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Long-Term National Housing Strategy

Volume 836: debated on Thursday 29 February 2024

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to promote a long-term national housing strategy, and to seek cross-party support to ensure its effective delivery.

My Lords, it is a great privilege to open this debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have signed up to speak. I look forward to hearing from the great wealth of expertise and experience.

We are in the midst of a housing crisis. For too many people in the UK, home is not a place of safety and security but somewhere expensive or temporary, insecure or unhealthy. There are 140,000 children living in temporary accommodation, 1.2 million households on waiting lists for social homes, and numerous young professionals consigned to be part of “generation rent”. Inadequate housing has knock-on effects throughout a person’s life: on their education, their mental and physical well-being, their relationships and their ability to put down roots. It does not have to be like this. It is worth restating that decent housing is one of the basic essentials for a fulfilled and healthy life, yet we have some of the poorest quality housing in Europe. We can do better than the current system—indeed, we must do better.

Today, I would like to put forward three steps that I believe we need to take in order to transform our housing system. First, we need a clear, shared vision of what good housing looks like. Noble Lords will be familiar with a range of policy solutions that try to address individual elements of the crisis, but we need an overarching vision. What are we working towards? A “fixed” housing system is not just about interventions that respond to symptoms of brokenness; it is about tackling root causes and creating a housing system we can all be proud of.

Although there is broad agreement that our housing system is failing, there is no clear vision of what a “good” system would look like. We might start by saying that everyone should have a home that is a place of comfort, safety and security. Our homes should sustain us and help us maintain physical and mental health. They should offer access to work opportunities and public services, to peace and quiet for relaxation, and to places to socialise with family and friends—where children can grow, play and study and achieve their full potential. In short, we might say that decent, affordable homes should be available for every household. It is possible to realise these aspirations, if all political parties and stakeholders agree on a common vision of good housing, and a road map for getting there.

That is why, secondly, we need a long-term national housing strategy. In 2021, the report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community concluded:

“Our most important recommendation is that Government should develop a coherent long term housing strategy”.

Working in parallel was the Affordable Housing Commission, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Best, whose contribution I am looking forward to hearing today. It made similar, equally strong recommendations, calling on the Government to

“make affordable housing a national priority and to put it at the centre of a national housing strategy”.

In advancing these recommendations, both commissions echoed many other recent housing investigations.

Most experts agree that the housing system is failing in substantial part due to the absence of a long-term strategy. Indeed, reactive, short-term and contradictory policy interventions have possibly exacerbated the crisis. We need an appropriate strategy to pull together disparate policy goals and short-term targets into something comprehensive, leading to realising a shared vision of good housing.

Decades of consistent action are required to address the challenges which make up the current housing crisis, because years of failure have got us into the situation we face today. It will take a generation to transform our housing, so we need to think in terms of 10, 20 or 30-year horizons. A strategy is also far more than achieving housebuilding targets. It must take into account all tenures and aspects of the current system, improving our existing stock as well as building new homes. I am confident that we can achieve this long-term vision and strategy, but it will of course take more than just good intentions.

So, thirdly, for this proposal to be effective, we will need the commitment of the main political parties and a governance mechanism to keep it on track. All parties will need to have a sense of ownership of the vision and strategy if it is to survive changes of government. That is why it must be comprehensive in offering good news for all: owner-occupiers, social housing tenants and private sector renters, as well as those with specialist housing needs.

The agreed housing strategy will require a statutory footing to ensure that it has the longevity and resilience to be carried out over a sustained period. Otherwise, policy decisions could be driven by short-term political aims, to the detriment of the long-term housing goals. One idea for putting a robust governance structure in place is to create a housing strategy committee, modelled on the existing Climate Change Committee, to provide annual progress reports to Parliament and hold the Government to account. Specific and robust targets will need to be set, based on need and the economic, political and social context at any given time.

Today I have put forward three fundamental steps which I believe will need to be taken to transform our housing system in the long term. There is no quick fix, but that does not make this response any less urgent. We must build a shared vision, a shared strategy and a shared political will to deliver it over a generation.

In my role as lead Anglican bishop for housing, I hear constantly that the housing system is broken. I am urging all political parties to rise to the challenge of fixing it today. I would welcome a commitment from each party to prioritise creating a long-term strategy for housing, and to commit equally to working with the other parties to ensure that it has cross-party and therefore long-term support. No one party will be able to turn around our broken housing system. It calls for a shared endeavour and a common commitment to prioritise current and future housing needs over short-term political advantage. I would welcome further conversations with Members from all political parties on shaping this vision, forming a strategy and ensuring that it is delivered.

I have already drawn together a steering group, which includes several noble Lords, some of whom will speak today, and work has already begun in partnership with the Nationwide Foundation on what the principles of a long-term strategy might look like. Time does not allow me to expand further, although others may yet comment; but I hope the seed may have been planted today and that the Minister will agree at least to finding out more about what we are trying to work towards.

Our homes and communities are fundamental to our lives flourishing. The current system is broken, but with long-term, concerted and coherent action, we can transform our housing system so that everyone has a decent, affordable place to call home. Let us rise together to this challenge, and together consign the current housing crisis to history.

My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on securing this debate and recognise that the Church, through the Archbishops’ Commission, is almost alone in having offered to help alleviate the problem by making land available for building.

The housing shortage is a crisis and a scandal. We talk about it, we set targets and we tinker with the planning rules, but we avoid debating one fundamental cause. The right reverend Prelate is doubtless familiar with Zen Buddhism, and with the Zen master challenging his disciple to describe the sound of one hand clapping. The answer lies in the debates in this House on housing. There is a lot of talk about housing supply and next to nothing about housing demand. We do not talk about housing demand because the increase in demand comes overwhelmingly from immigration.

A couple of decades ago, I was researching a pamphlet about the housing shortage. I discovered that we were then importing the equivalent of the population of Birmingham every decade. A few years later, we were importing the population of Birmingham every five years. Then it accelerated to the population of Birmingham every three years. Now it has reached the population of Birmingham over the last two years. Where do noble Lords plan to build a new Birmingham every two years? Unless noble Lords are prepared to answer that question, or to admit that any realistic solution must involve reducing net migration to the rough balance which prevailed before Tony Blair opened our borders, they have no moral right to participate in these debates.

I urge noble Lords to read the article by Robert Henderson in the Times on 23 February. He explains that the better-off elites, who used to display their superiority over common folk by what Veblen described as conspicuous consumption, now do so by adhering to what he describes as “luxury beliefs”, which he defines as

“ideas and opinions that confer status on the upper class at very little cost”

to them,

“while often inflicting costs on the lower classes”.

Support for mass immigration is a luxury belief. It inflicts harm on the poor, the young, and the less skilled. It means that young people cannot afford to leave home and start a family and poor people cannot get on the housing waiting lists, which have doubled, but it makes our elites, who own their own now very valuable homes, feel morally and socially superior. I hope that, in future, the right reverend Prelate will challenge this hypocrisy.

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for tabling this important debate. We are desperately in need of some consistency in decisions about housing supply, and the Church of England, along with others such as the National Housing Federation and Shelter, have led the way in calling for a long-term national housing strategy.

For those living at the sharpest end of the housing crisis, a socially rented home is the only truly affordable solution. For decades, the number of families who cannot afford a safe, secure home has been rising. There are now 8.5 million people in England who cannot access the housing they need. That includes 2 million children who are living in overcrowded, unaffordable or unsuitable homes, and record numbers of children are living in temporary accommodation.

Recent research from the National Housing Federation looks at what will happen if we do not act to put a long-term housing plan in place. By 2045, around 5.7 million households could be spending a third of their income on housing expenses—an unaffordable amount, and nearly twice the number of people doing so today. The impact of this on future generations would be stark. Both young and old would be worse off. In a society with a growing ageing population, we are already experiencing a severe shortage of homes for older people and an acute lack of specialist housing. By 2035, the number of people over the age of 60 in England will reach 29% of the entire population. Without a long-term plan for housing that accounts for changing demographic needs, by 2045 roughly 2.3 million older people could be living in homes that just do not meet their needs.

These figures offer a stark illustration of why a new long-term approach to meet housing needs in this country is urgently required. It took decades, as the right reverend Prelate said, to reach this crisis point. Clearly, it will take systemic change to solve it. Ultimately, it is a crisis that can be solved. Countries around the world are tackling similar crises, with long-term national strategies, and so can we. Such a systemic approach will happen only if there is long-term, cross-party political commitment and collaboration, and cross-Whitehall working, covering construction, planning, finance, skills, energy, net zero, health and social care, among many other things.

I support the right reverend Prelate’s call for a separate committee for housing that could put an end to the short-termism and uncertainty which has made systemic change in housing feel impossible. It must, in my view, by supported by a cross-Whitehall housing unit to end the housing crisis, on the same lines as the child poverty unit or the Social Exclusion Unit. I would welcome the Minister’s views on this, because only then can we begin to imagine a future where everyone in this country has a good-quality home that they can afford.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for initiating this debate; indeed, I thank the Church of England for re-engaging with housing issues, not just with a welcome report but in taking some practical steps to maximise its direct contribution as a major landowner and investor. I join the right reverend Prelate in seeking consensus on a forward vision to solve the nation’s acute housing problems over the longer term.

A national housing strategy would mean, irrespective of innumerable changes of Housing Minister, having agreed goals for which a road map can set out the steps ahead. This needs to take a coherent, co-ordinated and cross-departmental approach which is sustained, irrespective of political change. To devise this strategy and maintain progress toward its goals, suggested approaches have included: creating a royal commission; setting up a new Cabinet committee to bring together the seven departments which all have a housing interest; establishing a government unit with the capacity for evidence-gathering and policy advice; or, and this is my favourite, creating by statute a national housing committee, along the lines of the Climate Change Committee, to act as a watchdog that monitors progress toward fulfilling the strategy’s objectives.

Meanwhile, although having a long-term strategic vision is essential, the current situation is so dire that each step taken needs also to ease the nation’s immediate housing crisis. The best barometer of how the situation is deteriorating is the doubling of the number of households having to be placed in temporary accommodation in many areas. This means children living in insecure and often unfit properties that deeply affect schooling, employment, health and well-being, while costing the NHS and care services billions, harming the wider economy and busting the budgets of councils already in severe financial circumstances.

I conclude by recommending one measure that meets emergency needs while increasing long-term social housing provision. The Government should create a national housing conversion fund for housing associations and councils to acquire and upgrade run-down private rented properties for use as temporary accommodation now, and for the long-term growth of the social housing sector for the future, while also addressing issues of fuel poverty, health inequalities and climate change imperatives. I wholeheartedly endorse the right reverend Prelate’s plea for a national housing strategy, and I couple it with an earnest request for immediate action to ease a very real housing crisis.

My Lords, this debate is testament to a rare cross-party consensus. There is broad agreement that our housing market is socially divisive and economically debilitating. I would argue that it is the single biggest impediment to economic growth in the UK. Yet numerous strategies, initiatives and attempts at reform have consistently failed to deliver meaningful change.

The reason for that failure, I believe, is simple. Every reform has begun with the implicit belief that development needs to be planned by government dictating where we live, what type of houses we live in, and where we work and shop. Government, national or local, simply does not have the requisite knowledge, incentives or resources to do that; no single guiding mind ever could. That planned economies do not work seems to be a lesson the world never tires of learning. We plod through the standard Soviet list of excuses for failure: blame the plan, then blame the planners, then blame everybody else that you can. But the problem here is not the planners, the nimbys or even the politicians. They are symptoms of a deeper problem: planned economies do not deliver.

Some assume that the only alternative to top-down planning is free-for-all, conjuring up images of a nation covered in concrete, but there is a middle way: the same system that regulates virtually every other successful economic activity in the western world, from food to cars, computing and clothing—a carefully regulated free market that harnesses the collective intelligence and aspirations of an entire nation, but that might start with the presumption that all land is developable, but is subject to strict principle-based rules and regulations that will protect the legitimate interests of existing communities. Such a system could still have the flexibility to preserve land of outstanding natural beauty and open spaces of communal value. It can maintain the powers of local authorities to actively develop in their areas and all development would have to comply with clear rules and principles.

I have time to suggest just two. I hope that the first meets with the right reverend Prelate’s approval: it is the “love thy neighbour” principle. It simply insists that all new development does nothing to materially devalue neighbouring homes and businesses. The second, the “carry your weight” principle, requires all new development to leave infrastructure in the state in which it found it or better. Before 1947, such a free market system existed in broad terms; it delivered the architecture, streets, cities and towns that we love and cherish today. Our planning system does not need to be reformed; it needs to be replaced with better, as do so many of our buildings. Let us start afresh, put a bit more trust in each other, love the future as much as we love the past and return this nation to an age of great building of which we can be proud.

My Lords, I too congratulate the right reverend Prelate on securing this debate and an excellent speech. I agree that a long-term strategy is vital and, just in case I run out of my three minutes, the first of the three points that I want to make about long-term strategy is that it is important that its implications for other elements in society are fully thought through, because this is not just about housing. This picks up some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, just made. Secondly, it is about stability—creating a stable environment, in which people can plan and develop. Thirdly, it is about buy-in. I agree about cross-party buy-in but, if that is not possible, another form of buy-in is important: there are a lot of experts in this field and people who understand what is going on; we need to ensure that the people who really know about it are a part of any strategy that is developed. They are not necessarily sitting in Whitehall, where I have sat for some time.

A long-term strategy is vital to take all the implications into account. I come from a health background and therefore naturally think about the health implications and poor housing contributing about £1.7 billion to the costs of the NHS—as a modest estimate. I am also aware of the impacts on the environment, employment and everything else that goes with them. A long-term approach needs to take all those implications into account. Too much of what happens at the moment is tactical, and chopping and changing. Permitted development rights is precisely in that area: it is a tactical approach, whereby development might happen completely randomly by people outside the local communities, who see opportunities, come in and develop.

There is an alternative, better way of doing that, which is for the local authority, which has an interest in the area, to play a leading role in developing where such approaches take place. It is clear that there are commercial properties that could be transformed into housing.

The second point, about stability, is incredibly important to change the risk/reward balance for investors and developers. If we were able to secure a stable financial environment, we would see people able to take a smaller profit from their development in the longer term and investors, particularly those with an interest in social impact, coming in.

My third point is about buy-in. Such a strategy needs to be created with engagement, not just consultation, which government likes. The expert bodies and stakeholders should be part of developing and creating what is going to happen; some strategy should not be imposed from above.

Noble Lords should excuse me—this is my first go. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on securing this debate. This is an idea whose time has come. I spoke to a number of young people about their feelings around housing. Let us be clear: when talking about housing, one is speaking about people under the age of 40. They said that the situation completely destroys their future and they have given in. They wanted me to bring three notable points to the attention of the Committee.

However, I had to speak to them about some of the successes that the Government have had, with 2.5 million houses built over the past 14 years, though that is clearly not enough. When we talk about housing, I want to focus on the human element and the absolute drag that this has been on the development of young people in this country. If we are to have a national body, there must be political buy-in. Some things go beyond politics and this is one of them. The state of housing in this country challenges the notion that we are a civil nation. Any nation that cannot afford to house its young people and their families needs to look at what its beliefs are. We are supposedly the fifth or sixth-richest nation in the world and we are spending our money in the wrong way. Many of those points have been made here.

To have this national scheme, however, a few things should be added to that list and pursued. One is promoting family-sized homes. In our current situation, we build lots of one or two-bedroom houses, which means that family-sized homes become, relatively, even more expensive. For those people below the age of 40 and looking to start a family, this is where their focus is. If they cannot start a family, it changes their trajectory of life as they see it.

The public sector needs to be more effective in putting its surplus land into circulation to be used for housing. Again, a national scheme could identify where these pockets of land would be most useful, how they came into circulation, what level of profit was drawn from this land and so on, to help these things happen more quickly. Many local authorities feel that they have to defend the land to the point where absolutely nothing happens and no one wins.

As a Government, we have also given lots of money to development. We gave the Mayor of London £4.82 billion but we had no control. His speed of delivery was incredibly slow. He started many schemes that will not be finished until 2030. That is simply too late for most people in dire housing need in this country.

Finally, this idea needs to be seen as a national mission. Most of the social pressures that we face in this country will be greatly eased by increasing the amount of affordable, decent housing. I commend this idea to anyone and I hope we can find a way of supporting it across the political divide.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate and welcome this debate, with its purpose of promoting cross-party agreement on a national housing strategy. The long-term nature of the issue would benefit from cross-party support. In that respect, I should like to focus attention on the importance of an agreed rural housing strategy within the national planning framework. I declare my rural interests as set out in the register.

More attention to rural issues is required from all parties and housing is paramount, although it is not the only concern. Infrastructure and other policies need to be considered. Some 10 million people live in the countryside and 85% of rural businesses are not farming businesses. The opportunity exists to increase the productivity of rural areas and the growth and sustainability of these communities if there is an agreed policy on housing. For non-farming businesses to expand and to enable diversification by farmers, there is a labour requirement to support this growth. With a shortage of new, as well as affordable, homes, together with an increase in second homes and holiday lets in some areas, availability of labour can be a major problem. Therefore, responsible housing development in our villages is vital to support growth and to make these communities flourish.

An example of a policy on which we should be able to agree is to encourage rural housing exception sites—RES—with a high degree of affordable housing. So far, this has not been a successful policy due to both the expense of submitting planning applications and the high risk of their refusal. In 2022, RES delivered only 548 homes, and only 14 out of 91 rural local authorities used the policy. The recommendation is to encourage RES by granting planning permissions in principle before the applicant incurs the cost of a full planning permission. I tabled an amendment to the levelling-up Bill suggesting this, which, although warmly received by the Minister, was not accepted. I ask the Minister to reconsider.

Many other planning issues affecting rural housing need cross-party support, but I urge on this and future Governments the need for rural-proofing for housing in both local and national plans.

My Lords, I concur heartily with my noble friend Lord Lilley: we have to look at demand as well as supply, and there has to be a plan to do so. I disagree with the idea of a quango to look after this issue; Parliament must take responsibility for the failures in housing policy. Although I welcome the Government’s long-term plan for housing in areas such as brownfield development presumption and helping small and medium-sized businesses in the supply of permitted development rights, it is not enough.

I heartily deprecate the capitulation in December 2022 to the nimby wing of my party in destroying the Government’s laudable aim to build many more houses. We need to revisit the National Planning Policy Framework. In some respects, the levelling-up Bill was a missed opportunity.

I urge noble Lords to look at the CMA report published on 26 February—the focus on aesthetics and beauty, the possibility of a statutory code for the quality of homes, fairness and equality in the management of private estates, and the encumbrances and obligations of public space on people who buy homes on new estates.

There has also been quango overreach. It is a fact that 41,000 homes in Norfolk and 18,000 in Somerset are not being built because of the nutrient neutrality regulations. The Labour Party missed a trick in not supporting the Government on that issue; significant safeguards were put in place to get those houses built.

There are other issues which time does not permit me to develop, but in the long term we need to reiterate our support for public sector land being released for all types of housing tenure. That has not happened. In the other place I served on the Public Accounts Committee and, year after year, we had reports of the failure of government departments to release land properly.

We also need fiscal measures to enable, through the tax system, the building of extra care facilities for older people, in order to release the pressure on acute hospital care and to enable older people to release larger homes for young working families, for instance. Finally, we still have not done the work we should have properly done on residential estate investment trusts. International comparisons show that they work abroad to leverage serious amounts of money into good-quality, sustainable private sector lettings.

We will have an opportunity to develop these issues in the debate on 14 March, sponsored by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, in which I very much hope to take part.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the gap. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford on her good idea of a committee. I do not regard it is a quango; the comparison with the environmental committee is a good one.

The Government’s latest approach, building on brownfield sites, will not help thousands of young people in rural areas. Does the Minister support the concept of community land trusts, which require young people to live and work there for three years to get one-third off the purchase price of their home, which, if they sell, goes back into the community?

The Financial Times recently published an article pointing out that building social housing saves money overall. The total cost of housing benefit is billions of pounds, which could be saved. It is a really important point, and I would welcome the Minister commenting on that issue.

We can meet housing targets, although it requires an imaginative approach. My party is heading in the right direction when it talks about freeing up land. There is plenty of greenbelt land that could be built on. You need long-term projects, and I make no apologies for referring to a project near me in Southall, built by Berkeley Homes. It is a 25-year project, and one of the largest brownfield regeneration projects in west London, working with Hillingdon and Ealing local authorities. It is a 25-year project, successfully delivering the first phase of 623 homes, 50% of which are affordable. It is an absolutely beautiful site, where work is being done to link in with the local environment and ensure that there is very little use of cars.

We desperately need more housing in London. If you come in on the train, as I did this morning, you will see thousands and thousands of flats. Interestingly, hardly any of them are available for people. Why is that? It is because speculation is taking place. In Norway, you have to live in the country to be able to invest in housing, and the Government should ensure that that approach is taken in this country.

We can solve this problem. We did it after the war, and we can do it again. It is certainly a vitally important project.

My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to the right reverend Prelate’s timely debate. She has worked hard behind the scenes to build the necessary cross-party consensus on the delivery of a long-term housing strategy, and she spoke on it very eloquently today. I have a strong temptation to respond to some of the thoughtful and provocative contributions to the debate, but my actual job is to respond briefly on behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, so I shall forebear on that.

The Liberal Democrats share the right reverend Prelate’s belief that every person should have an affordable roof over their heads, and we also share her analysis that, despite the good intentions of politicians of practically every stripe, some of which have been well demonstrated here, we remain a very long way from achieving a good outcome. Outright homelessness is rising, precarious tenancies are mushrooming, social housing waiting lists are lengthening, and too many first-time buyers are squeezed out by escalating prices, then knocked out by fluctuating mortgage rates.

The state is spending billions of pounds supporting tenants’ rent payments, and billions more subsidising buyers’ mortgage payments, but still the housing crisis persists, with all its malign consequences. Given that painful analysis, the right reverend Prelate is clearly right to call for a new approach: a long-term housing strategy that addresses the problems, not just for one Parliament, one Secretary of State or one Housing Minister, but for a generation. That is what is needed to give the certainty, sense of purpose and drive to all those who are not politicians and who have to play a part in delivering the outcomes needed: the construction and development industries—

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Do the Liberal Democrats believe that the long-term strategy should include controlling demand as well as supply?

I think that the noble Lord is inviting me to enter into a debate about the merits of immigration and whether or not we want more nurses and doctors, or our universities to have any money from overseas fees. That is an entirely different debate, which I shall steer wide of, if I may.

If we are going to have a flourishing and successful housing strategy and policy, we have to engage owners and landlords, and get the skills sector, the planners and local communities on board, and we have to get the vital financial sector to play a part. At the moment, none of those can contribute their best because they are falling back on reactive responses to the short-term decisions taken in this building, when what they need to see is a durable and credible strategic vision.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, standing aside from the political fray, has been bold enough to tell us that, unless we can co-operate to deliver a broad consensus that can survive the day-to-day political battles, there will be no end to the housing crisis. Some of us are working cross-party to see how that might be achieved. It is still work in progress, and I want to hear from the Minister that she and the latest Housing Minister will keep their minds open to the opportunity the right reverend Prelate’s initiative gives them to play an important role in delivering a long-term housing strategy that reaches rather further than the forthcoming general election.

My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for securing this important debate today and for all her work in this area.

We debate aspects of housing on many occasions in your Lordships’ House, and rightly so, as we are in the middle of an extreme housing crisis. It is utterly shameful that we have 88 families a day being accepted as homeless by local councils, six times as many families as there are social homes being built. The housing benefit bill has doubled and some councils are spending 40% of their budget on emergency housing.

The reason for the many debates goes to the heart of the topic today: there simply is no national vision or strategy for housing driving the change that we want to see. Contrast that with the vision of the post-war Labour Government, who not only built my new town, Stevenage, but drove national consensus between 1945 and 1980 and saw local authorities and housing associations build 4.4 million social homes—more than 126,000 a year. By 1983, that supply had halved to just over 44,000 a year and last year it was less than 10,000.

We see a piecemeal approach to housing, whereby Bills are introduced to provide sticking plasters for some of the issues facing us, but even those get watered down as the Government cave in to vested interests. I agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jackson, about housing targets. We now have a Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, which we were told would confine the archaic tenure of leasehold to history but does nothing of the sort. We have a Renters (Reform) Bill, which should have scrapped the dreadful Section 21 evictions that leave renters so insecure but is currently stalled.

Planning departments, which should be at the heart of creating local visions for their areas, assessing the need for housing and making the short-term and long-term plans to deliver, have been starved of funding through successive years of savage local government funding cuts. Just this week, we have seen two important reports which set out some of the key issues. The CMA report illustrates a point made so well by the noble Lord, Lord Best, in relation to the findings of the Letwin review—and I hope that the noble Lord will not mind me quoting him. He said that

“we have handed over the decision-making process for all major housing developments to the oligopoly of volume housebuilders. These companies initiate each new scheme: they secure the land, they produce their plans and they build their development, in their own time and at a speed that suits them”.—[Official Report, 17/11/22; col. 1062.]

We have also had the outstanding report by the National Housing Federation and Shelter, setting out the clear economic and social reasons for a surge in the delivery of social housing.

We all know that a safe, warm, secure and affordable home is the foundation for every individual, family and community to thrive. That is where our vision and our strategy for housing should start. My party will get Britain building again and recover the dream of home ownership with a housing recovery plan and a blitz of planning reform to quickly boost housebuilding to buy and rent and deliver the biggest boost to affordable housing in a generation. We will have the next generation of new towns, with a package of devolution and stronger local powers over planning, a planning passport for urban brownfield development and first dibs for first-time buyers, supporting younger people with a government-backed mortgage guarantee scheme.

I hope that we can build a consensus and the mechanism to maintain it. After 27 years as a councillor, my passion for the power of good housing to unlock the potential of individuals, families and communities is undimmed. It is time to renew our vision, our focus and our inspiration so that everyone in our country, and indeed future generations, will have the opportunity of a home that enhances their dignity.

My Lords, I am pleased to respond to this Question for Short Debate. I start by thanking all noble Lords for their contributions and, in particular, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for bringing forward this important debate. I know that she has taken a keen interest in this issue over a long period and I thank her personally and on behalf of the Government for her leadership on this matter and for developing proposals to release more church land in particular for affordable housing. It really is recognised and appreciated.

In light of the comments from across the Committee, I assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to delivering more of the right homes in the right places. We have a long-term strategy that we are delivering and a strong record to build from. In fact, the four highest annual rates of housing supply in the last 30 years have all come since 2018 and we are on track to meet our manifesto commitment to build 1 million homes this Parliament.

The long-term strategy for housing that we committed to in July 2023 encompasses all tenures and supports households right across the country. In this strategy, we are regenerating our most treasured towns and cities, starting with London, Leeds and Cambridge. We are giving communities a voice in what development happens in their area and where.

In particular, quality is key to this strategy. We are introducing the most comprehensive reforms that the private rented sector has seen in 30 years through the Renters (Reform) Bill, including applying the decent homes standard across the private rented sector for the first time to ensure that every home is safe, decent and warm. We are also delivering on one of our core commitments: the Government are liberating leaseholders through the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill, expanding the rights of leaseholders to enfranchise and take back control from distant freeholders.

We know that increasing supply is critical, especially of affordable housing. That is why I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Best, will acknowledge that our £11.5 billion affordable homes programme is delivering tens of thousands of affordable homes to rent and to buy, alongside the £1 billion brownfield, infrastructure and land fund and an additional £4.2 billion through the housing infrastructure fund to support new development. Separately, we are also providing £1.2 billion to the local authority housing fund to support refugees and those at risk of homelessness, on top of almost £2.4 billion this spending review period to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

To further support our ambitions on supply, the Secretary of State announced changes to the National Planning Policy Framework in December 2023 and set firm expectations for local authority planning performance. Also, just two weeks ago the Housing Secretary announced new commitments to boost brownfield development across the country to help to provide the right homes in the right places.

I will try to respond to as many of the specific questions as possible, so apologies if I miss anybody out. If I do, we will try to cover those by reading Hansard afterwards and replying in writing.

In no particular order—my pile of sheets is fairly huge—the first sheet in front of me is in response to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on cross-party support, which many noble Lords mentioned, including the right reverend Prelate. What have we done to seek cross-party support while developing the long-term strategy? I suggest that we have sought cross-party support at every step of the way across all the principles underpinning our long-term strategy for housing. We have engaged in lively debate in both Houses on our legislative programme, including most recently on the Renters (Reform) Bill and the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill to strengthen these key pieces of legislation and ensure that we get them right. We have laid Written Ministerial Statements, setting out our policy intentions to both Houses to scrutinise, and we have published consultations inviting views from all to ensure that we are listening to a spectrum of views as we strive to deliver good homes in great places to live and work.

Many noble Lords mentioned cross-Whitehall collaboration and it is fair to say that we work in this way. Very many departments are involved in this work, which is ongoing and continuous. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, also commented on permitted development rights. I agree: we need to look for all alternative forms of new homes. Permitted development rights give us a way to deliver those more quickly, in many instances.

Last summer we issued a consultation on PDR amendments to support housing delivery, including potential changes to the PDR, which would allow the change of use of commercial premises to residential. Following the analysis of the consultation responses, we have amended Class MA to remove the 1,500 square metre limit on the amount of floor space that can change use under the right, and removed the requirement that the premises need to be vacant for at least three months before an application for prior approval can be made. I hope, therefore, that there is some support for that, as changing some of these permitted development rights is making an important contribution to the delivery of new homes across the country, with 104,000 new homes having been delivered under these rights in the eight years to March 2023. I hope that will expand and accelerate under the new proposals.

My noble friend Lord Bailey mentioned young people. Indeed, first-time buyer numbers have been steadily improving over the last decade, and in 2021 we saw the highest number of transactions in 20 years. However, there is more that can be done and, I hope, is being done. We are committed to providing a secure path to home ownership by increasing the number of first-time buyers, helping people access homes and make true freehold ownership the standard. Since 2010, over 876,000 households have been helped to purchase a home through government schemes, including Help to Buy, right to buy and shared ownership.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, mentioned various schemes, but in particular those for key workers. Our first homes programme is designed to help local first-time buyers in their locale and indeed key workers on to the property ladder by offering homes at a discount of at least 30% compared to the market value.

My noble friends Lord Bailey and Lord Jackson, and others, mentioned public sector land. We are setting up a new public sector land for housing programme which will release land for at least 15,000 homes this year and the next, and we have been working with large landowning departments—

I am grateful to the Minister for outlining some of the Government’s response to the crisis, and indeed for referencing their own long-term strategy. Does she agree that seeking to find cross-party support for their long-term strategy is different from sitting down and working together cross-party towards the creation of a long-term strategy, with a national housing committee, that would report progress and seek to hold the Government of the day, of whatever party, to account?

I appreciate the sense and sentiment behind that; therefore, although I am not personally familiar with the issue, I will take it back to the department to discuss where we are at. But I point out that this is a sensitive area in which collaboration is really important, not just with government at the highest level, but with local government and delivery partners, so collaboration is in the DNA of this. We need to figure out how this is going to work; however, I will come back on this issue when I have spoken to the department.

Returning to the issue of public sector land, we have been working with larger landowning departments, including the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as with Homes England, to establish this new programme. These departments, along with the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, will come together in a new ministerial task force to ensure delivery by March 2025.

On affordable housing supply, to give some historical context, since 2010 we have delivered over 696,100 new affordable homes, including over 482,000 affordable homes for rent, of which 172,000-plus are for social rent. In the period from 1997 to 2010, some 557,000 affordable homes were delivered. The Government are on track to deliver their target of building around 250,000 affordable homes—

The Minister does not seem to wish to address the points I raised at the beginning of the debate, but did she note that all the speakers opposite seem to believe in a Zen housing strategy involving only one hand clapping? Supply side does not address demand, even though that requires us to build the equivalent of Birmingham every two years just to cope with incomers, before we build a single house to deal with the existing problems the right reverend Prelate so eloquently enunciated at the beginning. Is the Minister a Zen planner too?

I can assure my noble friend that I am not a Zen planner. However, I am a realist, and I am faced with a multiplicity of policy responses to the rise in demand, no matter where it comes from. The Government do consider the demand and supply side, which form part of our long-term strategy.

We challenged the term “affordable housing” during the passage of the levelling-up Bill. It is still being used constantly, as though using it means that the housing is affordable to anyone, which it absolutely is not. Can we please have a bit of caution over the use of that term?

I note the noble Baroness’s comments on the definition of that terminology. It is not mine—it is a term the department uses—but I will query its definition.

On overall delivery, £11.5 billion was made available in the affordable homes programme and it will deliver thousands of affordable homes to rent and buy across the country. Local authorities also have a crucial role to play in increasing the supply of social housing. That is why, in 2023-24, we introduced a package of flexibilities for how local authorities can spend their right-to-buy receipts. We implemented a preferential rate for borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board for building council houses, which has been extended until June 2025.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, raised the issue of rural housing, as did the noble Lord, Lord Young. We delivered more than 268,000 affordable homes in rural communities in England between 2010 and March 2023. Of the £11.5 billion we are investing, £7.5 billion will be outside London. That will help boost the supply of affordable housing in rural communities. We recognise that development of affordable housing in rural areas can be costlier and riskier; therefore, the Government are trying to help partners with their funding.

I am now out of time, but there are several pages of points I have not got to. I reassure noble Lords that the Government are delivering a long-term housing strategy that provides safe, decent, warm and beautiful homes for communities across the country. We are determined to work with the housing sector, local authorities and all of your Lordships to make our ambition a reality.

Sitting suspended.