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Housebuilding: Target

Volume 774: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2016


2.54 pm

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of their ability to achieve their target of one million new homes by 2020.

My Lords, demand for new homes remains high, as does our commitment to deliver 1 million more homes by 2020, supported by the housebuilding sector and the reforms that we have made and are making to the planning system.

My Lords, I am glad the Minister has reminded the House that there was a commitment in the Queen’s Speech to build 1 million new homes by 2020. I remind him that in the first year of that, well under 200,000 homes were built and the new homebuilding market seems to have stalled. In view of that, is it not time for the Government to intervene and build more social homes for rent?

My Lords, the number of new homes built since the beginning of the Parliament is 171,000, which is higher than the previous year. The noble Lord is right that it was under 200,000, but it is more than the average for the previous 2005-10 Parliament. Obviously we are following the situation closely and monitoring progress. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is meeting housebuilders today to discuss the position. I reassure the House that a record number of planning permissions—265,000 to March 2016—was given in the last year.

My Lords, the Government and the wider public sector own land on which 2 million homes could be built, but only 12% to 13% of the land in England is actually built on. What is the problem?

My Lords, we are in the process of releasing public land for housing. We have released considerable tracts in Dover, Chichester, the north of Cambridge and Gosport, for example, and this work is continuing. The noble Lord is right to draw the attention of the House to the issue.

My Lords, in view of the comments about the need for more social housing, is the Minister aware that some boroughs, such as the London Borough of Camden, to which I spoke today, have simply said that anyone who has not already lived there for five years, no matter how deserving their cause, is not to be considered for social housing? I was speaking about a very extreme case of a woman well over 60. Is that common practice at the moment? Is there simply a failure to offer, and a sudden changing of the terms for social housing?

My Lords, clearly there is a role for local authorities here, with which we have dialogue. A considerable amount has been pledged to affordable houses for rent. We are also in dialogue with the Greater London Assembly and the mayor about how we move this forward.

My Lords, how many of the 171,000 houses were actually social housing? Of the 1 million that are proposed, could the Minister provide a breakdown, even if he cannot supply it today, of the number of homes that will be social housing compared with those that will be for sale, what percentage of those for sale will be in the low-cost homes category, and whether co-operative and self-build housing forms part of the 1 million target figure?

My Lords, the 1 million figure is of course made up of a range of sources. Some 400,000 will be affordable houses while 200,000 will be starter homes, and it is right that there should be a mix of types of housing. That is something the Government are absolutely pledged to.

My Lords, I refer to my interests as a member of Newcastle City Council, in which the imposed reduction of 1% in council rents will lead to a reduction of £28 million by 2020, which would otherwise be invested in new housing and the existing housing stock, and of £593 million over 30 years, while £2.6 billion will be lost nationally to such investment by 2020. What assessment have the Government made of the impact on the new building of social housing, council housing and the improvement of the existing stock as a result of that decision to force rents to be reduced?

My Lords, as I have indicated, we are watching very closely what the position is regarding new build. We are committed to a range of sources, including affordable houses for rent as well as houses to buy. We should take account of the fact that, I suspect, most if not all of us own our own houses, so there is a concentration on helping people to buy their homes. However, we are not blind to the need to encourage the affordable housing for rent sector as well.

My Lords, has my noble friend had time to read the excellent report by the Select Committee on Economic Affairs, Building More Homes, which I hope we will have time to debate, and has he seen the comment on page 75? It says:

“The current restrictions on the ability of local authorities to borrow to build social housing are arbitrary and anomalous”.

Will he pursue this with the new Secretary of State to see whether more homes might be built through that route?

My Lords, I have had the opportunity to look at the Select Committee report, which obviously has just come out. The Government will of course respond to it. It is an excellent report with a range of recommendations, which we take seriously, as does my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and of course we will pursue this with great vigour.

My Lords, have the Government taken into account the fact that demographic change means that many older people live in unsuitable housing, and that if planning permission was guaranteed for more specialist housing with care for older people, it would release a huge amount of property for younger people—both rented and purchased and through local authorities and housing associations—and would deal with a lot of the problems we all face?

The noble Baroness makes a valid point, which we have considered. Obviously there are issues around encouraging people to move out of accommodation which is larger than they need but without in any way making them feel obliged to do so, so these issues need to be handled with care. I thank the noble Baroness for readdressing us to that point, but we are considering it.

My Lords, the 2015 spending review announced £60 million of grants to respond to the problem caused by second home ownership in areas with desirable coastal and rural housing. The aim was to provide affordable housing in perpetuity for local families who would otherwise be priced out of market. We were expecting an announcement on that but certain events intervened recently. Can the Minister assure us that this will go ahead and when it will come on stream?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for that point. He is absolutely right that this is an issue. Local authorities, as I know from Wales—this applies in England as well—have a power to use council tax as a device to ensure that people pay an additional amount on a second home. We are looking at this; I will write to the right reverend Prelate as regards progress on it and will make a copy available in the Library.

My Lords, do the Government have a new homes strategy? If not, why not, and if they do, what progress is being made with it? I declare an interest as vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association.

I thank the noble Baroness for that question. Of course we have a new homes strategy: we are committed to building 1 million new homes in this Parliament, and measures are in place. A £20 billion budget for housing over this Parliament, which is a considerable amount, is partly to encourage housebuilding but is also helping people to buy and making money available for homes to rent.