Neil O'Brien (Harborough) (Con)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered housing and home ownership.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I recently published an 80-page report for the think-tank Onward. Members will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to read it out today, but I want to talk about some of the themes in it.
This is a short debate, so I want to ask the Minister just two questions. First, will he update us on his thoughts about how we can increase home ownership by rebalancing things between the private rented sector and home ownership? Building more homes is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition of reversing the decline in home ownership. Over the past decade, the private sector has built about 165,000 extra houses every year, but home ownership fell because the private rented sector has expanded by 195,000 homes every year. Multiple property ownership has been squeezing out home ownership for individuals. Private landlords are not doing anything wrong, but we have to ask ourselves as a country whether we want so much of our housing stock to flow into renting, rather than owning.
To rebalance things back towards ownership, we could do a number of things. We could introduce a capital gains tax break for those who want to sell their rented property to their existing tenants. For future rented properties, we could change the tax treatment to encourage people to put their investments into stocks, shares and businesses, rather than just into bidding up the price of housing. Rebalancing in that way could make a big difference. To give a sense of the magnitude, I should say that if we had kept the ratio of privately owned to privately rented homes the same between 2000 and 2015, 2.2 million more homes would be in ownership. That would make a huge difference—at least as big a difference as we could make by increasing the rate at which we build homes.
We know that tax can be effective. The changes brought in by the then Chancellor in 2015 saw the first substantial increase in home ownership for a decade in the following year. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues at the Treasury are thinking about ownership. If we only think about the supply side of the market in challenging the housing problem, we are effectively fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.
The second thing I would like the Minister to update us on is his and the Government’s overall vision for what, where and how we build. The ultimate constraint on how much we build is public consent. If we want to build more, we need to tackle the underlying reasons why people oppose so much of what is built today. For me, there are three underlying reasons. First, too often we build in the wrong places and we lose the green spaces that people value the most. Secondly, we build without the required infrastructure. Thirdly, there are too few benefits for existing residents.
How can we solve those problems? That requires different things in different places. It means building more in the centres of our great cities—densifying them and regenerating more land. Outside our cities, it means more stand-alone, planned new communities and fewer tacked-on developments stuck on the edges of all our existing villages and towns. Everywhere, it means sharing more of the benefits of development with existing residents so that they can see those benefits.
Let me unpack that a little bit. There is lots of room in our great cities for growth. Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Hull and Dundee all had a smaller population in 2016 than they did in 1981. Other cities such as Manchester and Birmingham were only about 6% bigger. There is lots of room to grow in our great cities, and there are lots of reasons to densify the centres of those cities: it is greener; it means less congestion; it means more people walk to work, which in turn is healthier; and infrastructure costs are lower. There are lots of ways to make it happen. To put ideas in the Minister’s head, we could change objectively assessed need to favour inner-city development, to take into account the potential for cities to densify. We could further liberalise building upwards and amend change of use to allow empty shops to be turned into homes.
We could devolve further powers over transport beyond the mayoral combined authority areas. Mayoral authorities such as in London have powers over public transport and the buses. That means they could have denser development, because they can ensure good public transport to it. We could review sightlines in London and build upwards. We could do what the think-tank Create Streets recommends and review regulations so that we can once again build those tall, dense terraces that are so beloved by the population. We can do a lot more in our cities, but we will continue to want to build outside our cities, including in rural areas.