With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on planning reforms that will help to get our country building and deliver the right homes, in the right places, of the right quality—it cannot happen soon enough. An entire generation are the victims of a housing crisis as prices and rents race ahead of supply. In 2017, the average house price in England was nearly eight times the average income, and families in their early 30s are half as likely as their parents to own their home. This does not just hold these people back—it holds our country back. For young people in this country, it is, frankly, disheartening, when they do not see that their hard work is being rewarded, and they see the dream of a home of their own, which is something our parents took for granted, remaining just that—a dream. In those circumstances, it is hard for people to feel that they have a stake in society, and we all lose out when that happens.
That is why this Government have taken action on all fronts to turn this situation around, and those efforts are starting to bear fruit. We inherited a situation in 2010 in which annual house building had fallen to its lowest level in peacetime. Since then, we have delivered more than 1 million homes, and last year saw an increase in housing supply in England of over 217,000 new homes. That is the biggest increase in annual housing supply in all but one of the past 30 years, with planning permissions on a high and set to boost these numbers even further.
We have helped hundreds of thousands of people on to the housing ladder through Help to Buy. We are working to encourage landlords to offer longer tenancies and promoting more homes for rent on a family-friendly basis, with three-year tenancies in our build-to-rent schemes. We are cracking down on rogue landlords and the abuse of leaseholds, and we are taking steps to make renting fairer and to tackle homelessness through earlier intervention. We have launched a new, more assertive national housing agency, Homes England. We have launched an independent review, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin), into the gap between planning permissions granted and homes actually built. We are putting billions into the affordable homes programme, and we are delivering essential infrastructure through the new housing infrastructure fund.
We know, however, that there is still a lot more to do to deliver 300,000 homes a year in England by the middle of the next decade. Of course, planning is an important part of that journey, and today we are taking the crucial next steps with the launch of consultations on the revised national planning policy framework and on the reform of developer contributions. These are measures that set out a bold, comprehensive approach for building more homes, more quickly, in the places where people actually want to live—homes that are high quality and well designed that people are proud to live in and proud to live next door to and that are at the heart of strong, thriving communities. There will be much clearer expectations on local authorities and developers to deliver their commitment to unlock land, fulfil planning permissions, provide essential infrastructure, and turn those dreams of a decent, secure, affordable home into reality.
The revised NPPF implements around 80 reforms that we announced last year and retains an emphasis on development that is both sustainable and locally led, but it also involves a number of significant changes. For the first time, all local authorities will be expected to assess housing need using the same methodology—that is a big improvement on the current situation in which different councils calculate housing need in different ways, wasting time and taxpayers’ money. A standardised approach will establish a level playing field and give us a much clearer, more transparent understanding of the challenge we face. But perhaps one of the biggest shifts is a change in culture towards a focus on outcomes achieved—the number of homes delivered in an area—rather than on processes such as planning permissions. As it becomes easier to make plans more streamlined and strategic, this culture change will encourage local authorities to work together to meet their communities’ needs.
We are also confirming the important protections of neighbourhood plans—plans that are produced by local communities—which we introduced in December 2016 to guard against speculative applications. And we are going further, beyond the reforms we previously consulted on. We are giving local authorities the tools to make the most of existing developed land, with an even stronger drive for increasing density, particularly in areas where housing need is high. We will support those councils that wish to build upwards, but not at the expense of quality—high design standards that communities are happy to embrace will remain a priority.
The reforms also include more flexibility to develop brownfield land in the green belt to meet affordable housing need with no harm to the openness of the green belt. Even the mention of the words “green belt” may cause some concern, but let me assure right hon. and hon. Members that this is about building homes on sites that have previously been developed, not about compromising in any way existing protections that govern the green belt. Our green spaces are precious and deserve our protection, which is why the Government are also delivering today on our manifesto commitment to give stronger protection to ancient woodland, which demonstrates that we do not have to choose between improving the environment and delivering the homes we need—we can do both.
We are raising the bar across the board. We are protecting our natural world and making local authorities more ambitious and accountable so that places such as London no longer deliver far fewer homes than they need. In areas such as the capital, where demand and affordability are going in different directions, it is especially important that there should be less talk and more action—action that is more strategic and more realistic about housing need, with stronger leadership to bring people together across sectors and boundaries.
That said, the issue is not all about local government. Developers must also step up to help us to continue to close the gap between planning permissions granted and homes built. In doing so, it is vital that developers know what contributions they are expected to make towards affordable housing and essential infrastructure, and that local authorities can hold them to account. However, we all know of instances of developers making such promises but later claiming that they cannot afford them. In truth, the current complex and uncertain system of developer contributions makes it too easy for them to do just that, and it puts off new entrants to the market. That is not good enough, which is why we propose major reforms to developer contributions.
As part of our reforms, areas will be able to agree a five-year land supply position for a year, reducing the need for costly planning appeals involving speculative applications. I also recognise that swift and fair decisions are important at appeal, so I will shortly announce an end-to-end review of the planning appeal inquiries process with the aim of seeing what needs to be done to halve the time for an inquiry to conclude, while ensuring that the process remains fair.
There are other areas where we are considering pushing boundaries to really boost housing supply, including a new permitted development right for building upwards to provide new homes, and by finding more effective ways of supporting farmers to diversify and support the rural economy. The strong focus throughout is on making sure that we are exploring all avenues to meet everyone’s housing needs. That could mean implementing an exception site policy to help more people on to the housing ladder; giving older people a better choice of accommodation; promoting build to rent; or encouraging local policies for affordable homes that cater for essential workers such as our nurses and police.
By giving everyone—whether they are renting or buying, in the social or private sector—a stake in our housing market, we give everyone a stake in our society. That is why I encourage right hon. and hon. Members, and anyone who wants to see today’s generation enjoy the same opportunities as their parents, to get involved and contribute to the consultations that we have announced today. They will run until 10 May, and I look forward to announcing the implementation of the national planning policy framework in the summer.
I am confident that the bold and ambitious measures that we are proposing will have a huge impact not just on the number of homes built but, ultimately, on people’s prospects and our prospects as a country. They will ensure that local authorities or developers can no longer be in any doubt about where they stand, what is expected of them and what they must do to help to fix our broken housing market and deliver the homes that the people of this country need and deserve. I commend this statement to the House.
I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement.
Today, once again, we have seen the Government bringing forward proposals that tinker with the planning system in yet another vain attempt to look as though they are doing something about the housing and infrastructure crisis that the country is facing, which is largely of their making. Let us be clear about the scale of the problem. Many communities up and down the country do not have the homes that they need. Since 2010, the number of rough sleepers in England has nearly trebled from 1,700 to almost 5,000 last year. The number of households living in temporary accommodation has also risen almost continuously since 2010, with the latest stats showing that there are 79,000 households in temporary accommodation, including 121,000 children. For many areas, wages-to-mortgage differentials are as high as one to 10, leaving those on or below average wages unable to afford to buy a house of their own—that is happening under a Tory Government.
New house building rates have, for many years, been only half of what we need, and nowhere near the 300,000 homes needed to keep pace with demand. Planning needs to deliver not only new homes, but new communities. Planning should be about designing places in which people want to live and work where there are environmental and leisure amenities, and where quality of life is high on the agenda, but the Government are failing at that, too.
As the Local Government Association has pointed out, planning departments have borne the brunt of cuts to local government, leaving many hugely under-resourced to meet the everyday tasks of assessing planning applications, building control and place-based policy- making. This results in poor planning and a lack of engagement with the communities that are most affected by planning decisions. As the Conservative chair of the LGA, Lord Porter, has said, the problem is not about planning and planning permissions. In the past year, councils and their communities granted nearly twice as many planning permissions as the number of new homes that were completed. More than 423,000 homes with planning permission are still waiting to be built. The truth is that councils are approving nine in 10 planning applications, which shows that the planning system is not a barrier to building, so the Government’s proposal of stripping councils of their right to decide where development takes place is not only unhelpful, but misguided.
The increase in permitted development, as set out in today’s proposals, takes the community voice out of planning altogether, so that the general view of people is that planning is something that is done to them, not something that they have any say in whatsoever. By contrast, Labour wants to empower communities, putting them at the heart of decision making, with neighbourhood plans central to a new streamlined system of plan making. What we need is a radical approach to deliver 21st century communities, and that is what Labour would do. We would invest in a new generation of garden cities and new towns, putting local councils in the driving seat of spearheading new settlements, unlike the Conservative party, which has talked warm words about new towns and garden cities for many years but, despite more than seven years in office, has barely produced enough homes for a new street, never mind a new town. The Secretary of State has said that
“along that corridor, there is an opportunity to build at least four or five garden towns and villages.”
What does he mean by “along that corridor”? How long will it take for us to see the start of a new settlement, never mind it being built?
Labour will look at the Government’s proposals in detail, but we know that we need something much bolder than what we have seen today. I am talking about real policies to address land banking, as set out in our Lyons report almost a decade ago, with incentives for timely delivery and sanctions on developers whose build-out rate is too slow. We need a reformed planning system that puts communities and brownfield first and does not bypass local people with more and more permitted development and a lack of involvement in policy making.
We also need a robust policy platform that addresses not just the quantity of new homes, but their quality, and that delivers the infrastructure they need to work as sustainable and inclusive communities. An investment programme in local authority housing is needed, so that good-quality housing can once again be provided for working people, not at the Government’s inflated “affordable” rents, but at social rents that people can afford. We will make viability assessments transparent, so that developers cannot avoid their obligations to deliver affordable housing and other community benefits.
We have a vision of a built environment for the future, not a set of outdated measures that have so spectacularly failed to deliver in the past. If the Secretary of State really wants to spearhead a housing revolution, he will need to do much better than this.
The hon. Lady started by saying that many communities do not have the homes that they need—I agree. I have been saying that for a long time, which is why we have been taking action on many fronts and why we have announced this action today. Let us explore what the hon. Lady meant, because she cannot ignore the huge role that the Government of which she was a part, formed by the party that she supports, played in the housing crisis facing this country.
From 1997 to 2010, the average house price rose from three and a half times average earnings to seven times such earnings. That is Labour’s legacy. Labour, more than anyone else, has created that crisis of unaffordability. When the shadow Secretary of State was Housing Minister, house building fell to its lowest level in our peacetime history since the 1920s, and social housing fell by 421,000 units. We will not take any lectures from the Opposition about how to deal with a housing crisis that they helped to create. Their policies are about rent controls and the requisition of private property. They have no ideas.
The hon. Lady is right that there is an issue with resources in planning departments, but she is also wrong, because we have already dealt with that issue. Perhaps she did not notice that local authorities are able to increase their planning fees by at least 20% as long as that money is put back into their planning departments. That measure has been welcomed not just by local authorities, but throughout the industry.
The hon. Lady says that the planning process is not part of the problem, but she has clearly not been listening to what the problem is. She has not been out there talking to local authorities and developers, or finding out what communities actually think. If she had, she would know that local authorities in England are together planning for 169,000 houses a year, which is nowhere near the number that we need. We need a change in the formula, so that we get the right number of homes in the right places.
The hon. Lady talked about the importance of giving communities a greater say. That is great, because this is the first time that I have heard that she is supporting our neighbourhood planning process—thank you very much. She also talked about garden cities, towns and villages, and she was right, so I thank her again for supporting our policy, as that is exactly what we are proposing up and down the country. Lastly, she mentioned that brownfield land must be the priority. Again, that is our policy—thank you very much for your support.
Wokingham Borough Council, the unitary authority in my area, has issued a very large number of planning permissions—well above its five-yearly amounts under the plan—but the build rate has not always been high enough. Will the Secretary of State help such local authorities through experiments to find ways of increasing the build rate, so that homes are built where they are agreed to be built, rather than granting on appeal houses elsewhere where there would not be the same infrastructure contribution and the same ability to fit in with the plan?
My right hon. Friend raises a real and important issue, which he knows I have discussed with his local authority. The measures subject to the consultations that we are announcing today will certainly help with that problem. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset will provide further help when he reports back on the work that he is doing.
While there is always more to do, in Scotland the SNP has led the UK on housing, delivering nearly 71,000 affordable homes since 2007—a supply of affordable housing that is a third higher per head of population than in England. Has the Secretary of State learned any lessons from the SNP Government’s successful building programme?
Scrapping the right to buy has allowed the Scottish Government to improve our council housing stock. Over the past five years, more council houses for social rent have been delivered across 32 local authority areas in Scotland than across 326 local authority areas in England. Will the Secretary of State, rather than extending the right to buy, further reducing housing supply, follow Scotland’s lead and abolish it?
The PM has complained about people being unable to buy houses. Does the Secretary of State regret the fact that his Government’s Housing and Planning Act 2016 downgraded the term “affordable housing” no longer to take account of what people can afford?
The hon. Lady asked whether the Government have learned anything from the Scottish National party’s approach to housing. The answer is no. She asked about the right to buy. Again, we have not learned anything from the SNP on that, because it follows exactly the wrong policy. We believe that it is a good thing to allow people to buy their homes.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and look forward to contributing to the consultation. Can he reaffirm the assurances given to me by the Prime Minister that the strongest possible protections for areas of outstanding natural beauty and for green-belt and designated land will continue—for example, in my constituency, which is 80% green belt and 72% AONB? Can he assure me that he will consider the fragility of such special landscapes and protect them, not just for the people who live in the area but for the tens of thousands of visitors who come to the Chilterns from urban areas to enjoy the countryside?
I can give my right hon. Friend the assurances that she seeks, because I stand here not just as Housing Secretary but as the Member of Parliament for Bromsgrove—a constituency that is 92% green belt, so I do understand the issues. I hope that she will welcome the changes that we have put into the consultation to make it absolutely clear that there must be a brownfield-first policy and that before any local authority can even consider green belt, it must demonstrate that it has looked at all other viable alternatives.
The Secretary of State’s proposals allow councils to require a development to start within two years. I welcome that, but a start is not a completed home. Will he consider giving councils the power to set annual house completion deadlines when they grant planning consent? Will he reassure me that councils will be able to require fibre-to-home broadband on all developments to replace the outdated copper service that too many owners of newly built properties have to accept?
We have been very concerned about speed of development from planning permission to home, and the measures announced today will help with that. I also await the outcome of the independent review that has already begun. On broadband, I absolutely accept the need to make sure that all homes—existing homes, of course, and certainly all our new homes—have access to the best possible broadband. We are working very closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on that.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement because I know that this is not an easy area, having practised in it professionally. Recently, I sent out a survey to 12,000 households in Cirencester. They told me in large numbers that they wanted more affordable housing and, above all, more infrastructure to meet the huge development that they are about to have. What can he say about developers’ contributions to meeting my constituents’ aspirations?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is absolutely right to raise this issue. The private sector plays a huge role in infrastructure and provision of affordable homes, especially when it carries out the so-called viability assessments. We are not happy with the way that that process has worked, and that is why we started the consultation on it. At the end of that consultation, I believe, will be an outcome where we are much more easily able to hold the developers to account and make sure that they will actually deliver what they said right at the start.
Does the Secretary of State agree with the Conservative leader of the Local Government Association, Gary Porter, who said this weekend:
“If we want more houses, we have to build them, not plan them”,
and that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government needs to “push back against” the Treasury,
“or the nonsense will go on and nothing will change”?
If he does agree, why has he allowed affordable housing funding from his Ministry to be handed back to the Treasury, rather than spent on critically needed affordable homes?
I agree that to build the homes we need, we need to plan them properly, and that is what these reforms are about. The hon. Lady suggested that the Ministry handed money back. Among the underspend that she and her hon. Friends have mentioned was £65 million that was returned by the Greater London Authority because it did not spend it. That money was returned by the Mayor of London, so perhaps she wants to ask him why he returned funding.
One of the first actions taken by the Conservatives when they returned to government in 2010 was to introduce greater planning protection for back gardens. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that there is nothing in his announcement today that will in any way undermine that or encourage garden-grabbing development?
What was last said on that, by the Chancellor at the Budget, has not changed. We have accepted the recommendation of the National Infrastructure Commission of up to five new garden towns and villages along the corridor. We have not yet decided exactly how that will be done or where they will be. Obviously, the placement of the infrastructure that goes alongside that is important, and I can reassure the hon. Lady that as we work on that, Parliament will be involved.
I welcome the Office for National Statistics methodology for determining housing need, as originally set out in the Local Plans Expert Group, of which I was a member. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether there have been any changes between the original formula and the formula that will now go into guidance?
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work he has done on planning and all the advice he continues to provide. I can assure him that the formula we have set out today in the draft NPPF is no different from the one that was set out in the September consultation.
There are 19,334 hectares of unused, unloved, ungreen green-belt land around London’s train stations—enough to build 1 million homes. On the day that the Daily Mirror announced that £1.1 billion was spent on horrible temporary accommodation last year, is it not right that that land should be used to provide homes in the areas people want to live in?
While encouraging people to build up, not out, through changes to planning guidelines is certainly welcome, does the Secretary of State agree that it will not be enough to solve Britain’s housing crisis on its own? When does he expect to bring forward the changes he mentioned to permitted development, and will they be broad, brave and radical enough to cut through the red tape that is holding Britain’s builders back?
I welcome the push for simplification and increased transparency on viability assessments, but it is hard to see what they will do for London boroughs such as Greenwich, where the publication of such assessments is already mandatory. At the heart of this matter is the issue of developer returns. Given the scale of the housing crisis in London, does the Secretary of State really think it is acceptable that developers use viability assessments to drive down levels of affordable housing simply because to do otherwise would limit their profits to below 20%?
I do not think it is acceptable that developers do not meet the commitments they set out at the start. Particularly in London, we have seen too many examples of where a particular percentage of a development was set out for affordable housing and that was not met, based on the way in which the assessment process currently works. That is why I hope the hon. Gentleman will support the process we have set out today, which will have greater standardisation and much more transparency.
We need more housing, and neighbourhood planning has produced more houses than expected. Does my right hon. Friend agree that speculative development can undermine democratically agreed neighbourhood plans, and will his proposals ensure that the neighbourhood plans are upheld?
My right hon. Friend should be reassured that what we have set out today gives greater strength to neighbourhood plans. He makes a very important point. We have found with neighbourhood plans that when we give communities a bigger say, in many cases they actually accept even more development. So far, we have found that that is, on average, about 10% more development.
In 1909, Winston Churchill spoke in favour of a land value tax, saying that landlords sit on it and basically do nothing while public money is used to enhance an area and the land value increases. Today, developers are again sitting on almost 1 million housing plots and drawing rewards for being idle, while young people face a lifetime of housing insecurity and high prices. Is it not time for the Government to look again at the benefits of land value taxation?
The hon. Lady may be interested in the consultation on developer contributions that we have set out today. I am sure she will agree that developer contributions are a type of tax on developers, because they are expected to provide infrastructure or affordable housing, and in some cases both. If she is really interested in this issue, I urge her to look at that consultation.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer to our right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan), which was that councils will be able to amend green-belt boundaries only if they can prove that they have fully explored every other reasonable option for building the homes that their community needs. Will he, however, confirm that the new national planning policy framework goes even further, explicitly saying that housing need does not trump issues such as areas of outstanding natural beauty, sites of special scientific interest and the green belt, so councils cannot be forced to amend their green-belt boundaries by the Planning Inspectorate in those circumstances if they do not wish to do so and they have explored every other option?
The assurance I can give my hon. Friend is that what we have set out today makes it absolutely clear—even clearer than before—that brownfields should be the absolute priority, and any council wanting to look beyond brownfield must demonstrate that it has looked at all other reasonable opportunities, but this puts councils in control of how exactly they meet their need. When my hon. Friend has the opportunity and time to go through this in more detail, I hope he will be even more reassured.
Is it not the case that, in high-demand, high-price areas such as Manchester city centre, the measure of affordability is not really affordable for many local residents—that is why we have our own assessment of what affordability is in Manchester—and that to deliver truly affordable homes, we need more state intervention and more Government money, and we need to allow local government to borrow in order to build?
I have to disagree with the hon. Lady in that this is not all about more Government money. First, Government money for affordable housing has increased: we increased the budget last year from £7 billion to £9 billion. Government money of course has a role to play, but I hope she will agree that the only way to get houses that are truly affordable in this country—whether in Manchester or elsewhere—is to increase supply and make sure that it is increased at a sustainable level.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s confirmation to our right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) that these reforms will not diminish the national policy protection for back gardens. Perhaps he will remind the Mayor of London that any amendments he proposes to the London plan are subject to that national policy.
I will certainly be reminding the Mayor of London of a number of things, especially as he recently published his draft London plan, which I do not think is ambitious enough. I do not think it is realistic, so I will take the opportunity when I discuss it with him to also remind him of my hon. Friend’s point.
Does the Secretary of State accept that one way to provide affordable housing is through local authorities? They are not asking for more grants; they are just asking to be able to borrow more where they have the asset base, to allow them to solve the problem of affordability in their areas. Does he agree with that?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that local authorities have an important role to play, and not just in the planning system. We welcome local authorities wanting to develop more council houses, which is one reason why in the recent Budget the Chancellor increased local authorities’ ability to borrow by £1 billion.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. In the context of his reforms, can he reassure residents in Halesowen of the absolute continuation of protection for the green belt in his proposals, in particular around “exceptional circumstances”? Local authority planners have often used it in a loose way to justify changes to green belt boundaries. Does he agree that we need a rigorous way of defining what we mean by exceptional circumstances when it comes to redefining the green belt?
I can give my hon. Friend some reassurances on that. We have been clear and have set out, I think for the first time, all the hurdles that need to be cleared to meet the definition of exceptional circumstances. Brownfield is an absolute priority, and we have talked about the importance of density and making sure that neighbouring authorities have been talked to, with a statement of common ground. I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that the green belt retains maximum protection.
For two years, the Secretary of State has failed to determine the future of the Earl’s Court development, one of the biggest in the UK. The choice is between demolishing 750 council homes and building luxury homes with only 10% so-called affordable and no new social housing, and letting the existing residents keep their homes and develop the rest of the site for new social homes. It should not be that difficult a choice, so could we have some action and not just words?
I cannot comment on that particular planning proposal—it is a live proposal—but the hon. Gentleman should reflect. If he truly supports more homes and developments in London, perhaps he should have a chat with the leader of his party and ask why they intimidate Labour leaders who want to increase the number of homes in their areas.
I welcome the review of development controls, because at the moment far too many developers get away with making no contribution at all. May I ask the Secretary of State about land banking? He will be familiar from his days in Bristol with Oldbury Court estate in my constituency. An owner in the Channel Islands has been sitting on the site for 10 years, renewing planning permission but seemingly refusing to develop it. What can we do to ensure that developers build houses on the brownfield sites they own?
I empathise very much with the issue that the hon. Lady has raised. It is an issue in many local areas, not just Bristol. That is why, given the concern that we all share across the House, we have the independent review being undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. I do not want to pre-empt it, but I can assure her that it is a serious review and will lead to serious action.
With specific reference to the Greater Manchester spatial framework, can my right hon. Friend reiterate the protections that are in place for the green belt and the need to pursue a vigorous brownfield-first policy? Will he also give further consideration to a county-based calculation of housing need?
When it comes to housing need, the approach that we plan to take is what we have set out today, but given that this is a draft consultation, I am happy to listen to any representations from my hon. Friend. I can also give him an assurance that the existing green-belt protections remain in place. In fact, when it comes to environmental protections we have gone even further in the draft NPPF. For example, the protection that we have given to ancient woodland is the highest ever.
Excuse me, Mr Speaker; I have a problem with my voice tonight. Can the Secretary of State assure residents that they will have a meaningful say in development? He will know that we have had problems in Coventry in the Kings Hill estate, Cromwell Lane and Westwood Heath. I have already met him about that, and I hope for a date to meet his colleague. Can he give us an assurance that residents will have a stronger say and that their views will be taken into consideration?
The hon. Gentleman will understand if I do not talk about any particular planning application that is going through the process, but I can give him an assurance on local people and communities having a say. The consultations that we have set out today strengthen that, and one of the best ways for a local community to play a part is also to adopt neighbourhood plans.
May I say a special thank you to the Secretary of State for the mention of ancient woodland today and the protections given to it? It is a very precious habitat. I wholeheartedly support the ambition to deliver more homes. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is quite possible to have more houses but at the same time to look after the precious environment?
I bring excellent news for the Secretary of State from the city of Nottingham. We are ready to build the houses we need to; we just need him to remove the cap on Nottingham City Council’s ability to borrow in order to do so. When will the cap be removed?
I welcome today’s statement, in particular the commitment to protecting the green belt. Can my right hon. Friend provide reassurance to my constituents, particularly in areas where significant development may be planned, that he will take steps to ensure that developers pay their share towards necessary infrastructure improvements, so that all local residents can benefit?
I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. One of the two consultations today is specifically about developer contributions—something that has not been looked at for years and years. It will deal with the issue of where, particularly with large developments, certain promises are made at the start that are never kept. That is unacceptable, and we are going to take action.
When I tell my constituents in New Ferry that the Secretary of State wants less talk and more action, they will not know whether to laugh or cry. We have been trying to build homes in New Ferry since the terrible blast last year, and we have had little action from the Government. That is why the Metro Mayor for Liverpool, Steve Rotheram, and I wrote to the Secretary of State on 13 February asking him to do more. He has not replied. What on earth is going on?
The Secretary of State will know that Rugby is playing its part in delivering the homes the country needs from his visit to Houlton, a site of 6,200 new homes, planned and structured on a brownfield site. That is happening because Rugby has always placed a high priority on plan making, with the current plan under examination. Can he confirm that the new standardised approach to assessing housing need will not require any further changes?
First, I have been very impressed by Rugby’s approach. In many ways, it leads the way in showing what can be done to get the most out of previously developed land. I can confirm that the new approach to how housing need is assessed will apply to local authorities as they continue to develop plans. In other words, if they already have a plan in place it will not make any difference to them.
My constituency is plagued with rogue landlords who are buying up residential homes, turning them into homes for multiple occupation, often fuelled by milking the housing benefit budget, and pricing local people out of the market. The problem is a lack of ability to enforce planning regulations. As rogue landlords use permitted development, will the Secretary of State look at the resources that local authorities have to police planning applications and people who are developing under permitted development?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman two things that I think he might find helpful. First, we have given more money to local authorities to deal with the problem of rogue landlords. Secondly, new measures will come into place from April to give local authorities more powers to deal with rogue landlords. Local authorities will be able to keep the funding from the fines they impose and recycle it to help the victims of rogue landlords.
I welcome this ambitious and positive statement. We all have a role to play in allowing the next generation to benefit from the opportunity of home ownership, something my constituency takes very seriously. Does the Secretary of State agree that the developers have to do their bit, too? I am afraid that all too often the quality of new build homes is dreadful, and that puts people off.
First, I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. I agree with him that there are too many cases of new developments where the quality is simply just not acceptable. I have seen, from hon. Members, too many examples of that. That is why, through the process of looking at house buying, we will be taking a very close interest in that.
Unlocking land value could play an important role in securing future developments, but in answer to a previous question the Secretary of State just referred to a consultation. Does he support a land value capture system and when might we expect to see one?
What I support is making sure that the state captures some of the increase in value once land receives planning permission. We do that currently through developer contributions, the community infrastructure levy, and section 106 and other agreements. I want to ensure that what we currently have in place is working well. If the hon. Gentleman shares that ambition, I suggest he responds to the consultation.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that where district councils are delivering permissions way in advance of their target but do not have a five-year land supply because of low delivery rates—the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and others—they are not nimbyistic, and that the review by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) must give them very effective and robust tools that could include financial penalties if it is concluded that that is the only thing that will make them deliver the numbers we need?
The draft reforms will give extra protection to local authorities that temporarily fall below their five-year land supply because they have plans for larger developments that have yet to come online. That case was made to me by a number of people during the consultation. It is a sensible case and it will help in exactly the kind of circumstances my hon. Friend outlines.
There are some laudable aims in the Secretary of State’s statement today, but I fear they will not succeed because we are still relying on the same cabal of developers who brought us the leasehold scandal and whose profits have gone up nearly 400% in the past five years. Surely the answer is to give more powers and finances to local authorities and, instead of setting an arbitrary figure centrally, to work with each individual council to see what their plans and borrowing capacity can actually be?
What the hon. Gentleman highlights, I think, is the need for more competition in the market: having more people involved and not just some large developers who tend to dominate the market in some areas. I therefore hope he will welcome the measures in the draft planning code to encourage smaller builders and the support we provide through the home building fund.
The housing demand in northern Lincolnshire is very different from that in London and the south-east. May I urge the Secretary of State to always be mindful of that and not to put local planning authorities in a straitjacket of guidelines? Will he also ensure that the guidance is sufficient, so that local authorities do not grant planning permission without the necessary infrastructure and access to essential services that new housing developments need?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are regional housing markets—the London market is very different from housing markets in other parts of the country—so he is right to highlight that point. On infrastructure, it is very important that the local authority plans for the right infrastructure. That means help from developer contributions, but also from the Government. That is why I hope he welcomes the housing infrastructure fund.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Houghton Regis North 1 is a 5,000-house development in my constituency for which all planning permissions have already been granted. My concern is that I am told that not a single person will collect keys on that large site until early 2020 because of the time it will take to put in electricity and other utilities. My constituents need those houses now. They cannot wait that long and they cannot wait for the Letwin review. What can the Government do to help to get those utilities in more quickly, so that we build the houses we desperately need?
My hon. Friend highlights the need for more cross-government work to ensure better co-ordination on issues such as utilities to make sure that all Departments are delivering. I am working with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary and his colleagues to make sure that utilities are put in at the right time and do not hold up development.
In rural areas such as west Oxfordshire, it is absolutely essential that, when new houses are built, infrastructure is built to accompany them. Will the Secretary of State please confirm that the intention of the NPPF revision is that developers are not only made to pay for that infrastructure, but that it will be delivered in advance of, or at the very least at the same time as, the houses are being built—not long afterwards, or, worse, not at all?
There is obviously a role for Departments to play with regard to strategic infrastructure—for example, the housing deal in Oxfordshire helps to provide some of the strategic infrastructure—but my hon. Friend is absolutely right about the role that developers must play in providing infrastructure. Many do not meet those obligations, which is why we set out the consultation on developer contributions. I hope he will contribute to it.