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Housing and Planning: Policy Changes

Volume 832: debated on Monday 24 July 2023

Private Notice Question

Asked by

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, and I draw attention to my interests in the register as I am a serving councillor on both Stevenage Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council.

Thank you. The Government will meet their manifesto commitment to deliver 1 million homes over the course of this Parliament. This is through the regeneration of places, including ambitious plans in Cambridge, London and Leeds. We are consulting on permitted development rights and local plans, increasing funding to unblock the planning backlog and launching the Office for Place to lead a design revolution. The system, enhanced by the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, will therefore ensure that development is sustainable and welcomed by its communities.

My Lords, this announcement—slipped out today after the Commons has gone into Recess—only serves to reinforce the impression of a Government in chaos over the multiple layers of housing crisis our country is now facing. With over 1 million people on social housing waiting lists and 7,000 social rented homes built last year, does the Minister really think that a few flats built over chip shops is going to solve the problem? It is like putting a sticking plaster on a severed limb. Estimates are that we need to build 300,000 homes a year, and we are nowhere near that. Ministers are still ignoring the fact that scrapping local housebuilding targets has sent construction into a nosedive; no reviews, press releases or empty promises can hide that. Can I therefore ask the Minister if the Government have produced an impact assessment of the effect of their proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, including the scrapping of national housebuilding targets? If so, what was the finding of that assessment for housebuilding numbers? We need bold action to get Britain building, and that starts with restoring housing targets.

With regard to the impact assessment, I will have to get back to the noble Baroness with a response in writing. However, regarding housing supply, we are on track to deliver our target of 1 million homes this Parliament, and we are already almost 70% of the way there. Housing supply has been at a 30-year record level, with the three highest annual rates of housing supply having all come since 2018. More than 2.2 million homes have been delivered in England since 2010, and we remain committed to our target of delivering those 300,000 homes a year. The £11.5 billion affordable homes programme will deliver thousands of affordable homes for both rent and to buy.

My Lords, first, will my noble friend clarify whether the new towns policy is now to be revised? If so, that would be enormously welcome. Secondly, is she aware that the private rental market is in chaos at this point in time? Does that not need the urgent attention of Ministers to sort it out? Thirdly, is she aware—I am sure she is—that young couples need the opportunity to buy a home? Are His Majesty’s Government looking seriously at a revised scheme for Help to Buy?

I thank my noble friend for those multiple questions; I will try and do them justice. Affordable housing is a serious commitment by this Government. Indeed, the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme is delivering thousands of homes both for rent and to buy across the country. The levelling up White Paper committed to increasing the supply of social rented homes, and a large number of the new homes have been delivered through the affordable homes programme so far. With regards to the other questions, I will get back to my noble friend in writing.

Can the Minister confirm that, if we are going to have these targets met to build more houses, we need the people to build them? Can she confirm the figures, that 35% of the construction industry workforce are over the age of 50, and just 20% are under the age of 30? The estimate is that we will need 43,000 more workers in the construction industry per year to fill the gap. What are the Government doing to achieve that?

I do not have the specific numbers with me today and I will make sure that they are provided to the noble Lord by the relevant office. With regards specifically to SMEs, we do have various activities going on to support the sector and to support all of its needs with regards to their supply of the workforce.

My Lords, I am sure we are all delighted that the Government’s housing targets are back on track, but can my noble friend say if His Majesty’s Government have taken note of the Natural England advice to local planning authorities concerning nutrient neutrality, which has resulted in a blockade on new housing development in 14% of England’s land area? Is it the case that the Government will take steps in this regard, as hinted in the press?

Nutrient pollution is an urgent problem, and the Government are clear that nutrient neutrality can only be an interim solution in the broader context of all the other environmental and biodiversity issues. This is why we are taking significant action to tackle pollution at source and restore our protected sites. Through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we are ensuring the upgrade of wastewater treatment works in nutrient neutrality catchments by 2030. This will ameliorate pollution at source and help SMEs by reducing the cost of mitigation by up to 96%. Government investments in schemes like the Natural England nutrient mitigation scheme, and the DLUHC’s local nutrient mitigation fund, will further boost the supply of mitigation, which will unlock housing delivery. We are working closely with the Environment Secretary, Natural England and the Environment Agency to consider whether there is more that can be done to accelerate progress in this area. I am looking forward to the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Moylan and his committee on this matter.

My Lords, the Government have announced that our major towns and cities must increase their housing numbers by 35%—the so-called urban uplift—while simultaneously announcing that the green belt is to be further protected. Where do the Government get the evidence for this significant change in policy direction, inflicting high-density housing, increasing traffic and pollution and a greater strain on all local infrastructure in those areas? Does the Minister not agree with me that all local authorities should shoulder their fair share of meeting the nation’s housing need? When the standard formula is reassessed next year, will it actually reflect fairness and not political expediency?

The regeneration and renaissance of 20 cities is the fundamental cornerstone of today’s announcements and of those made previously, to accelerate the transformation, intensification and regeneration of our cities, building on the work that we have already seen and started in Wolverhampton and Sheffield. This Government will allocate £800 million from the £1.5 billion brownfield, infrastructure and land fund, to unlock some 56,000 new homes on brownfield sites, taking the infrastructure-first approach to build up our cities, in addition to a further £550 million for Homes England to deploy nationally. They are therefore providing Greater Manchester with some £150 million going to Andy Burnham to unlock some 7,000 new homes, and in the West Midlands some £100 million is going to Andy Street to unlock some 4,000 new homes. They are also creating a new partnership with Leeds City Council to drive housing and regeneration, building up the financial services sector and the new Bank of England presence. All of this is building on brownfield rather than greenfield and of course, as and when necessary, all of these things will come to this House.

Would the Minister care to give us the percentage of land in England covered by national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt?

My Lords, one of the challenges facing rural areas is an acute shortage of affordable housing. Statistics from the National Housing Federation show that social housing waiting lists in rural areas have grown by 31%, compared with just 3% in urban areas. That is having a huge impact on rural sustainability as the average age in those areas increases, leading to the closure of schools, post offices and so on. What is being done specifically to unblock this logjam in providing more affordable housing in rural areas?

Apologies: this is my first time at the Dispatch Box, and appellations are obviously not something I have quite mastered yet.

With regards to social housing, particularly in rural areas, there is a debate on that topic in this Chamber this afternoon, to which I will respond in detail. Of course, this Government are committed to delivering more social housing so that everyone has access to a high-quality, affordable place to live. That remains a key element of our plan to end the housing crisis, tackle homelessness and get more people on to the housing ladder. The £11.5 billion affordable homes programme I previously mentioned will deliver thousands of affordable homes, both for rent and to buy, across the country. It is vital that we build more of those affordable forms of social housing—that is, social rent homes. We have previously said that the affordable homes programme will deliver some 32,000 homes for social rent; we hope we can increase this figure to 40,000 such homes. I understand that that is more challenging to deliver in rural areas, given that we do not have so many high-volume homes. We will address that topic later this afternoon.

My Lords, I declare my interests and ask the Minister whether she could reflect on the response she gave about high-quality housing being built. As she will be aware, we are currently building homes that are not fit and not of a standard to deal with the climate we are experiencing now, in terms of both heat and energy efficiency. Higher energy-efficiency standards supported by government actually save tenants and householders money. We are expecting new building standards and new building regs in 2025, yet we are still waiting for a consultation on them. Could the Minister tell me, or write if she does not have the information now, when we are going to see that consultation?

With regard to the quality of homes, we have a legacy of poor-quality housing stock that is risking people’s health. Since 2010, we have reduced the number of non-decent homes by over 2 million. We are going further in order to halve the number of non-decent rented homes by 2030. We will update the decent homes standard and introduce it in the private rented sector for the first time. We are delivering the Social Housing (Regulation) Act, which achieved Royal Assent last week, which allows the regulator to issue unlimited fines to landlords failing to deliver, as well as to ensure that serious hazards are addressed quickly. Finally, of course, we will ensure the quality of new builds through plans to consult on a future homes standard to create beautiful, sustainable homes and a new homes ombudsman that will hold developers to account for shoddy new builds. I will reply in writing to the rest of the noble Baroness’s questions.

My Lords, today’s speech promised radical action to unlock the supply of new homes, which I am sure we all welcome. Can my noble friend say whether today’s announcement will involve any amendments to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill currently before your Lordships’ House? If not, will the Government smile on some of my amendments that have the same objective?

I thank my noble friend Lord Young for that question. We are bringing forward ambitious and wide-ranging reforms through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, which my noble friend will know about—it is currently being debated on Report here in the Lords—including the modernisation of the planning system. The planning measures will, of course, give local leaders and communities the tools they need to regenerate towns and cities, to create better places and to restore local pride. The planning elements of the Bill, as my noble friend will know, including amendments tabled by Peers, will be debated in due course, in early September.

My Lord, further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Young, could I ask the Minister whether the Government plan to table amendments in view of the fact that there have been a substantial number of changes proposed over the last 48 hours in the media? The next day of Report, when we start the planning chapters of the Bill, is on Monday 4 September. Will the Government be proposing amendments to that Bill to reflect the announcement they have just been making?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. It is noted, and I will refer his question to my noble friend the Minister on her return.