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New Homes Commitment

Volume 823: debated on Tuesday 21 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they remain committed to building 300,000 new homes a year.

Delivering new homes and regenerating left-behind communities are central to our levelling-up mission and we remain committed to our ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year. We have made progress, with more than 2 million additional homes being delivered since April 2010. Over 242,000 homes were delivered from April 2019 to March 2020, which is the highest level for over 30 years.

I am grateful to my noble friend. The Construction Industry Training Board has forecast that we will need an additional 266,000 construction workers over the next three years if demand is to be met—and that is in an industry already facing shortages. What action can my noble friend take to see that those numbers are met? If there is to be a shortfall in output, can he ensure that that does not fall on the affordable sector of the market?

My noble friend is right that there has been a recent report by the CITB, but I point out that that shortfall is for the whole of the construction industry, not just housing. We have significant cross-government intervention and investment in skills, and the CITB made £110 million available in training grants to support 14,000 businesses. However, we continue to recognise—this was picked up by the Federation of Master Builders—that there are stresses and strains in terms of labour and materials. The Government are working hard to overcome these.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, which estimates that we need 90,000 social homes a year in England. Can the Minister tell us how the Government will ensure that their reforms in the planning system contained in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will help deliver that much-needed social housing?

My Lords, there is a real commitment to build more social housing, including more affordable housing. As the noble Baroness knows, the programme is for some £11.5 billion, with a target of double the number of social rented homes in this particular grant period than the previous one. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill recognises that, in order to get the housing, we need the infrastructure in place and must ensure that neighbourhoods have mixed communities at their heart. That is what the Bill is planning to do.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us that all the new houses will be built with a high level of insulation, the quality of which is properly inspected, and will not be fitted with gas boilers but will be heated by renewable energy?

My Lords, we recognise that in order to meet our net-zero commitment we need to implement the future homes standard, which comes in, I believe, in 2025. Building regulations will reflect that ambition to ensure that we build not only more homes but more sustainable homes that use heat pumps and other devices to meet that target.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation board. Does my noble friend agree that many public bodies would be willing to get on with delivering homes if they had access to the brownfield infrastructure land fund? Nearly three months into the financial year, can my noble friend say when the allocations from that fund will be announced?

My Lords, £550 million has been allocated to seven mayoral combined authorities. However, we recognise that we need to announce the availability of funding for smaller brownfield sites, which will happen very shortly.

My Lords, the Minister will know that half of all the affordable housing that is produced annually within the 300,000 target comes from the planning obligations on housebuilders. Can he reassure the House that the planning reforms in the levelling-up Bill will not diminish the amount of affordable housing that housebuilders have to produce, since we need to double the output of affordable housing and not halve it?

I can give an assurance that the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill recognises the role of building more housing, including more affordable housing. We are trying to ensure that there is a more transparent approach to the levy. There is reform around the current community infrastructure levy to get that right and to make sure we get a proper contribution to affordable housing in the coming years.

My Lords, has there been a detailed assessment of the decision by Mrs Thatcher to sell off council houses 40 years ago in the light of chronic shortages of houses for sale and rent at affordable prices? Are the Government positively encouraging local authorities to increase their public housing stock?

My Lords, we can prima facie assess that 2 million people chose to buy their own council home and are now homeowners as a result. We make no apology for that. We want to make sure that, in spreading the ability for housing association tenants to buy their own homes, we design the scheme in a way that enables the homes sold to be replaced on a one-for-one basis, which I think everyone can get behind.

Can my noble friend confirm that an unbelievable 1 million people were given the right to come and settle in this country last year? Even if we assume that 300,000 return or emigrate, can he confirm that the remainder—even if they occupy houses at twice the density of the indigenous population—will use up half of the houses we build every year?

My Lords, I recognise that this has been a very welcoming country. We have welcomed refugees from Afghanistan and there has been the very successful programme of welcoming British Hong Kongers to this country. We make no apologies for that. We recognise that there is a need to hit our new-build housing targets and that those will be homes for people who have come to this country for a better life, but we need homes for the younger generations as well.

My Lords, the housebuilding index produced by the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply found that, last month, residential construction slowed to levels last seen during the first Covid lockdown. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact this will have on house prices and private rents?

I do not recognise the cataclysmic drop since the pandemic. We hit a record number, as I pointed out, in 2020-21; there was a slight falling back, but all our internal assessments are that we will see a rebound and that the dip this year will not be pronounced or continue into the mid-decade. Hitting 300,000 is a stretching target, but we will see increasing numbers in the years to come.

My Lords, is it possible for a developer to pay the local authority a certain sum of money to be relieved of its responsibility, and for that local authority then to use the money elsewhere? I hear that is happening in other parts of the country.

My Lords, I do not recognise that you can discharge your responsibility. That is almost describing a bung—I do not think that happens. If there is an affordable housing requirement, you can choose to discharge that off-site, but you still have the requirement to deliver it. We see that in some areas where there is very high-value housing; it is simply more economic to build it elsewhere. I do not recognise that, but if the right reverend Prelate has specific examples, I am happy to look into them.

My Lords, it is said that pressure on housing supply is often at the expense of regional and national economic development, and that government departments work on their own strategies in silos to the detriment of the broader strategy. Can the Minister give assurance that this is not the case and that he will take up the cause if evidence is presented to the contrary?

I recognise that we cannot look at housing in isolation; we need to get investment in the infrastructure and other factors to allow for growth. It is a good start to have had a £10 billion investment in housing supply since the start of this Parliament, but there is also investment to enable brownfield sites to be built out rather than the—sometimes easier—greenfield sites. We want to see brownfield development and that requires infrastructure, and the money is in place to do precisely that.

My Lords, is it not time that we had a meaningful new towns project which would benefit both owner-occupation and social housing throughout the United Kingdom?

I think we need to find ways of coming up with new town projects but to do that we need the infrastructure, the transport, the roads and the rail, and that is why we recognise that a programme just to build homes is not enough. We need to get that in the round, and we are taking it forward as part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill in this Session.

My Lords, I was very pleased to hear the Minister say enthusiastically last night that we need more affordable housing and social housing, and that the Government were happy to look at ideas. There are currently 500 projects for community land trust homes, creating 7,000 new homes around the country. Will the Government look at how they can encourage further this model of providing homes in perpetuity, of a structure and type decided by local communities for local communities?

I think there is quite a degree of interest in how community land trusts can operate; Coin Street is an example, and I believe there are other examples in Watford. We are happy to take all ideas, including how we can use community land trusts as a vehicle to deliver more affordable housing.