external cladding will be removed and replaced with fire-resistant materials to avoid another Grenfell, with such unwarranted loss of life? Will a comprehensive scheme to deal with external cladding issues be developed?
I have some experience in the housing field as a former Minister with responsibility for the provision of social housing in the mid-2000s in Northern Ireland. We did some significant work with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ford. We concentrated on increasing the supply of housing, implementing funding models to bring in private finance for the provision of housing, working with the corporate banking sector and housing associations to increase the supply of housing, using government land for the construction of houses, thereby reducing the cost of housing units, and deploying the use of developer contributions. All this added the distinct multiplier effect that housing construction has on the economy and job creation. There was also a concentration on the redevelopment of housing and green open spaces in inner-city Belfast. Parts of these areas had been subject to sectarian violence. The houses were derelict and in urgent need of repair. Another aspect of housing renewal was the use of former military sites for housing provision. All this provided regeneration and added to the supply of housing.
I therefore think that there may be similarities to what we did in the Church of England’s report, which is focused on social justice, fairness, equality and accessibility in housing provision and recreational spaces, chiming with the fact that homes and communities should be created to be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying for all.
In commending the work of the most reverend Primates, I wish them well in their endeavours in the housing field, and I hope that the Minister pays attention to the contents of the report and works with the Church of England and others in the housing field to implement many of the recommendations. I look forward to the Minister’s answers to the questions that I have asked today.
My Lords, I have been asked to try calling the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, for a third time. Is Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach there and able to take part? I am afraid we are getting silence. I call the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle.
My Lords, at a time when spirit-lifting is much needed, I can say with pleasure that my spirit has been lifted, as indeed has my heart, by this report from the Archbishop’s Commission. My heart and my spirit have been lifted because this report recognises that building homes and communities, not just houses, is of the deepest significance to the human dignity of every man, woman and child in this country and to the kind of society we aspire to build.
When I spoke in your Lordships’ House during the debate on the excellent report from the Economic Affairs Committee, Building More Homes, I began by referring to one of the greatest social thinkers in recent history: Archbishop William Temple. It is completely unsurprising that he has been a part of this debate and has been alluded by my episcopal colleagues, my most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury and my right reverend friend the Bishop of Manchester. It is not surprising because this report stands firmly in the William Temple tradition. He wrote:
“Every child should find itself a member of a family housed with decency and dignity, so it may grow up as a member of that basic community in a happy fellowship unspoilt by underfeeding or overcrowding, by dirty and drab surroundings.”
I think Archbishop William Temple would have approved of this report commissioned by his successors in York and Canterbury, with its five key values that homes should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying—homes which are a “delight” to return to.
Another key reason my heart has been lifted by this report, and why I feel I can speak in this debate with integrity as bishop who is a Church Commissioner, is that in the report we challenge ourselves as the Church at least as hard as we challenge others. This report begins by setting out actions and recommendations for the Church of England before moving on to recommendations for government and other actors in the housing market.
At the heart of the report is a recognition that we have to act together to stand a hope of realising the change that is needed. Moreover, there is no one overarching strategy, no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges that face us. Each region of our country has a particular context, with particular problems to be addressed. Having been an archdeacon in south-east London and being now a bishop in the north-east of England, I know very well from experience how the contexts are so different.
I want to talk first of all about the challenge of sub-standard private housing across the north of England. A 2018 Northern Housing Consortium report, The Hidden Costs of Poor Quality Housing in the North, showed that across the north of England as a whole a major issue was the poor state of much of the existing housing stock, particularly in the owner-occupied sector. The report found that across the north there were 1 million owner-occupied homes and 354,000 privately rented homes that did not meet the decent homes standard. The report also found that nearly half of all non-decent homes in the north have at least one person with a long-term illness or disability living in them, well above the average for England. Owner-occupiers are often seen as asset rich, with the means to repair and improve their homes, but this study showed that many areas of the north have low-value, poor-quality houses with little or no equity. This has resulted in whole streets and neighbourhoods falling into disrepair. You are caught in a double bind: you cannot afford to invest and you cannot afford to move. What this means in human terms is that many people, many of them elderly or disabled, have been living in these homes during lockdown and will have experienced numerous difficulties, including damp, cold and cramped living conditions.
One of the few sources of funding for improvements in owner-occupied homes is the government green homes grant, as raised by my noble friend Lord Shipley. It is a £1.5 billion grant fund. The scheme is modest, allowing two-thirds of the cost, up to £5,000, for improvements. However, as my noble friend mentioned, the scheme has indeed been beset with problems, with reports of delays in vouchers being issued and problems with the application process. As a result, I understand that more than £1 billion is left unspent and only £320 million will be rolled over to next year. Can the Minister comment on the problems with the scheme and give us any encouragement that changes will be made to enable this funding to be spent on the improvements for which it was intended?
The decent homes programme has achieved a good level of success in the social housing sector, with only 9% of homes now not meeting the standard. Could the Minister comment on whether there are plans to address this serious problem in the private sector, for example, through increased home improvement grants, perhaps a new decent private homes programme, and new devolution housing deals?
The quality of our homes has always been at the heart of the quality of our lives, but during this past year the quality of our homes has become more important than ever. We have all had to spend more time in our homes than we could ever have imagined and, as a result, space in our homes has become an extremely precious resource. Having a spare room that can be used for home working or, perhaps even more importantly, for home schooling, has become an essential, so finally I would like to speak about the underoccupation charge.
The pandemic has highlighted the consequences for many of the underoccupation charge, commonly known as the bedroom tax. The charge falls on tenants living in council or social housing who face a reduction in housing benefit or universal credit if a room is deemed to be spare. Will the Minister say whether the Government will be reviewing the underoccupancy charge in the light of pupils’ experience during the pandemic, especially with the experience of those on low incomes in cramped conditions?
I began with the words of Archbishop William Temple and I will end with the words of Holly, who lives with her partner and two preschool children in a Karbon Homes property. Karbon Homes is a housing association that builds and manages around 30,000 homes across the north-east and Yorkshire. Just over a year ago, Holly and her family were living in a small, cramped, two-bedroom property. Three months before lockdown, they moved into a larger Karbon Homes house with a garden. Holly has given me permission to give voice to her words today. She says: “The house has been amazing this year. We were so lucky to have moved in when we did, just three months before lockdown happened. We got the garden turfed right at the start of lockdown, with a slide and a swing. That took a massive load off us as the kids could play out in the gorgeous weather we had. If we had lockdown in our old house, that would have put a massive strain on our relationship. It’s nice here with our neighbours because we have all supported one another. The whole street has been fantastic.” These words from a young woman show even more powerfully than the words of Archbishop William Temple the human flourishing that results when we build homes and communities, not just houses, homes that embody the five values—sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying—at the heart of this Coming Home report.
My Lords, as a member of the Greater London Council, I had comprehensive involvement in housing. The newly built Harold Hill estate in Havering was one of my responsibilities. We had regular meetings with the residents. I was shocked by information from a bride-to-be that she had set out her wedding dress on the large bed only to find that it was beyond use as green sludge had fallen from the ceiling and straight on to it. Investigation revealed that the fault was a lack of ventilation and the turning off of the heating system when the residents when off to work. Every flat in the whole development had to have ventilation introduced.
We all know the importance of housing to our physical and mental well-being, and that this pandemic has put even more strain on people and housing alike. To build more housing or to make more of it available, we need both funds and land. It is the latter aspect that I want to talk about. In her more recent days as a local councillor in London, my daughter talked about her frustration with a number of large development sites in her ward that had already secured planning permission but were coming back for yet another application, and then another. She had at least two large sites with three or four live planning permissions, yet still the applicant did not build. Every time, they returned to the council seeking more and more on the land for commercial gain, constantly pushing the boundaries, yet the growth in affordable housing was minimal by comparison.
I know that the Local Government Association has estimated that more than one million homes have been given planning permission but have not yet been built, with nine in 10 planning applications approved by councils. In addition, it estimates that a further million homes have been earmarked for councils for development but have not brought forward for planning. This Government should be looking at sites with live planning permission and at measures to encourage building on these sites—dare I say it, perhaps even considering punitive steps for those who do not build on large sites where they already have current planning permission, such as not being allowed to apply for another planning application for the site for five years. This would have the advantage of crystallising the applicant’s mind on what they wish to apply for in the first instance and of using their and council officers’ time and resources wisely. For every developer who returns for a new planning application, precious time and resources that could be used elsewhere are spent. It really clogs up the system. The Government need to look at how to get developers to actually build and must not take the planning process away from local councils, which already pass planning applications and know what works best for their area.
I also add my voice to the argument that building high is not the answer people want, even here in London. The pandemic has illustrated this further. People want a home—not a flat in some 20-storey tower—where they have proper space, indoors and outdoors, and can get to know their neighbours and be part of a community; nor do they want to be part of Airbnb, which has taken away many London homes.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the representative body for housing associations in England. I wholeheartedly welcome this report. The most reverend Primates set their commission the task of reimagining housing policy and practice and it has done them proud.
In the face of a national crisis in meeting housing need, with millions living in unaffordable, cramped accommodation, which the pandemic has exposed as a danger to our national health, the report seeks cross- party consensus on the development of a long-term housing strategy that will provide a stable and sustainable solution. It does this in a most refreshing way: it looks into the Church’s own backyard, so to speak—reminiscent of the saying, “Physician, heal thyself”—and seeks first the commitment of the Church’s leaders, clergy and congregations to put their land and other resources into delivering the social and environmental benefits of meeting local housing need and building viable communities. It reminds not just the Church but the rest of us that it is the poorest and the most marginalised who suffer the burden of our housing crisis. This is put into stark relief by all the data emerging from the pandemic, which reinforces the point that the worst-off have been the worst hit.
If we look at the facts, over 8 million people in England are in housing need. This is likely only to increase as the pandemic progresses, as we see unemployment levels rising, together with the number of people claiming universal credit. Research from the National Housing Federation reveals that for 3.8 million of those in housing need, social rented housing would be the best solution. However, 1.6 million households are on the social housing waiting list. Providers could meet that need with the right funding support and access to land.
The report’s recommendation to the Church Commissioners to use their land assets for the development of more truly affordable homes will, I hope, be embraced by the Church at all levels. The report looks at other positive developments, such as the commitment to the stewardship code and seeking collaboration with the Charity Commission. It commits the Church Commissioners to engaging in innovative partnerships with others, particularly councils and housing associations, to fulfil the mission. Housing associations will gladly work with them to achieve this.
I hope that the actions of the Church Commissioners will encourage other landowners to follow their example. I hope that they inspire the Government to recognise social housing as fundamental to a society where no one is left behind and where communities thrive.
As the report emphasises, this crisis will not be resolved without government action—not short-term fixes as Ministers come and go, but
“a bold, coherent, long-term housing strategy, focused on those in greatest need.”
I hope the Government will listen. They have committed to building affordable homes through the affordable homes programme and I welcome this. But that will not go anywhere near far enough to address the crisis we face. The very word “affordable” is a misnomer, as other speakers have said. For those in high-price areas, it is impossible to contemplate finding 80% of market rates—the so-called affordable rate.
We need to build 90,000 socially rented homes a year, as well as provide adequate supported houses for those with additional needs. This will not only address the housing crisis that we face, but help to relieve pressure on stretched public services. I will give just one example. Anchor Hanover housing association recently modelled the value of a supported housing tenancy in one of their schemes for older people and found that every extra care housing place can generate up to £6,700 in savings to local public services, so the economic case for investing in different tenures of housing is as strong as the moral one.
The report does not shirk the need for remediation of existing homes. One of its six key themes is sustainability and the challenges facing the housing and construction sector in delivering the Government’s aspirations on energy efficiency and decarbonisation. It is worth recalling that 80% of all the homes that will exist in 2050 have already been built. That is a huge challenge for retrofitting carbon-neutral heating and power systems. The Committee on Climate Change has already said that
“We will not meet our targets for emissions reduction without near complete decarbonisation of the housing stock.”
The Government have made some large sums available, which are most welcome, but the resources available to the sector are not nearly sufficient to respond to the challenges of safety and cladding, remediation and decarbonisation, and building the new homes that we need.
The report is right to emphasise the need for a long-term strategy to address the housing shortage in this country, and other noble Lords have echoed that today. Coupled with clear objectives, the report identifies the way in which housing associations, local authorities and the Church, together with the Government, can deliver this mission. It is only by taking a holistic approach, focusing on everything from remediation to reforming the welfare system, that we begin to address the chronic housing need in England. This can only be delivered by a long-term strategy, which requires cross-party agreement. I hope that, today, the Minister commits to starting that process. Surely the inequalities in this country and the many divisions that have been reinforced by the pandemic require a more imaginative political response.
Housing associations stand ready to work with the Government to build the homes that this country needs. They are ready to work with local church groups, local authorities and charity partners to deliver the safe, high-quality and sustainable homes that we need. But I cannot stress enough the long-term certainty that is needed from the Government in order to sign off ambitious business plans to retrofit, remediate and build the truly affordable homes that we so desperately need. I hope that the Minister commits to a speedy response to this excellent report from the most reverend Primate’s commission.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure and privilege to join this debate and hear so many excellent speeches from noble Lords around the Room. I welcome this important and thoughtful report. It is wonderful to see the Church leading by example and making significant and long-term commitments about its own land and resources. Something that has come through in this debate for me, starting with my noble friend Lord Best, but also from other noble Lords, is thinking about which other major landowners could be persuaded to do the same. What a tremendous moment it would be if more land became available more easily from some of the great institutions of our society to create affordable housing and address the needs of millions, including many young people. The Church would really be blazing a trail.
The report reminds us that it is the responsibility of us all, not just the Government and the Church, to address what is a national scandal. I do not just mean an acute scandal, represented by the appalling Grenfell Tower tragedy, but a long-term decline in standards of housing, hidden from most of us, who are, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, pointed out, sitting here in our comfortable homes—I speak personally here, of course.
How is it that, in the fifth or sixth richest country in the world, so many people live in poor conditions that are damaging their health, and so many of them, and others, are worried about their housing for the future and where they will live tomorrow, next month and next year? For some, the question is where they will sleep tonight. Providing decent shelter for ourselves and our families is one of the most basic human needs and human rights. We have seen a long decline, described in many reports over recent years, and this report rightly calls for a long-term strategy. It rightly calls for affordable homes and stronger communities. The two are intimately linked and I, like others, support the values that the report contains.
Coming almost at the end of the speakers’ list, I will not try to repeat what others have said, but I want to pick up some of the wider issues of quality, health and planning. In doing so, I emphasise that this is about the quantity of houses as well as quality of houses—both are important.
Covid, as the most reverend Primate and other noble Lords have said, has shone a light on the great inequalities in our society, housing being one of them. How many people have been trapped by lockdown in poor, unhealthy housing—sometimes literally trapped with abusive partners? Covid may have emphasised these problems, but even in good times, as other noble Lords have said, poor housing causes major problems of damp, pollution, cold and much more, damaging the health and lives of the people who live there.
Taking this health perspective beyond the individual, housing is vital to the NHS care system and its functioning. I know from a report I did on mental health how many people are incarcerated in mental hospitals simply because adequate appropriate housing is not available to them. Of course, the NHS and other public services, including care homes, need key workers who need key workers’ housing.
Housing and health are intimately linked but surely we have some of this the wrong way round? At the moment, our houses should be enhancing people’s lives, rather than damaging them, and helping us thrive. I noticed that both the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester talked about flourishing and human flourishing, no doubt intentionally going back to pre-Christian times and to Aristotle and eudaimonia: enabling people to live a good life, a life worth living, human flourishing. I think this should be a great theme—going beyond housing—for our society at this time.
Things are connected to housing, not just health, which is something that the great Victorian reformers understood. Good housing is good for the economy and for society, as well as for the individual. We have a great tradition in this country, from those reformers and model villages via Homes for Heroes, garden cities and the Parker Morris standards, which meant that we built very decent houses in the first half of the 20th century. However, more recently we have gone down a different route. There are excellent houses being built, of course, but there is too much small housing, too cheaply built, that maximises land values and investment returns, rather than better-quality housing that improves individual lives and, in the longer term, has better long-term social and economic returns.
The Government’s current approach to planning seems set to reinforce some of these problems, taking away power from local planners and passing it to national politicians and, in some cases, effectively to major developers. The Minister will say that the Government have promoted design standards and encouraged planning authorities to set local standards, but there are too many ways to get round these, particularly for permitted developments. Can the Government really believe that these measures are enough to turn the tide and lead to a new generation of homes where people can flourish?
I believe that we need some mandatory basic standards in areas such as space, daylight, insulation—for sound as well as heat—access to green spaces and amenities, and more, if we are to see the transformation that is needed. Taking this further, I hope to introduce a healthy homes Bill after the Queen’s Speech—depending of course on the ballot. The Bill has been drafted by the Town and Country Planning Association and would create a new unifying duty for all new housing on promoting health, safety and well-being, and would introduce a small number of basic standards for all housing. I very much hope, of course, that the Church, as well as the Government, will support it.
This introduction of standards need not be bureaucratic: they can be simple and must be small in number, and must of course permit some local variation —for example, access to local amenities, as I mentioned, would be very different in rural areas from in the centre of cities. But the Government have already accepted the principle of standards by introducing some. For example, they have introduced space standards for permitted development—although, as I understand it, only in response to pressure from their Back-Benchers in another place, rather than as a matter of principle.
I have asked the Minister why space standards are there for permitted development but not for all new housing. From his response, I understand that local authorities have the option to include nationally described space standards in local planning policies, subject to demonstrating viability and need—it seems to me that that last qualification is very important and a major let-out clause. But I do not understand why, if mandatory space standards without that qualification are appropriate for permitted development, those same standards are not appropriate for all new housing. I would be grateful if he could answer that point today.
This approach could even save some bureaucracy. I am not an expert in this field, but I understand that there are real issues, and sometimes clashes, between planning and building regulations. A duty on health, safety and well-being would unify and could be used to simplify some of those regulations.
I finish by returning to the most reverend Primate. I congratulate the Church on this excellent report, all it contains and everything that it may lead to. It is vital that the Government now respond positively, making a commitment to literally build back better, creating homes that enhance health and well-being, that are good in the long term for our society and economy, and that promote human flourishing. As the most reverend Primate said, this is about the heart of our society: what it is, who we are and where our treasure is.
My Lords, around 8 million people in England currently live in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable homes—surely this is not correct. A good home is a place that enables us to live harmoniously with the natural environment; it is a place where we feel safe and where we are able to put down roots and belong to a community. Homes should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying. Unfortunately, for many people, their reality is different.
There is a collective responsibility on landlords, homeowners, developers and, most importantly, the Government to build sustainable, good homes. The commission recommends that the Church of England commits to using its land assets to promote more truly affordable homes through developments that deliver on the five core values mentioned earlier.
Housing has become a big problem for people who do not own their own home and are dependent on landlords and developers. The problem becomes bigger for people who have insufficient income. In short, the Government have to have a bold and coherent long-term housing strategy, focused on those in greatest need.
In this Covid era, many people have ended up becoming homeless, which, in turn, puts enormous pressure on the local authorities, whose resources are being depleted. It is a vicious circle where the poorest become victims. There are many families with children whose future is ruined. We have all heard about teachers finding students with dirty clothes, hungry and dependent on free meals.
The Church of England must release its land to good building developers who will develop suitable, affordable housing in England. There is very little undeveloped land, particularly in the cities, and, in some cases, sports fields and green spaces are useful spaces, owned by private developers. Unless the Government invest in affordable housing, through a housing association, the problem cannot be solved.
As an immigrant from east Africa in 1972, I found that churches right across the UK allowed my community to use them for our prayers. The church pastors and bishops gave advice on how to find houses to rent, until we became self-sufficient. The Church never considered what our faith was; they were happy to see us praying. Prayers are the cornerstone of the Church of England.
My Lords, I am unaware of any area of our national life more in need of our attention than housing. I strongly commend the initiative of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in prompting this valuable and informed debate.
More than 4 million households in England are living in non-decent homes, as defined by the English Housing Survey. One million are living in homes unfit for human habitation, as defined by Shelter. Almost a million now live in overcrowded accommodation. Moreover, 300,000 people in the UK, including 200,000 children, are homeless. They are living in temporary accommodation, crashing with friends or family or camping on the street. Rough sleeping has doubled in 10 years. If noble Lords want to experience the appalling conditions under which many Britons live, I strongly recommend Channel 5’s “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay”, where noble Lords can witness real deprivation for themselves through the eyes of the bailiffs.
Housing issues affect not just the poor but every level of society. For instance, a quarter of 20 to 34 year-olds still live at home with their parents—up 1 million in the past 20 years. The reasons for the sorry state of our housing are all too easy to see. On the one hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, rightly reminded us, demand has grown, most significantly because our population has expanded by 10 million over the past 20 years. Over the same period, demographic change has increased the number of households by 3 million, in part because we are living longer and in part because we are living alone more often.
At the same time, the young are struggling to buy. House prices relative to income have doubled over the past 40 years. Post 2008, mortgages became harder to obtain. As a result, overall home ownership in the UK has declined, reversing the trend of a century. Those most in need have seen spend on housing benefit flatten then fall, adding to their pressure to find a home.
Against this mix of factors affecting demand there are corresponding issues of supply. We have the oldest housing stock in Europe—much of it substandard—and a low rate of demolition and replenishment. We have not built new towns. Small builders and local development are in decline. Large developers, on the one hand, are hoarding land, and on the other, are experiencing prolonged planning delays. It is therefore no surprise that, in the past 10 years, we have built on average fewer than 200,000 units per year.
Even more strikingly, there has been a vast decline in the availability of social housing. Local authority provision has declined by two-thirds in 50 years. The stock of housing association homes has increased but, overall, social housing provision has dropped by 2 million homes since its peak. In 2018-19, councils in England built only 5,000 units of social housing. Set against our need, what a shocking figure that is. This massive drop in housing provision for the most needy is the most critical factor in our housing crisis. Of course, the unmet demand for social housing has been taken up by the private rental sector, which has doubled in 20 years to more than 4 million units—more or less the same level now as the whole of the social housing sector.
Academic and other estimates put the present shortfall between demand and supply for housing as of the order of 1 million homes. This position will worsen, for our population continues to grow and will soon reach 70 million. If current demographic trends also continue, we will need of the order of 3 million to 4 million additional units over the next 10 to 20 years to bring demand and supply back into some balance.
As many of your Lordships have identified, we need not just numbers but the right mix of homes—of mainstream, affordable and social housing. We are a crowded island, so we should not and must not trespass any further on to our precious green spaces. One organisation guilty of trying to do that is the Church of England itself, with its willingness to sell glebe farmland for commercial development.
We need what we manifestly do not now have—almost all who have spoken have said this: a coherent, holistic, long-term framework of real ambition which grapples with the difficult, stubborn mix of factors affecting both demand and supply. My mother’s and my father’s generation rose to the challenge in the post-war years, when build rose to 400,000 units per year. I ask the Minister: can this generation rise to the challenge?
My Lords, I must start by saying how unusual and how sad it is to have a housing debate without the voice of Lord Greaves. I am sure that many of us were very shocked at his sudden death. He will be greatly missed.
Like every other noble Lord who has spoken, I welcome this report and the way in which the most reverend Primate introduced it. It is an opportunity to welcome a report of unusual coherence and inclusivity, and I am not surprised that it has had such a positive response—I think it really speaks to the nation.
What is particularly impressive is not only the bold and radical view that the Church has taken about its own role and resources in the long term, particularly about its own land and assets, but how alive it is to the range of urgent issues facing families in many different situations, which, as many noble Lords have said, have become so much worse over the past year. It is worse for rough sleepers, who were already incredibly vulnerable, worse for people with mental health difficulties and a precarious grasp on housing, worse for tenants who had a temporary reprieve but do not know how long that will last, and worse for mortgage holders fearful of losing their jobs.
We have never spent so much time in our own homes, and they have never felt safer, but we also remember the minority for whom they have never felt more dangerous. Coming out of lockdown will bring terrible uncertainties for millions of people. While temporary solutions have been found, we all know that the emergency planning that has been forced on the Government will have made many of the systemic problems worse.
As we know, the gaps between housing supply and demand and affordability and income have become wider each year. The devastating reality of what this has meant has been laid bare by the pandemic, which has preyed on the poorest, the worst housed and the most overcrowded communities. Yesterday, the British Academy, in another very timely and powerful report, said that
“the pandemic has exposed, exacerbated and solidified existing inequalities in society. It has also made some individuals and groups living in particular places and communities even more vulnerable than before”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, where you live has long been a shameful determinant of life chances and life expectancy. Decent housing must be in the front line as we prepare for the next pandemic.
A better time and case for a radical delivery plan for decent, affordable housing—indeed, for harnessing the power of place—could not be made. Building homes, however decent, without investing in community and its resources, is simply to design in isolation and failure. If we design in good design, we build in resilience, neighbourliness and responsibility, as well as beauty, in places that can provide for older people to age in place, a right that is denied to so many of them today—I should say “us”, not “them”. This argument was powerfully set out five years ago in a report by a Select Committee of this House, Building Better Places. I wish so much that our advice had been taken then.
In this report, the Church understands all this. It gets it. It has seized the moment and, at this time when the future seems so problematic, it has challenged the Government to come up with an explicit long-term framework for affordable homes. It offers the hope that new thinking, new partnership and new policies are within our grasp. To achieve this, it has mapped out how shared responsibility works. While there are things that only the Government can do, equally there are some things only the Church can now do, and it will do it. One of those things is, of course, for it to use its assets and land to help to house the nation. I know that it will not be easy, but I am sure the Church will get all the help it can use to deal with the legal and charitable obstacles. I hope that the Government will take a lead in this. When does the Minister plan to meet the Archbishop and his team to discuss implementing this report? I would like an answer this evening.
I am saddened that the Government seems so deaf to the argument on safety. The report states unequivocally that the Government must make a commitment to remove all unsafe cladding by June 2022 and provide complete protection for leaseholders from remediation and other associated costs. Yet, as we know, that was rejected this week in another place. Perhaps the Minister is prepared to tell us why. I say to him that it is not too late to change his mind. There will never be a better opportunity for brave thinking. I think the country is more than ready for this. I can see the Minister thinks that is rather funny, but it is a very serious point.
The Government have a unique opportunity to take a good, hard look at what the consultation process on their White Paper on planning has produced and to go back to the drawing board, because there is a strong consensus that the policies set out in it are not going to meet the Government’s targets. They simply do not match the hour or the need—I shall explain why—and neither do they in any way reflect the way the pandemic has brought to life the value of community, the importance of green space and quiet neighbourhoods, and the extraordinary reliance we place on local services for lifesaving. For all these reasons, I think the Government have an opportunity and a reason to look again at the White Paper and particularly at its definitions of social infrastructure.
There are other reasons too. First, in the consultation responses, there is genuine anxiety that a single infrastructure levy will pit housing against other infrastructure projects and that housing will lose out. The Chartered Institute of Housing, the RTPI, the TCPA and the Federation of Master Builders, which the Government need on their side, are very concerned that
“affordable housing will in essence be competing (unless ring-fenced) with other resource-hungry infrastructure needs, such as transport.”
Can the Minister say whether affordable housing will be ring-fenced? Put quite simply, the Government are facing the prospect of not meeting their own targets for housing.
Secondly, the White Paper contradicts the Coming Home report in another fundamental way on sustainability. We have had many arguments in this House on the failure to address the energy inefficiencies of the current housing stock. The TCPA says that the White Paper creates “real uncertainty” about the role of planning in tackling climate change as it fails to provide detailed explanations of how low-carbon reductions will be achieved via the new framework.
Thirdly, there are real fears that the new centralised emphasis will reduce local choice and public trust in the system. This is compounded by the deep concerns over the Government’s controversial permitted development rights—not only do they remove the full rights to object provided through the planning system but developers are no longer under any obligation to provide any affordable housing at all. We are going backwards.
Fourthly and finally, Coming Home places welcome emphasis on the fact that homes should be a delight and a joy to live in. How can this be achieved when the path of permitted development has already permitted the conversion of office blocks into rabbit hutches for housing?
The Government have already shown that they can change their mind—for example, on how they calculate housing need, although, again, I think the new definition is far too narrow and excludes the important priorities of health—and it is very good to do so. My plea to the Minister is that he be brave and think as boldly as the Church has done. Forget about fiddling around with the planning system; that is what Governments do when they do not want to tackle the difficult issues such as land hoarding. Be aware that planning changes usually slow things down rather than speed them up. Shift the emphasis away from the opportunistic developer and rebuild and reinvest in local authority capacity to plan and deliver social housing. Let that be his legacy, because there will never be a better time to do the difficult stuff.
We have seen so many barriers broken down over the past year while we have all been living inside so many barriers. In every research lab, hospital, care home and ordinary home, people have done what they thought impossible a year ago. If we can change so much, so quickly and so beneficially, there is no reason at all why we cannot realise the ambitions set out in this important report, which I know will have enormous resonance.
My Lords, it is always an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who gave us a very timely reminder of some of the Select Committee reports that have pushed the very issues we have discussed this afternoon. I congratulate the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York—his return is most welcome—on securing this “Easter is the new Christmas” debate and thank other noble Peers for their valuable contributions. I also congratulate the most reverend Primates and their commissioners on this excellent report, Coming Home; long-term strategy and politicians are often complete strangers, and this is a valuable way of getting all parties to the table.
Having first worked with Professor Christine Whitehead at Shelter in the mid-1990s, it comes as no surprise to me that she and others on the commission have not, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his introduction, shied away from challenging the Church. I think that all parties which have had their hands on the levers of power over the past 40 years need to take a look back, challenge their own moments of power, take off the rose-tinted spectacles and understand how we got here and what we need to do to improve the situation.
When I first met Christine in the mid-1990s, the picture was very different. There were other challenges—new builds of social housing were rapidly disappearing and housing associations were increasing and coming into their own—but the private sector was not the wobbly and widely used crutch that it is now is for a whole host of poorer families who should not be there in the first place, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, described, and it has doubled in 20 years, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, described so well. As we have seen with some of Shelter’s campaigns, they are often unwelcome customers when landlords refuse to accept anybody in receipt of benefits.
It is particularly sad to be debating this issue given the loss of one of our own yesterday: Lord Greaves, a champion of local government. I associate myself with the many tributes we have heard today. He was a strong advocate of localism and believed profoundly in community politics: the empowerment of individuals in communities to have a say over their own lives and destinies. I see that theme echoed in the report we are discussing today.
That this report lays down the challenge for parties to all work together is so important, and the answer to all the questions is of course “yes”, including on working together to change the charity rules.
Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat 2019 manifestos committed to building 300,000 new homes per year. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party also set an annual target of 100,000 new homes for social rent although, as my noble friend Lord Shipley pointed out, only 7,000 were built last year. The precise mechanisms by which we get there may vary, but the target remains the same.
However, just like social care, this debate often drops into the “too difficult” or “too expensive” column. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, made clear, the disproportionate and eye-watering expenditure—the current expenditure on benefits, for instance, rather than the capital expenditure on bricks and mortar—continues to be such a waste and limits our potential to save. Why do you have to go back over 50 years, to 1969, to find the last time that over 300,000 new homes were built in the UK? All too often, landowners and developers are incentivised to sit on their hands and watch as their assets increase. If any Government change the rules, they will just hold tight until the next Government change them back.
The speeches today showed considerable agreement that the only way to crack the housing crisis is with a bold, long-term, cross-party commitment. I, too, pay tribute to the excellent conclusions of the Affordable Housing Commission of the noble Lord, Lord Best—and let us not forget that commissions of the charities Shelter and Crisis. All have concluded that building social housing is critical to underpinning any of these future strategies so that, regardless of tenure, people have safe, secure and affordable housing.
As I was writing this speech, I thought of the themes of this report as the six “S”s, or maybe the five “S”s plus. We agree to those standards; they are well put. On sustainability, I fear the cladding scandal of the future as today—right now—homes that are not up to the zero-carbon standard are being built. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, pointed out, the cost of retrofitting will be disproportionately high and, yet again, a whole cohort of people will be placed in a shocking position. It will cost today’s new homeowners thousands to put right and I fear that we have learned nothing from the cladding crisis.
Yesterday, I spoke to someone who, just over a year ago, was encouraged and enticed to be a first-time buyer by this Government through the Help to Buy scheme. She saved everything she had to buy a flat in Manchester but, following the Grenfell tragedy, its cladding is now deemed unsafe, with a hefty bill of £50,000 to put it right. On what planet is she liable for that? Our party fully supports the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester today and the earlier description of the vote in the Commons this week as a “grave error”. My noble friend Lady Pinnock will continue to work across all sides of the House to ensure that leaseholders are not made liable for the incompetence of others. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on this.
The most intriguing of the six “S”s is the aim of sacrifice, which is almost the opposite of nimby. I very much enjoyed the insight from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, into the experience of being a constituency MP, where this area is often a challenge, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, of being a local representative.
The sacrifice the Church of England has made is to offer more of its land for truly affordable housing developments. As we have already heard, 200,000 acres of land is enough to cover New York City. I applaud the Church’s change in strategy on the use of its land. In a debate in the Commons on 10 March, the Minister, Eddie Hughes, said that the Government are reviewing their land. Can the Minister share with us the planned timetable and methodology for this? Will it follow the pattern set by the work of the Church of England and Knight Frank? As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, also mentioned, where is the other potential for this? What is the latest news on, say, MoD land, given our recent reduction in boots on the ground?
Land is a critical part of this equation, as my noble friend Lord Shipley described. I particularly welcome the description of community land trusts by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Stroud. If anyone has not been to see the development in Tower Hamlets, I would thoroughly recommend it; it is well worth a visit.
The value of a home goes beyond pounds and pence. That the Church might now be now free to decline the highest bid from deep-pocketed developers—and that “value” can be determined by impact on people, not profit—is a great example.
The past year in particular and the Covid pandemic have, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Andrews, said, thrown into the spotlight the significance of a home—a real home. Young children whom I know of in my community were incarcerated in small high-rise flats for the whole of lockdown. Older children went from bed, then got up and worked at their laptop —if they had one—then back to bed again. This is happening and has been happening. It is shocking. There have been even worse experiences in temporary accommodation, as described by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York.
Too many flats are wholly inadequate and many are unhealthy, some with social landlords from whom we should all expect better—like the Croydon flats featured on ITV this week—but often with the more unscrupulous, rogue and unregulated private landlords. Local housing is not set as a median rent, as is so rightly recommended in this report, but at the bottom 30%—and with a freeze coming down the track. This completely constrains tenants, particularly poorer ones, from exerting any kind of buying power or choice to hold their landlords to account. What a far cry from the decency and dignity described by the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle. While the threat of Section 21 no-fault evictions continues, tenants in the PRS will not have the security that they need. Over the winter lockdown alone, even with a stay on the use of bailiffs, there were, I understand, 500 private renters evicted.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, pointed out, 8 million people live in unsuitable, unaffordable or unsafe housing, and are currently in need. That these homes may have contributed to higher rates of death due to overcrowding and poor conditions is something that the Government must fully commit to examining in any future inquiry into Covid-19; I hope that the Minister will do so today. As Inside Housing recently reported through its own work and through research by the Health Foundation, one in three households in England had at least one major housing problem related to overcrowding, affordability or quality going into the coronavirus crisis. Housing conditions have affected people’s ability to shield from the virus. We know of the success of Everybody In, which got rough sleepers off the streets and into accommodation. It saved hundreds of lives and avoided 20,000 infections, according to the NAO, in stark contrast with what happened in, say, New York City, where rough sleepers were put together into emergency shelters and the infection spread with dire consequences.
I hope that this commission’s ambitions—particularly for 20 years’ time and the visualisation of what it will look like—will become a reality. I simply ask the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury to explain in a little more granular detail how he intends to knock heads together and get politicians round the table if all three of us say “yes” in answer to his questions.
I was surprised in the post-World War Two scenario that we were not given a sense of Macmillan—someone who was a businessman and understood the value of bricks and mortar and created truly affordable homes. It would be great to see something like that.
Joy and expectation is something that everyone should have when coming home. I hope that this becomes a reality.
My Lords, first, I declare my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway housing association, a non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd and a trustee of the United St Saviour’s Charity.
As other noble Lords have done, I want to pay tribute to Lord Greaves. I was very sorry to learn of Tony’s passing yesterday. He was an exemplary Member of this House. Those who knew him here and those who knew him when he served on Lancashire County Council and Pendle Borough Council talk of a kind, good man who was a formidable political opponent and cared deeply for his community. We will all miss him very much.
Like other noble Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for enabling the House to debate the Motion before the Grand Committee today. I place on record my thanks to the most reverend Primates the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York for establishing the commission that produced this report, Coming Home. I congratulate the commissioners on an excellent report. It is very welcome at this time as we seek to tackle the housing crisis which, as the report points out, needs more than just building houses to solve. We need homes, truly affordable homes, in sustainable communities. As the report tells us,
“homes should be sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying.”
It also points out that, for many, the reality falls far short of that vision. I very much agree with the definition put forward by the most reverend Primate on that. However, it is a vision that we must all strive to achieve. My noble friend Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick reminded us of the struggle in Northern Ireland for housing justice and the success of the civil rights campaign there to deliver housing based on need, which must always be the case to begin to deliver social justice. She said that without social justice, you cannot deliver the stable communities we all want to see.
My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe drew attention to the number of people on housing waiting lists and to how fundamental social housing is to solving the housing crisis we face today. She described how, with the right support, the social housing sector and housing associations can meet the challenge that we face. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, pointed out to the Grand Committee that many of the landowners in this country should do the right thing and follow the example of the Church of England to make better use of their land to deliver for homes and for our citizens. As the noble Lord said, housing should be about enhancing your life. I often say to my noble friend Lady Kennedy how lucky we have been during the pandemic; we should remember that we are the lucky people here. I very much agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, when he talked about Parker Morris standards and how much your health is affected by the quality of the home you live in.
I have told the House many times that I grew up in council accommodation in Walworth, just south of the Elephant and Castle. The property was warm, safe and dry, and it enabled us all to flourish. We never had lots of money, and my parents, immigrants to this country from Ireland, often had to have two jobs to put food on the table, but the rent was paid every week and my parents always worked, paid their taxes and never claimed a penny of benefit until they retired and started claiming their old age pension. There is nothing special about that; those are the sort of immigrants who come to our country to make a life for themselves. We were able to go on holiday every summer though, usually to the west of Ireland where my parents came from, and where even in August it managed to rain most days. We were looked after well and were happy, safe and secure. I have good memories of my childhood, playing football in Kennington Park, swimming in Camberwell Public Baths and going to East Street Market with my school friends. I also got a Saturday job, which gave me my ability to talk to anyone about anything, even if I knew nothing about what I was talking about. Some say that that has served me well in this noble House. That security was no doubt due in part to the home we were able to live in with my parents at a rent they could afford. Southwark Council provided that home, and I am very grateful to it.
My noble friend Lord Blunkett referred to Faith in the City, and he is right to remind us of that report. I agree with him that we need this report to have the same effect to help all of us, in parties and in government, and, frankly, anyone who wants to address the problems we face today as a country, to ensure that the conditions that the poorest in our society live in are better. It will be better for all of us, for families and children, if we can improve their health and their lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, also made valid points about affordability and affordable homes, and I agree with him. Let us be clear: the term “affordable” is a misnomer and we should just not use it anymore. In many parts of the country these homes are not affordable, so we should banish that term in that respect completely.
I talk to my parents every Sunday evening, and we often say, “How do young families cope?”. Rent is anything but affordable, as I have said, and the conditions that some people have to live in are truly shocking. About three years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and I went out at six in the morning on a series of housing raids. We got in a van with a load of police and council officers from Newham and visited a number of properties that had been identified as having issues. The mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, came with us. We called at various properties and the conditions we found were shocking. Honestly, I could not believe the conditions we saw.
We knocked on the door at one house which was apparently a home for a single family. There was a family living in every room in the house. There was one substandard bathroom and one substandard kitchen for everyone in the property to use. In every bedroom the electrical sockets were overloaded and it was very dangerous. I remember that a police officer went down to the basement and came back and said, “Can we all move out of this property because there is only one scaffold pole holding up the main hall.” Then we had to bring the building control people in. That is no way for people to live. This is one of the richest countries in the world, and this is one of the richest cities in the world. If any noble Lords want a trip out with Newham they should do it because it is truly shocking.
I agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that many of the problems we have trouble with today have their genesis in poor-quality housing and the sheer lack of housing. Sadly, the point the noble Lord made about people wanting more homes but not wanting them in their area is not just in Hertfordshire but is repeated all over our country. It is something that we need to tackle.
As I have said, I grew up in council accommodation, but today I and all my siblings are homeowners. It is perfectly reasonable to want to own your own home. It gives you more security, and as you get older that becomes even more important. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle talked about how different the housing problems and challenges are in different parts of the country. I lived in the east Midlands for many years, and I recall going to Worksop in north Nottinghamshire. There were streets of houses there almost falling down. People were not living in many of the properties. That is very different from the problems in other parts of the country. I think there are lots of housing crises in different parts of the country that are very different but they all need to be dealt with. That is a really important point that we need to get on top of.
The housing market today is not helping the situation. You could say that it is making the situation worse. The Government have an obsession about home ownership. The problem is that they create numerous schemes, often aimed at helping first-time buyers but, in my opinion, they do not have the intended effect. They often cause more problems. We need an emphasis on truly affordable social and private housing. As I have said much of what is described as affordable housing is sadly not affordable at all.
Living in reasonably priced, social rented or privately rented homes enables you to save for a deposit to buy a home. It is what people used to do. It is what I did. When I rented a private home, I saved up money until I could afford a deposit. Today, the deposits required are enormous. I live in a very ordinary terraced house in Lewisham. There is nothing special about where I live at all. Today, I could not afford to buy the home I bought 17 years ago. I could not afford the deposit, and that is ridiculous. That is one of the things that we need to address. However, I do not accept that home ownership is the only route to giving you a stake in your community. Sustainable communities and homes that are safe, warm and dry, a good school, decent shops, a crime-free environment and decent services are also important to community values.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York drew attention to hidden homelessness—the sofa surfers who rely on the good will and charity of friends, neighbours and relatives to put them up. This is a terrible scandal that we have not managed to tackle—that is successive Governments, so that is not the point that I am making here at all. I agree that we all need to work together to take practical steps to solve these problems, and I for one want to see a much larger role for the co-operative sector. Co-operative housing can give people and communities a real stake in their local area. In Lewisham, the Phoenix Community Housing Co-operative has transformed the Downham area. The housing was run down, and the co-op and the tenants, working together to decide what the issues were and solve the problems, have transformed the area. It is a really good example of what co-ops can do. There is an office there for the local credit union and it helps engage in the community. Ewart Road Housing Co-operative in Crofton Park is a wonderful community where people can engage in their areas.
I support the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, about how community land trusts can lock in value and make sure that the benefit is passed on to future generations. I very much support that.
I will make a few concluding remarks. Good homes available for all is a fair and just thing to do, and we should all be determined to play our part in that. Certainly for me, as a member of the Opposition, I pledge that I am happy to play my part in sorting out our problems where I can, supporting the Government and others.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, drew the attention of the Grand Committee to the recommendations in the report that referred to the Church of England, for which it poses challenges. I agree with the noble Lord that many local authorities would be very willing to work with the Church to develop and deliver sustainable developments. I agree with the noble Lord’s comments in respect of the frankly appalling practices of building developers in recent times.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, reminded us of the importance of providing facilities for older people. I am very proud to be a trustee of the United St Saviour’s Charity, which has almshouses in Southwark: there is one on Hopton Street and we are building a new one on Southwark Park Road, which the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, has agreed to visit with me, when the conditions allow. Such housing allows older people to live independent lives. Often, it can free up a much larger property that can then go to another family, and it enables people to remain valued members of their community. The partnership between United St Saviour’s Charity—which was founded in 1541—Southwark Council and the private sector is a model that we should look at and use elsewhere. Of course, the St Saviour’s parish church is now Southwark Cathedral; it was changed in 1905. The work the charity does covers the whole of Southwark and is something that we should all look at.
As I said, I want to play my part in working with the Church and the Government to get this right, but this is a wonderful, landmark report. I hope that the Government respond positively to its recommendations —not only today but beyond—and that, where they can, they support the Church and look to see what legislative changes they can bring forward. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response to the debate.
First, I add my genuine sorrow at hearing about the sudden death of Lord Greaves. He always contributed on local government and housing matters, and he will be greatly missed. He was the very best ambassador of what is best in local government.
We have had a fascinating and informative debate this afternoon, and I am grateful for the insightful and helpful contributions made by noble Lords from all sides of the House in this Grand Committee. I begin by welcoming the report of the archbishops’ commission, which makes a vital contribution on the seminal issue of our times. The Government welcome the Church’s commitment to make better use of its landholdings to provide homes, and I know that we will continue a constructive dialogue to help it achieve its aims. We share the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury’s determination to work together, and I am happy to commit to exploring collaborative opportunities. Our housing policies must draw on expertise from all corners.
I will take this opportunity to provide some further detail on the many points that have been raised. My noble friend Lord Lilley raised the very important point that demand is outstripping supply—that was amplified by the noble Lord, Lord Birt. We need to build more homes, and he encouraged the archbishops’ commission to add a seventh S, for “sufficient” homes.
Before the onset of Covid-19, we were building at a scale and speed not seen in decades. From March 2019 to March 2020, around 244,000 homes were built—the highest number of new homes for over 30 years and the seventh consecutive year that net supply had increased. When the pandemic hit, we knew we had to act fast to support the sector, protect the gains that had been made and keep the housing market open. Working with industry, we ensured that estate agents, conveyancers and developers could continue their work and that people could still buy and sell homes. Despite all the economic shockwaves that Covid-19 has brought, the housing market has shown incredible resilience.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes raised the issue of planning applications being granted but homes still awaiting development. The Government want to see homes being built much faster and to much higher standards. We expect housebuilders to do their bit by submitting proposals for high-quality developments, in line with local needs and preferences, and building them as quickly as possible once permission is granted. However, there are many reasons why sites with planning permission are not progressing quickly. Plans evolve and developers may seek replacement permission to reflect local circumstances better, or may face viability challenges because of changes to the market.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned the opportunity presented by Covid-19 to use empty office space for residential land use. Offices are able to change their use to residential under existing permitted development rights. We recently consulted on the introduction of new permitted development rights to enable this change of use from the commercial business and service use class to residential. This would enable more types of buildings, such as shops and restaurants, to provide more housing. We are analysing the responses to the consultation and more information will be provided in due course.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, demanded to know when I will meet the archbishop’ housing commission. I assure her that my private office will set up a meeting as soon as is practicable to follow up on this debate. I would point out that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already met the commission and a number of its members, having been invited by the most reverend Primate to Lambeth Palace.
In response to the noble Baroness’s other points, the consultation on the Planning for the Future White Paper closed on 29 October. We are analysing the responses and will, in due course, publish a response setting out our decisions on the proposed way forward.
Many noble Lords stressed the importance of building affordable and secure social homes. We welcome the commission’s report on this issue and the important contribution of the Church to our shared commitment to help our country build back better. As a Government, we are proud to be investing more than £12 billion in affordable housing over five years—the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade. This includes the new £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, which will provide up to 180,000 new homes across the country, should economic conditions allow. Approximately half of the homes delivered will be for affordable home ownership, supporting aspiring homeowners to take their first step on to the housing ladder. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, let me say that we will also deliver more than double the homes for social rent compared to the current programme, with around 32,000 social rent homes due to be delivered.
Furthermore, our £9 billion shared ownership and affordable homes programme, which has been running since 2016, will deliver approximately 250,000 new affordable homes by 2023. Recognising the value of home ownership, we have made shared ownership even more accessible by reducing the minimum share to 10%, introducing 1% staircasing and creating a new 10-year period during which the landlord will support the cost of repairs. These reforms will make the scheme more consumer-friendly, easier to access and fair. We are committed to delivering affordable homes of all types and tenures, so that we can support a range of people in different circumstances and at different stages in their lives.
Finally, we can no longer be distracted by debates over who should build because, as a Government, we are unapologetic in saying that we want to make it easier for councils themselves to deliver more housing. We have abolished the housing revenue account borrowing cap and introduced a lower interest rate for new loans issued by the Public Works Loan Board. We have also extended the deadline for councils to spend right-to-buy receipts, enabling them to catch up with their spending plans and deliver replacement social housing. We are confident that this investment will support our determination not just to build more homes but to build more homes of the right type and in the right places, helping a range of people in different circumstances and at different stages in their lives.
The most reverend Primates the Archbishop of York and the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, all raised the issue of the definition of affordable homes. The Government do not prescribe a definition of affordability. We believe it is a complex and ever-changing picture and that is better understood and monitored at a local level. We recognise that the fundamental purpose of social housing is to provide affordable, safe and secure homes to those who cannot afford to rent or buy through the open market. The purpose is reflected in the definition of affordable housing in the National Planning Policy Framework and in our approach to setting maximum rent levels in social housing.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester and others raised the problems of remediating historic building safety problems, including the removal of unsafe cladding. As Building Safety Minister, I point out that the Government remain steadfast in our commitment to this issue. We have committed £1.6 billion to accelerate the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on the highest-risk residential buildings more than six stories or 18 metres in height. This drove forward the remediation of buildings with the most dangerous aluminium composite material cladding. Around 95% of those buildings are now remediated or the work is under way. More than 600 buildings have been registered with the new building safety fund to remove other types of unsafe cladding and are proceeding with a full application to that fund. Last month, the Government announced that we are providing an additional £3.5 billion to remediate unsafe cladding on residential buildings more than six storeys or 18 metres in height. That brings the total government investment in building safety to an unprecedented £5.1 billion. I note that there are many remaining challenges faced by leaseholders. In response to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, I am happy to do my best to ensure that we get the Treasury to the table to meet some of the cladding groups and members of the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign. It is important that the Treasury hears their voices.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on the review of the occupancy charge, the removal of the spare room subsidy has been an important tool to help to manage housing support expenditure and enable mobility within the social rented sector. There are circumstances which allow for additional support for vulnerable claimants, such as where a member of the household is unable to share due to disabilities or requires regular overnight care from a non-resident carer. Those who require additional support with housing costs have access to discretionary housing payments from local authorities. Since 2012, we have provided £1 billion in discretionary housing payments to local authorities to support households with their housing costs.
A number of noble Lords including the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle raised the issue of standards in the private rented sector, particularly in the north-east and in the London Borough of Newham. The majority of private rented sector landlords provide decent, well-maintained homes, and the proportion of non-decent homes in the private rented sector has fallen from 41% in 2009 to 23% in 2019. That does not obviate the fact that there is more to be done, and we are keen to support landlords who do the right thing and to bear down on those who do not. We recognise that there are a number of unscrupulous landlords who neglect their properties and exploit their tenants. We want these landlords either to improve the service they offer or leave the business.
That is why we have strengthened local authorities’ enforcement powers, introducing financial penalties of up to £30,000, extending repayment orders and introducing banning orders for the most serious and prolific offenders. Local authorities have a legal duty to take enforcement action if they find seriously hazardous conditions. That is why we are overhauling and simplifying the HHSRS, the tool used to assess hazardous conditions in rented homes.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, on scrapping the Vagrancy Act 1824, I am only a humble Minister but I reckon it should be consigned to the dustbin of history. However, the Government recognise that it is not easy to do that without a review; we are in the course of carrying out that review, which has required extensive stakeholder engagement with the police, local authorities, the homelessness sector and those with lived experience. We will make an announcement on our formal position in due course.
The strength of our communities is inextricably linked to the quality and sustainability of the homes, places and neighbourhoods in which we live and work. The Archbishops’ Commission Coming Home report and today’s debate have stressed the importance of high-quality, sustainable housing. This is just what our planning reforms aim to deliver: greener, cleaner homes and neighbourhoods that we can be proud to live in and a lasting legacy to future generations.
The reforms that we have set in train mandate for more parks, more playing fields and greener spaces in new developments. They ensure that all new streets will be tree-lined, contributing not just to a neighbourhood’s aesthetic but its air quality. We are committed to improving the energy performance of all properties, not only because it will help us achieve our ambitions to reduce emissions as well as reducing fuel poverty but because warm homes are healthier homes.
I support the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York’s clarion call for beauty; we are currently consulting on proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and the national model design code. Our proposed changes to the NPPF, include the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s recommendation for a greater emphasis on beauty and place-making in the planning system, reinforcing that good-quality design should be approved while poor-quality design will be rejected. The draft model design code promotes high-quality design for new build and local residents have a real say in the design of new homes and neighbourhoods.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on mandating space standards in all developments, not just permitted development, as I have already stated, the nationally described space standard is an optional technical standard in our National Planning Policy Framework. Local authorities can choose to adopt it locally if they can demonstrate need and there are no negative impacts on viability. We announced last year that all new homes in England delivered through any permitted development rights should maintain that space standard as a minimum.
Noble Lords raised the importance of using public land in a way that achieves both social and economic goals and social value, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, put it. Last year, the Prime Minister announced a review of all public sector land to inform a new, ambitious cross-government strategy to look at how public sector land can be managed and released so that it can be put to better use. This includes homebuilding, improving the environment, contributing to net-zero goals and providing more opportunities for growth in all parts of the country.
The Government continue to take steps to ensure that public land can be used and released to provide much-needed housing. Last September, the Government announced an additional £30 million to help release surplus land for housing and to support local authorities to bounce back from the pandemic. The funding includes £10 million for the One Public Estate programme, a partnership between MHCLG, the Cabinet Office and the Local Government Association that brings public bodies together to create better places by using public assets more efficiently. Since its establishment in 2013, the programme has helped create over 23,000 new jobs and released land for over 14,000 new homes.
The funding also includes £20 million for the land release fund, which is available to councils for remediation works and infrastructure to bring their surplus sites forward for housing. The land release fund targets small sites, with a focus on supporting SME builders, ensuring that the necessary remediation work can take place to help get spades in the ground where only the Government can step in.
In addition, we are consulting on plans for a right to regenerate, strengthening the power of the public to challenge councils and other public organisations to release land for redevelopment. We believe that people and communities know what is best for their local area, and that strengthening this right will help to promote greater regeneration of brownfield land, boost housing supply and empower people to turn blighted and empty spaces into more beautiful developments. Under proposals out for consultation, people who request the sale of underused land could have a right of first refusal, giving people who make the effort an extra incentive to convert vacant plots of land and derelict buildings into new homes.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, mentioned Citizens UK’s ideas to unlock housing opportunities. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State spoke at the Citizens UK event yesterday and I know that he will look at its proposals for land release with great interest. As a Government, we are always keen to explore areas where we can unlock opportunities for new housing that others cannot.
This has been a fascinating debate that has raised the issue of balancing the drive for volume and need to create more homes with providing high-quality, decent and affordable housing for all. We welcome the commission’s report and the important contribution it makes to the need for affordable housing. The Government shares the most reverend Primates’ passion for working together and collaborating with experts from all corners. After all, the responsibility for good and safe homes is shared. We will continue to work closely with the Church of England to explore how we can support it in our shared commitment to build back better. Together, we will build not just more homes but cleaner, greener, safer neighbourhoods, in which everyone has an opportunity to thrive and flourish.
My Lords, it is a huge challenge to draw together so many extraordinarily high-quality contributions. I ask noble Lords to forgive me for failing to mention everything and everyone. Although technically I have an hour and 18 minutes, I have a funny feeling that noble Lords would appreciate it if I did not use more than a small fraction of that.
When I first joined your Lordships’ House as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, in 2011, my stepfather, a Labour Back-Bencher in the House of Lords, said, “Just remember, every time you speak, there will be a world expert listening to you.” That was just to encourage me, I think. This debate has demonstrated that. The quality of the contributions and insights has been remarkable, so I will try to pick up a few.
There has been considerable support, from almost everyone who has spoken—the Minister did not say it, but I interpret it as implicit—for the idea that all parties should be committed to good homes, affordable for all. The five “S”s are genuinely catching people’s imagination, together with the sixth “S” of sacrifice, which is indispensable to making value, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said.
Other key things that came through particularly were around affordability. At this point, I pick up a slight sense of disappointment with the Minister’s answer —I trust he will forgive me—in his reluctance to commit to working out a definition of affordability. I said in my opening speech that I was looking forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Best, and we were certainly not disappointed by his remarkable speech. It was a powerful contribution. He and every noble Lord said that the issue is affordability. This also comes back to the thought-provoking and insightful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, who made some powerful points. Have I run out of time already?
No, not guilty.
Of course, the whole way through, the report implies—and, from time to time, says—that we need much greater supply, but the issue is not simply supply; it is supply of affordable houses. If Rolls-Royce built a million more Rolls-Royces a year but kept the price the same, it would not make cars easier for people to get hold of—
They would be very cheap so you would have fewer houses, would you not?
Possibly; it depends what they did with them. The problem with land is that it is banked. It is not put on the market. There is a real shortage of land; that came out in a number of speeches. This comes from planning issues, which the Minister has said that the Government are addressing. We look forward to that.
However, it also comes from a lack of restrictions as to what sort of homes are built. In the absence of a clear definition of “affordability”, we will have a continued problem with the inadequacy of affordable homes. All things being equal, higher supply should ameliorate house price growth, but all things are not equal: the land and housing markets are not efficient, and inefficient markets produce oddities in pricing mechanisms. It is not a free and efficient market. The noble Lord can shake his head, but it genuinely is not—you only have to look at how it operates.
Successive Governments have set successively higher housebuilding targets, yet the ratio of house prices to incomes continues to move ever higher, which illustrates the inefficiency of the market. As a direct consequence, while 3 million homes have been built in the last 20 years, there has been an increase of 2.5 million in the number of homes owned by landlords and let privately. It is in this sector that tenants struggle most profoundly with affordability. Do we want to see another 2.5 million privately rented tenancies in 20 years’ time? If not, should we not, as the commission recommends, focus as much as possible on the affordability of what is built and not just on the increase in stock?
With my background in the oil industry, I know that oil is a very efficient market—as, for that matter, is foreign exchange, which I also dealt with a great deal. An increase or fall in supply is the generator of a change in price. However, when you see a market where an increase in supply is not causing a fall in price, you have to ask questions.
Of course, there is a level of new build that would completely solve the affordability problem by materially reducing current prices. However, the commission did not believe that this was a very likely or politically possible strategy for any Government. It was in that context that the commission thought it disingenuous to imply that housebuilding alone would address affordability. That is the background. I hope that it answers some of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, quite rightly put; they were some of the most insightful in the debate.
Therefore, the idea that we can leave affordability in the hands of the very local—I do believe in localism—without saying that it must be based on incomes and not simply on a discount to local prices, seems to me to be one that will not deal with the issue of affordability. We have to find a commonly agreed definition, which can then be applied locally.
I welcome the numerous warm comments about the five values and the general aim of good homes affordable for all. This gives the grounds for possible cross-party work. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, asked how we get people together. I suspect we invite them to my little house just across the river and give them a good meal. In my experience, this tends to be helpful and to produce good outcomes.
I found the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, profoundly moving and very beautiful. He addressed many of the points made by other noble Lords so therefore I will not pick those up again.
As I come to the end of my remarks, having missed out a lot of things that probably should have been said, I have just one point. The Secretary of State came to Lambeth to meet some members of the commission, including myself, in October last year, so it was not a very recent meeting, and the report was not finished. Both the Secretary of State and the Housing Minister have said in the last month that they were a bit too busy to discuss anything with the commission, although we did approach them. Perhaps they will find more time in their diaries as time goes by.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, was extremely powerful on planning and other issues of accessibility and affordability, as was the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, pointing particularly to the planning issue.
I am delighted with the comment that there will be more stringent rules about the nature of beautiful housing—I warmly welcome that. The old saying is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that will be transformed so that beauty will be in the rules of Whitehall. This can only improve the general outlook for housebuilding in this country under numerous Governments in the future.
There are a couple of questions for consideration by the Minister over time. Equality of opportunity came out in the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and we also have to think very hard about disability. There is a real weakness in our building of accessible housing.
I welcome very strongly the Minister’s commitment to try to get the Treasury to meet people who are dealing with the issue of cladding. If you happen to live in a building that is below 18 metres, it is a very major issue indeed. A lot of people are totally caught by the fact that there is not an extra storey on their building, which would have got them the help that, by mere happenstance, they do not get.
To answer the noble Lord, Lord Birt, about selling glebe at maximum value, our problem is that the legal advice we have from some, though not all, lawyers—and this comes back to the numerous comments on the need to review charity law—is that the management of glebe must maximise the financial value of that land. This will often mean selling stuff that we really do not want to sell in our heart of hearts. There have been numerous instances in the papers recently.
I will certainly commit to supporting the abolition of the Vagrancy Act. I agree with the Minister when he says that it should be consigned to history—or to the bin, I think.
Consigned to the dustbin—if he is allowed to do so.
To conclude, I thank noble Lords for their remarkable speeches today, their insight and the challenge to the Church, which we will seek to rise to. I particularly thank those who have mentioned Archbishop Temple, one of my great heroes, and the Faith in the City report. It says something that a report written by the Church of England 36 years ago should still come to mind. That is remarkable.
Now there really is a bell ringing, and I must pay attention to it. It has come at just the right time—noble Lords are saved by the bell. I beg to move.
My Lords, that completes the business before the Grand Committee today. I remind Members to please sanitise their seats and their desks.
Committee adjourned at 6.25 pm.