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Housing: New Homes Target

Volume 835: debated on Wednesday 17 January 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when they forecast they will reach their target of 300,000 new homes a year.

My Lords, our ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year remains. This has always been a stretching ambition, yet there has been strong progress. The four highest rates of annual supply in over 30 years have all been since 2018, including 234,400 homes delivered in 2022-23. Increasing supply further is more difficult due to the economic challenges that we face, and we continue to engage with Homes England, developers and registered providers to understand their delivery charges.

I am grateful to my noble friend, but those figures are based on current housing policy. Over Christmas the Government confirmed a major change in housing policy, with targets for local authorities becoming advisory not mandatory; I believe that decision was a mistake, but it has been taken. Since then, 58 local authorities have scrapped or suspended their local plans, with a view to submitting new plans with lower figures for housing. What action can the Government take to ensure that local authorities do not simply succumb to anti-development pressure and so opt out of their obligation to meet the housing shortage?

First, I congratulate my noble friend on once again campaigning on this issue and holding the Government’s feet to the fire. I have heard those figures before, and I reassure my noble friend that the revised NPPF does not allow evasion to build. Local authorities have to make provision for housing and identify sites to deliver homes, and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act makes it clear that this is a plan-led system. That is exactly why we have recently taken intervention against seven local authorities and will consider using these powers for others that are not making sufficient progress.

My Lords, last week the National Housing Federation published Let’s Fix the Housing Crisis. A key recommendation is increased grant funding to build a new generation of social housing, particularly for those 2 million children currently living in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable homes in England. What plans do the Government have to increase grant funding for social housing provision to meet this urgent housing need?

The noble Baroness raises a very good point, if I may say so. I am sure noble Lords have heard this before, but it is through our affordable homes programme and the £11.5 billion that we seek to deliver tens of thousands of homes. I am pleased to say that of the 700,000 affordable homes built since 2010, 172,000 have been for social rent and 482,000 for rent.

My Lords, I draw attention to my declaration in the register of interests. The noble Lord, Lord Young, is quite right to point out the need to plan for homes but there is also a need to deliver them. I am sure the Minister is aware that the major players in the delivery of category 1 modular homes have failed despite significant government investment in supporting them. With category 2 modular methods of construction, the factories are held largely by the small number of major housebuilders, yet those who build homes—the bricklayers, plumbers and electricians —are increasingly ageing and not being replaced. What will the Government do to support smaller housebuilders, which will soon have no access to the skilled trades to build homes and yet do not have access to factories to use modern methods of construction to deliver them either?

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for raising this. There are a number of points there, and I will not be able to do justice to all of them, but I will write on all of those things. I think it is about a quarter of the affordable homes programme that has to be done through the modern methods of construction. In terms of insufficient workers—I shall write to make that point—the Department for Education is looking at the training routes, but it is also something that the Government are looking at through the significant apprenticeship programme that we have got, and part of that is allocated towards construction workers. In terms of doing more to support SMEs, it is something we will do but I promise I will write to the noble Lord to set out all these things.

My Lords, the Government’s reckless decision to abolish housing targets will have devastating consequences across England, making a safe and secure home an ever more distant prospect for millions. Do the Government recognise that, with social housebuilding numbers plummeting, there is an ever-increasing burden on the taxpayer—now around £35 billion—as benefit payments go to private landlords? How will the Minister work with the Treasury to ensure that public money goes into bricks for social housing, not benefits to line landlords’ pockets?

The noble Baroness is right to talk about the need to build more homes, and that is exactly what we are trying to do. I tried to address the point about social housing earlier. That is why there is the £11.5 billion in affordable homes. With respect, a key part of this is having a plan. We have a long-term plan, but it is not that alone but ensuring that there is funding behind it and that we unlock land, put infrastructure in and try to do all we can to support not just first-time buyers but those who may have lower incomes.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether, in order to assist affordable housing, some thought should be given to building prefabricated houses?

I am grateful to the noble and learned Baroness for that. I completely understand the point, but I do not have an answer to it with me. It is certainly right that we should explore every option to build a variety of homes. I undertake, with her permission, to write to the noble and learned Baroness on that point.

My Lords, there was never a time when the housing division was not under stress. Does my noble friend agree with me that, if we had 750,000 extra people coming here last year, the stress will be much greater?

My noble friend raises a valid point about the need to tackle migration and its possible impact on housing and other local services. It is obviously right to say that we can be incredibly proud of being a welcoming country, especially over the last few years, but that is why we have to put in steps to tackle both legal and illegal migration, because we know the pressures that high migration has on housing.

My Lords, Section 106 nil grant agreements are one of the primary ways in which affordable housing is currently delivered, and they account for almost half of all the affordable homes delivered every year. These agreements are dependent on planning permission and planning approvals, and they are at a record low. Does the Minister have an estimated figure of the potential shortfall in affordable homes as a result of this situation, and what steps will be taken to tackle it?

I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for raising this point yet again. The key point is to not only have a plan but to continue to invest in unlocking land, particularly around the funding to build affordable homes. It is about infrastructure, investing in skills and helping people get into the property market in the first place.

My Lords, is there a requirement for all new builds to be fitted with electric heat pumps and compliant insulation? If not, why not?

On heat pumps specifically, I am afraid that I do not know. In the revised NPPF, I think that it is looked at for new builds going forward, but I do not want to say something that is not true. I can say that homes being built from 2025 should obviously be zero-carbon ready. Also, on new development, one of the good things we have said is that we will deliver a 10% net gain on biodiversity.