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Housing: New Homes

Volume 802: debated on Thursday 27 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in meeting their target of delivering 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s.

My Lords, last year over 240,000 new homes were delivered, the highest number in over 30 years, taking the total delivered to over 1.5 million new homes since 2010. This is very encouraging, but we know that there is more to do, which is why we are reviewing the levers at our disposal, including planning reforms and housing infrastructure. Taken together, our actions will continue progress towards 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

I am grateful to my noble friend for outlining the progress the Government are making towards meeting their ambitious target. In the 10 years from 1974 there were two Housing Ministers, who did roughly five years each, and annual output of housing in England averaged 200,000 a year, against some difficult economic circumstances. In the 10 years since 2010, we have had 10 Housing Ministers and annual completions have fallen to 130,000, against a more benign economic environment. Does my noble friend think those statistics might be connected? Would she agree that capable Ministers, of whom there are many in your Lordships’ House, should stay longer in post if they are to have a chance of delivering the Government’s policy objectives?

That does not bode very well for me in my post, does it? My noble friend speaks with great authority on this issue, having himself been a rather longer-serving Housing Minister than many of his successors. However, despite that turnover, we can be proud of the Government’s housebuilding record since 2010. Having consulted on this issue before today’s Question, I would say that a greater issue of concern is the number of planning officers and the proportion of them who are job sharing, which is having a great impact on the efficiency of the planning process and inhibiting our ability to deliver.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to a renewed larger affordable homes programme, but the current lack of detail about the size and scope of the programme is affecting the social housing sector’s ability to deliver much-needed homes. I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation. The upcoming Budget presents a great opportunity to be bold in committing to the 10-year programme that will be needed to deliver the Government’s 300,000 target. What conversations has the Minister had with her colleagues in the other place about the upcoming Budget and government investment in the building of affordable and social homes?

I am afraid that I cannot speak for my colleagues in the other place about what is intended in the Budget. What I can say is that there are a number of reviews of the planning process and of the sections dealing with accessibility. All these will help us to deliver our target. While there is still work to do, levels of housebuilding have recovered from the financial crisis of 2008-09, and this country has now delivered over 241,000 additional homes, the highest number in over 30 years. We are driving forward an ambitious agenda with everyone involved in housebuilding, including housing associations, small and large private developers and councils. We are all working hard to deliver this target.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the promised homes, hospitals, schools, prisons, HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and more require a growth in the construction sector of 35%, but the sector is projected at the moment to shrink in workforce by 9% post Brexit? Does she agree that those sums simply do not add up? What urgent action will the Government take to grow this sector, or will the desperately needed housebuilding pipeline simply be a pipe dream?

The Government are taking many measures to tackle the skills crisis in this sector. For example, the Department for Education’s £24 million construction skills fund is supporting 26 on- site hubs focusing on housing. The EU exit does create opportunities to grow our own workforce, but the industry is best placed to step up and train the workforce that it knows it will need. The Government are doing their part by improving skills provision, supporting modernisation to increase productivity and creating a fair migration system.

My Lords, to rescue the country from the small number of volume housebuilders who do 70% of all our housebuilding, have the Government made any progress with Sir Oliver Letwin’s radical and important proposals for local authorities to set up corporations that would acquire sites and capture the value for the public good, instead of leaving it to those volume housebuilders who, I am afraid, let us down every time?

The Government fully recognise the importance of increasing the number of small and medium-sized housebuilders in providing the housing in this country. He is absolutely right to point out the dominance of the large housebuilders. We have done quite a lot to encourage SMEs in this space, and at the last Budget we announced up to £1 billion of new guarantee support schemes for SMEs, to be implemented by the British Business Bank. To go further into Sir Oliver Letwin’s report, I would rather write to the noble Lord with a fuller reply.

My Lords, will the Minister say whether the Government are planning to look at different versions of what affordability might mean in relation to housing? I am sure noble Lords know that the West Midlands Combined Authority has been looking at income rather than market value. This has brought house prices within easier reach of more people in lower income brackets.

We have done much to increase affordability for individuals. The affordable rent was introduced to maximise taxpayers’ money, which has allowed us to build more homes for every pound of government investment, because local authorities have had greater income at their disposal to spend on new houses. Removing the cap has also enabled them to invest much more in housing.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that, when it comes to 300,000 houses, we have been there before with Ernie Marples in the early 1960s? In 1965, before the Conservative Government fell, they were planning to build more than 400,000 houses that year. If we could do it then, surely today, with modern fabrication methods, we could certainly do it now.

My noble friend makes a very good point. I heard the earlier point about our past history in building houses but, with modern methods of construction, he is absolutely right to say that we should be able to build a larger volume of houses more efficiently. The Government are committed to building more homes using modern methods of construction, including off-site and smart techniques. Indeed, there was a report from the Science and Technology Committee on this very subject quite recently. The Government have also created a working group to address barriers to modern methods of construction, chaired by an industry expert, the MMC housebuilding champion Mark Farmer, to develop a standardised definition of this. They are also taking forward work on a memorandum of understanding between the main warranty and insurance providers.