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Volume 836: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what is their response to the final report of the Competition and Markets Authority’s housebuilding market study, published on 26 February.

We welcome the CMA’s final report, following its full market study into housebuilding. In 2022, the Secretary of State wrote to the CMA, supporting the suggestion of a full market study, the first since 2008. The Government will now take away and carefully consider these findings and recommendations, and formally respond within 90 days. The CMA’s recommendations can help industry, the Government and regulators to make sure that the market is operating effectively, and working well for consumers.

I appreciate that the report was published only two days ago, but it was published after the Government made significant changes to housing and planning policy. On those changes, the CMA report is very clear. It says that “significant interventions” and “further actions” are required by government if we are to address what it describes as the “complex and unpredictable” planning system, with its underresourced planning departments. The report also makes it clear that local authorities should have clear housing targets if we are to meet the demand in housing that we have just heard about. Will the Government be looking very sympathetically at these recommendations?

As I have said, we will carefully consider all the recommendations and findings from the report. Our National Planning Policy Framework means that councils must have local plans in place to deliver more homes in the right places and of the right type that are required in that particular community. As part of the recent consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, we have committed to review our approach to assessing housing need, once the new housing projections data based on the 2021 census is released next year.

My Lords, the excellent report from the Competition and Markets Authority shows why depending on a small handful of volume housebuilders does not produce either the quantity or the quality of homes that we need. Has the Minister thought about taking off the shelf the Oliver Letwin report, which is quoted in the CMA report very favourably? It calls for development corporations with master plans and compulsory purchase powers which could take the place of some of these volume housebuilders and get what we actually deserve.

The noble Lord has some interesting ideas in this area, particularly about the large housebuilders, which seem to have controlled the market. That is why we are putting a lot of support into small and medium-sized housebuilders. As for the Oliver Letwin report, we will look at everything once we have got this report and when we start to work on it, and we will be bringing out further information in due course.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that your Lordships’ Built Environment Select Committee has repeatedly found that the cost and arduousness of the planning system is a deterrent to development, particularly for small housebuilders, who have fallen from producing 40% of our homes 20 years ago to merely 10% today? Will she consider the possibility of alleviating the burden of the planning system, particularly for smaller sites, so as to make it possible for smaller housebuilders to survive and thrive?

As I have said previously, SMEs play a critical role in housebuilding and in the housing market in this country. Through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act, we have made changes to the planning system that will support SMEs to build more homes by making the planning process easier to navigate, faster and more predictable. The Government have recently announced policies that will support SME housebuilders, including an expansion of the ENABLE Build guarantee scheme, Homes England’s pilots of SME-only land sales and updating the community infrastructure levy guidance. So we are in the same place as my noble friend and we will be working with this sector very closely in the future.

My Lords, there is a specific recommendation in the excellent CMA report regarding targets:

“More objective and effective use of targets to ensure housing need is met”

are needed. With the Government caving in to pressure from Back-Benchers in the other place and scrapping housing targets, and the developers putting profit before people’s homes, will the Government now reinstate those housing targets and make a long-term plan to deliver the homes we need, preferably in the new “new towns” that the Labour Party is promoting?

My Lords, let me make it clear that we have delivered 2.5 million extra homes in the last 14 years. Since 2018, we have also delivered the four highest annual building numbers for 30 years, and we are on target for 1 million more homes in this Parliament. We are delivering, but we have been through an economic crisis. We are coming out of it, and we will start to build more homes in the future.

My Lords, the report highlights the now widespread practice by local authorities of the non-adoption of public amenities, such as roads and playgrounds, on all new-build estates. Does the Minister accept that councils have been pushed down this road by significant cuts to their budgets over many years? More importantly, what steps are the Government taking to reverse that trend, which has resulted in an explosion of unregulated management companies ripping off residents who are, in effect, paying twice for public facilities usually provided via council tax?

The noble Baroness is right and, like me, she understands this system. Since about 2015, there have been more councils that are not taking control. I believe that that is about council priorities and not about money, because not all of them have. It is up to the developers and the local planning authority to agree the appropriate funding, delivery and maintenance arrangements for these public areas. That is why, through the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, we are taking firm action to ensure that estate management companies are more accountable to their freeholders for how their money is spent.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister will have observed that the CMA noted what it said was an increase in the number of snags of a serious kind that new-home buyers are encountering. In paragraph 5.123, it makes a recommendation about how the New Homes Quality Board could be the mechanism by which the new homes ombudsman service and a mandatory code for home buyers and housebuilders could be brought forward more rapidly. I wonder whether my noble friend, in her examination of the report, will respond positively to that recommendation?

My noble friend brings up a very important point. The Government are already committed to improving redress for new-build home buyers when things go wrong. The Building Safety Act includes provision for the new homes ombudsman scheme to become statutory and to provide dispute resolution to determine complaints by buyers of new-build homes against their developers.

My Lords, the report notes that about

“60% of … houses built in 2021 to 2022 were … speculative private development”,

and acknowledges that this has widened

“the gap … between what the market will deliver and what communities need”.

Is it not the case that, to get the right home in the right place at the right price, we have to get away from this privatised model and—to address the issues the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, raised—get better quality?

That is exactly why the levelling-up Act made such an issue of every local authority having a local plan. That local—

It is no good the noble Baroness shaking her head. If you are going to have a plan-led system, which is the simplest system to navigate, you need a local plan. You need to know how many houses you need in your area, what types of houses they are and the area of land that you are going to use for housing. If local authorities have local plans, they will deliver more houses in the right place and of the right type that this country needs.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that this excellent report highlights that we need to end leasehold once and for all. We have a Bill coming forward in a few weeks’ time—I can see it there in the Leader of the House’s hands—through which we could end leasehold once and for all at a date in the future and actually promote commonhold, which is what we need in this country.

My Lords, the House will be glad to hear that the leasehold Bill left the Commons yesterday and is now here—so I cannot wait to discuss it with the noble Lord opposite. I am sure that we will discuss all these things in great detail.