My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that housebuilding is a priority for this Government and a central part of our plans for growth. As my noble friend said, the 2019 Conservative manifesto stated that we will continue our progress towards our 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. To unlock home ownership, we must build more homes in places where people want to live and work. We will continue to explore policies to help build the homes people need, deliver new jobs, support economic development and boost local economies.
I am grateful to my noble friend. However, at Prime Minister’s Questions last week, the former Prime Minister said that
“we will abolish the top-down housing targets.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/22; col. 679.]
As a former Minister for Housing and a former Minister for Planning, perhaps I can say to my noble friend that we will never get the new homes the country needs in the places where they are needed if we rely solely on the goodwill of local government. Does she agree that, while there needs to be dialogue with local government, the responsibility for ensuring that families live in decent and affordable accommodation is one for the new Administration?
I do agree that it is one for the new Administration and I cannot comment on the past Administration any longer. I agree with my noble friend that we must build more homes in places where people want to live and work, as I said. The Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 put beyond doubt the requirement for all areas to be covered by one or more plans that address the strategic priorities for each area. Authorities that fail to ensure that in-date plans are in place are failing their communities by not recognising that homes and other facilities that local people need are relying on ad hoc, speculative development that will not make the most of every area’s potential. Ministers have powers to intervene when local planning authorities fail to meet the timescales set out for preparing a local plan. However, these powers have not had to be used as yet.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House whether all these new builds will be fully insulated and fitted with heat pumps in order to meet our climate change targets without the need for any retrofitting? If not, why not?
Yes, my Lords, from 2025, the future homes standard will ensure that new homes produce at least 75% fewer CO2 emissions than those built to the 2013 standard. These homes will be future-proofed with low-carbon heating and high energy efficiency. In December 2021, the Government introduced an uplift in energy efficiency standards which delivers a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions and acts as a stepping stone to the future homes standard. New homes will be expected to deliver around 30% fewer CO2 emissions.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that housebuilding is in for a very rocky time in the months ahead, with interest rates rising, building and material costs going up, fewer people able to buy, and housebuilders sitting on their hands. Therefore, is this the moment to invest rather more in social housing, which can compensate those losses, and get some affordable homes built?
My Lords, we have announced £10 billion of investment in housing supplies since the start of this Parliament, with our housing supply interventions due ultimately to unlock over 1 million homes over the 2020-21 spending review period. This includes an additional £1.8 billion investment announced in the 2020-21 spending review. Of course we want to invest in affordable homes, so we are also investing £11.5 billion in 2021 to 2026 on the affordable homes programme, which we hope will deliver 180,000 more affordable homes.
My Lords, following on from the question from the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, does the Minister agree that the Government should promote carbon-neutral homes with clean energy sources as part of any drive to increase housebuilding? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that environmentally sustainable homes are built as part of meeting housebuilding targets?
I think I have given a clear answer to that. The future homes standard will provide fewer CO2 emissions, but this is not just about new houses; it is also about the houses that exist at the moment. We have our Help to Heat programme, which I spoke about in the last Question I took at the Dispatch Box, boiler upgrades, local authority delivery schemes, home upgrade grants for sustainable warmth and social housing decarbonisation—I could go on. We are looking at energy efficiency in not just new houses but the housing stock we have.
I thank my noble friend for the answer on insulated homes, but since the Government went back on the promise of zero-carbon homes, we have built 1.5 million homes that have to be retrofitted, at the cost to the owners, and the profit was made by the housebuilders. Is it not time that the Government brought their future homes standard forward and enacted it immediately, so we do not put the bill for extra costs on people who buy new homes?
I say to the Minister that 300,000 homes is the equivalent of building a Newcastle every 12 months. My question is very simple: who is going to build them? The construction industry has been sounding the alarm on skills and labour shortages for some time, exacerbated by Brexit. What is the Government’s plan to address this pertinent issue now?
The noble Baroness is right that skills are important; we cannot build these houses without skilled construction workers. We are collaborating across the whole of government to ensure that we are effectively supporting the sector. The Department for Education is approving training routes into construction, creating opportunities for workers to retrain by working with employers to make apprenticeships more flexible and promoting the use of T-levels, which are very important. DWP is also working with its work coaches to identify suitable candidates who might be able to change jobs and move in with local employers. A lot is going across government to make sure we have the skills in the construction sector.
My Lords, is this not now a golden opportunity for the new Government to recognise the success of Milton Keynes as a new town/city, Northampton as a new town, and Welwyn Garden City? That concept can be modernised and is an opportunity —to pick up the point made by my noble friend—for social housing to be in the lead? Should not every one of the roofs in these new towns be appropriate for dealing with Covid, et cetera?
New towns have been around for many years, and are a part of the solution if local people are happy to have that in their area. I will take my noble friend’s views back to the department; we will discuss it further and I will talk to my noble friend.
Noble Lords will have to wait: I do not want to say words that are not correct, so I will make sure that I get the correct numbers. There were approximately 242,000 homes built in the last period before Covid. During the Covid period, obviously the number of homes went down, but looking at the projections for this year and forward, we are expecting to exceed the targets set.