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Housebuilding: Target

Volume 820: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards meeting their target of building 300,000 homes a year.

From April 2019 to March 2020, more than 242,000 homes were delivered—the highest level for over 30 years. Despite the pandemic, we enabled construction sites to stay open, allowing us to deliver more than 216,000 homes in England in 2020-21, well above the 186,500 forecast for the whole of the UK.

I am grateful to my noble friend, but is he aware that the House of Lords Built Environment Committee has warned the Government that they will miss their targets by about half over the period of time in question? In order to catch up, will my noble friend consider greatly accelerating the number of homes built off-site, using modular construction? These are quicker, built to a higher quality and less susceptible to the weather than traditional methods. Within that, will he consider more homes for the elderly, which are in short supply, so that those who want to can downsize, freeing up their homes for families?

My noble friend has extensive experience of housing. The department recognises the importance of modern methods of construction, both volumetric and non-volumetric as well as those designed for manufacture and assembly, and we have a target within the affordable homes programme of delivering around 25% through these methods. Obviously, we recognise the need for housing of all types and tenures, and both supported and private housing for the elderly, and retirement communities are a very important part of getting the built environment right.

My Lords, in order to maximise the funding for the building of affordable housing, there is a need to bring in willing and able institutional investors. However, the Government must create a level playing field in terms of the tax positions and grant agreements between housing associations and institutional investors to encourage much-needed collaboration between the two. Please could the Minister comment on this and other measures to attract private investment?

My Lords, I recognise the important role that registered providers have played in building affordable housing but also note that, increasingly, councils are building council homes again, which is a good thing. We will look at whatever it takes to remove those barriers to enable people who are building affordable housing to access institutional investment.

My Lords, research by Habinteg has shown that the lifetime homes standard—that is, part M4 category 2—costs only £1,000 extra on new build, reducing the need for expensive adaptations later in life and keeping people independent. The LGA says that, at the current rate of housebuilding, it will take 2,000 years to achieve this standard. Worse, under 2% of new housing is required to be built to category 3, for wheelchair users, when a minimum of 10% is needed. How many units that meet category 2 and 3 have been built in the past five years?

My Lords, I cannot give that particular statistic; what I can say is that we recognise the importance of getting these standards right. We have consulted very recently on options to raise the accessibility of new homes and we continue to focus on ensuring that we have homes that work for people of all ages and are suitable for older and disabled people.

Thank you. How many of the homes that have been built are net-zero carbon and, therefore, how many are left to be very expensively retrofitted for energy efficiency later?

My Lords, we seem to be going around every type of housing that we could possibly build, but it is very important to recognise that we have a future homes standard, that we have set that to be in place by 2025 and that we continue to build homes that are reducing our carbon footprint—and, actually, modern methods of construction are precisely the way to do it.

My Lords, our Built Environment Committee report made it clear that, if the number of new homes is to be increased, improvements are needed in several areas of public policy, especially planning. More than half of all authorities have no local plans, with Slough the latest to drop its plan because of uncertainty. Will the Government do everything possible—there are examples in the report—to ensure that the defect is remedied and that we have homes of all tenures for everybody to live in?

I thank my noble friend for all the sterling work she does on the Built Environment Committee. I recognise that there is a problem around local plans. Indeed, it is the planning lawyers who point out that we need more robust timetabling again, to ensure that local authorities undertake their duties to have a plan to shape their areas.

My Lords, local authorities are crucial to meeting the Government’s housebuilding targets, but, if they are properly to master-plan and create the new communities that we need, they need new powers. So will the Minister support the reform of our arcane land compensation laws?

I look at whatever it takes to support councils in being able to build and shape their areas. An increasing number of councils are doing precisely that. This Government have enabled councils to borrow more liberally against the housing revenue account, but we will look at whatever measures we can to encourage local authorities to take a leadership role.

My Lords, the skills shortage in the construction industry is set to be a major problem for years to come. A solution is to attract more women into this industry, since, as your Lordships’ Built Environment Committee points out, only 4% of the construction trade’s roles are held by women. Does the Minister agree that, when rejuvenating the failed apprenticeships scheme, it would be particularly helpful if a special effort was made to recruit apprentices who are women?

My Lords, of course we want to ensure that we get both men and women, and particularly women, involved in construction, but, as the Building Safety Minister, what I want to see above all is an increase in the quality and competence of the people who build our homes.

My Lords, it is agreed that there is a national shortage of housing in this country. Although greeted as a laudable policy in the Thatcher years, the sale of council houses depleted the capacity of local authorities to provide much-needed housing during emergencies. Can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to encourage and assist all local authorities to increase the renewal of the socially provided housing stock in the immediate future?

I can, because it is an unprecedented amount of money: £11.5 billion for the affordable homes programme. In this programme, more than double the number of homes, 180,000 homes, will be for social rent, and a great number will be for sub-market rent. So there is a real commitment in this Government to deliver housing of all types and tenures, and in particular socially rented housing.

My Lords, are the Government mindful that noise is a great irritant? Should local authorities consider airport growth when determining their local housing needs and avoid approving development in the proximity of airports that may be impacted, in the future, by the current and future operations of that airport? As an example, North West Leicestershire District Council, as I understand it, has a number of proposals for housing around East Midlands Airport.

My Lords, there is quite a lot of noise today, but what I will say in answer to the noble Viscount’s question is that local authorities need to think about how to develop their areas for the benefit of the local community. This obviously includes building homes, but in the right place, in the right way and going with the grain of the local area. Indeed, economic development is a fundamental part of local leadership.

My Lords, one of the recommendations of the built environment report referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Young—and I have the honour of serving on the committee under the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe—was that the Government should encourage more small builders to build houses, rather than having a smaller number of big developers. Small, local builders will bring more local employment and new ideas, and they will generally speed up the overall housing construction.

That is an incredibly good point, because the wider public sector counts for about a third of the money that is spent in the construction industry in any given year. We need to encourage small and medium-sized builders who are more innovative and bring new things with them, rather than simply the large-volume builders.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister understands the difference between affordable housing and housing for social rent. In response to a previous question on social housing, the Minister’s answer was “Affordable”—which is not the same thing at all. So can the Minister help the House to understand, with construction costs soring and social housing dependent on government grants, whether the Government will increase the size of the grants so that more social housing can be built to meet the desperate need in this country?

My Lords, the House will be unsurprised to know that I do understand the difference between types and tenures of housing. What I said in response to a previous question was that we had pledged to build 32 socially rented homes, and that the amount in this current programme is double that of the previous programme. To be clear, I meant 32,000 and not 32—I must get my numbers right. There is a real commitment to build not only socially rented homes but the houses between that and outright home ownership.