Thursday 11th January 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 19 December.
“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s commitment to housebuilding and the planning policy reforms we are making today.
This Government want to build more homes in the right places, more quickly, more beautifully and more sustainably. We know that the right way to deliver this is through a reformed planning system. Today, the Secretary of State and I are laying out our plan for that reform, and we are clear that it is only through up-to-date local plans that local authorities can deliver for communities, protect the land and the assets that matter most, and create the conditions for more homes to be delivered.
Having plans in place unlocks land for homes, for hospitals and general practitioner centres, for schools, for power grid connections and more. It lays the foundations for our economic growth and the levelling up of our communities. The first change we are making today is to update the National Planning Policy Framework. We consulted on a series of proposals last December and received more than 26,000 responses, which we have worked through in detail.
The resulting update builds on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 and delivers on the intent set out by the Secretary of State last year, and it does so in a way that will promote building the right homes in the right places with the right infrastructure, which will ensure that the environment is protected and give local people a greater say on where and where not to place new, beautiful development.
I will now summarise the key changes being made to the framework today, and honourable Members should refer to the consultation response and the framework itself for the published policies. First, the standard method for assessing local housing need figures has sometimes been difficult to apply in some areas and has been blind to the exceptional characteristics of local communities. The new NPPF makes it clear that the outcome of the standard method is an advisory starting point in plan making for establishing an area’s housing requirement.
The revised NPPF also now provides more clarity on what may constitute exceptional circumstances for using an alternative method to assess housing need. The framework is also clear that the urban uplift should be accommodated in the urban areas in which it is applied and should not be exported unless there is a voluntary cross-boundary agreement in place. New homes are most desperately needed in urban areas, so it is essential that city councils plan properly for local people.
Secondly, given the importance of the green belt to so many, the new NPPF is clear that there is generally no requirement on local authorities to review or alter green-belt boundaries. Unlike Labour’s plan to concrete over the countryside, we will not impose top-down release of green-belt land against the wishes of local communities. Where a relevant local planning authority chooses to conduct a review, existing national policy will continue to expect that green-belt boundaries are altered only where exceptional circumstances are fully evidenced and justified, and this should be only through the preparation or updating of plans. The Government are making no changes to the rules that govern what can and cannot be built on green-belt land, but we are clarifying in guidance where brownfield development can occur on the green belt, provided that the openness of the green belt is not harmed.
Thirdly, the Government are clear that the character of an existing area should be respected, particularly in the historic suburbs of our great towns and cities. The new NPPF therefore recognises that there may be situations in plan making where significant uplifts in urban residential densities would be inappropriate, as they would be wholly out of character with that existing area. In these cases, authorities need not plan for such development. That will apply where there is a design code that is adopted, or will be adopted, as part of the local plan. I know the shadow Minister will sympathise with this change, given that he recently opposed 1,500 new homes in his constituency due to the impact on Greenwich’s local character.
Fourthly, where an up-to-date plan is in place—a plan less than five years old—and contains a deliverable five-year supply of land when examined by the inspector, authorities will no longer be required to update that supply annually. This change provides those authorities with additional protection from the presumption in favour of sustainable development. We are also fully removing what are known as the 5% and 10% buffers, which could be applied to an authority’s housing land supply. A transitional arrangement will ensure that decision making on live applications is not affected, thus avoiding disruption to applications in the system. For authorities that have not yet passed examination but are either at examination, regulation 18 or regulation 19 stage, and have both a policy map and proposed allocations, there will be a two-year grace period in which they need to demonstrate only a four-year housing land supply for decision-making. That is a strong incentive for councils to now do the right thing and agree a local plan.
Fifthly, local communities that have worked hard to put neighbourhood plans in place should not be penalised for the failure of their council to ensure an up-to-date local plan. The new NPPF therefore extends protection for neighbourhood plans from speculative development from two to five years, where those plans allocate at least one housing site. The updated framework also gives greater support to self-build, custom-build and community-led housing, and to encouraging the delivery of older people’s housing, including retirement housing, housing with care and care homes.
Next, the NPPF cements the role of beauty and placemaking in the planning system; it now expressly uses the word “beautiful” in relation to “well-designed places”. It also now requires greater “visual clarity” on design requirements set out in planning conditions and supports gentle density through the promotion of mansard roof development. Finally, the new NPPF also strengthens protections for agricultural land, by being clear that consideration should be given to the availability of agricultural land for food production in development decisions. The NPPF also supports the Government’s energy security strategy, by giving significant weight to the importance of energy efficiency in the adaptation of existing buildings, while protecting heritage.
With the updated NPPF now in place, the other reforms we are making today are focused on setting higher expectations for performance. Those who operationalise the system—local authorities, the Planning Inspectorate and statutory consultees—must live up to their responsibilities. To support that, we are taking action on four fronts. First, we will ensure greater transparency, because exposing what is really going on in a system sparks action. So we will publish a new local authority performance dashboard in 2024, and pull back the veil on the use of extension of time agreements, which in too many instances are concealing poor performance.
Secondly, we have been providing, and will continue to provide, additional financial support. That includes the increased planning fees that went live a fortnight ago, as well as a range of funds to tackle backlogs and improve capability. Thirdly, we will tackle slow processes, with Sam Richards leading a review into the statutory consultee system and a greater focus from the Planning Inspectorate where planning committees are seeing their decisions overturned on appeal.
Finally, we will intervene where we need to. The Secretary of State has issued a direction to seven of the worst authorities in terms of plan making, requiring them to publish a plan timetable within 12 weeks of the publication of the new NPPF. Should they fail, we will consider further intervention. We are also designating two additional authorities for their decision-making performance and we will review the thresholds for designation to make sure we are not letting off the hook authorities that should be doing better.
We are also taking action in London, because the homes needed by the capital are simply not being built and opportunities for urban brownfield regeneration go begging as a result of the Mayor’s anti-housing policy and approach. A review launched today will identify where changes to policy could speed up the delivery of much-needed homes. If directing change in London becomes necessary, this Government will do that.
In designing these reforms we have aimed to facilitate desirable development, constrained only by appropriate protections. That is a balance I am confident we have struck.”
Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, there surely cannot be any debate on the fact that we are in the midst of a catastrophic housing crisis, which figures from Shelter tell us leaves almost 300,000 of our fellow citizens homeless every night, including 123,000 children, and over a million families on social housing waiting lists. A planning policy framework doing its job would at least put the steps in place to start delivering the numbers of homes that would resolve this crisis, but this plan is neither long-term nor a plan to deliver housing.

Sadly, the Government’s caving-in to Back-Benchers in the other place, and developers on housing targets, means this planning policy framework will mean housing delivery falling far from the mark for the foreseeable future. Data published this week showed that consents are at an all-time low, 20% down on last year, and the National House Building Council shows a dramatic fall in registrations, down 42% in quarter two compared with last year.

Commitment to delivering real improvement in housing delivery has to be called into question when we have had no less than 16 Housing Ministers since 2010, and when the Secretary of State delivered his statement on this planning policy framework to a press conference, rather than in Parliament. The National Planning Policy Framework should provide the link to ensure that local councils are taking into account the strategic need for housing, industrial and commercial land, food and farming requirements and the whole range of environmental issues as they apply in each area. Local plans are vital to deliver what is needed across the country, but also to engage local communities in how that is done and to provide the protections needed against speculative, unwanted or dangerous development.

However, the level of uncertainty the Government have generated by flip-flopping over their commitment to housing, by failure to create proper industrial strategy and failure to take environmental issues seriously enough, has fatally undermined all of that and has now culminated in 58 local authorities either scrapping or delaying their local plans as they wrestle with the uncertainty over housing targets. Yet this Statement seems to unequivocally point the finger at local authorities.

I suggest that the Minister in the other place might want to look in the mirror here. The example closest to home for me was that after extensive local research, two years of intensive public consultation and partnership working, and an extended three-week public inquiry, our Stevenage local plan was submitted to the Government on time—and then sat on the holding direction on the Secretary of State’s desk for 451 days until it was finally approved.

It is not just on housing that this framework fails to deliver. Because we have no proper industrial strategy, it is almost impossible for local plans to meet the needs for industrial commercial permissions, and the honourable Member for Buckingham in the other place raised on 19 December that it does not meet the stronger protections for food production land use either, with a wishy-washy statement quoted by the Minister:

“The availability of agricultural land used for food production should be considered”.

What does that mean? Question after question when the Statement was debated in the other place, largely from Conservative Members, sought clarification of exactly what is meant by the fact that housing targets are an advisory starting point. The best the Minister could come up with was:

“I cannot pre-empt or suggest exactly what that will mean in all instances”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/23; cols. 1275-6.]

One senior member of a respected planning stakeholder body told me that they stopped taking notes at the Secretary of State’s press conference on this topic because what he said just did not make any sense. Can the Minister please tell us how this process of advisory starting points for housing targets will deliver the 300,000 homes a year that are so urgently needed? We need to be clear here. There will be no levelling up unless we are at least aiming to provide a safe, secure, affordable and sustainable home for everyone. How does this set of policies deliver that?

On the key issue of resources, this is crippling local authorities’ ability to deliver against their planning obligations; indeed, the Royal Town Planning Institute reports 90% of local authorities as having a backlog of cases and 70% as having difficulties in recruiting. How will the Government support local authorities to resource their planning function as demand increases when their budgets are squeezed by the skyrocketing costs of children’s services, adult social care and, of course, homelessness? How do the Government reconcile their threats to remove planning powers from local authorities that do not meet the three-month deadline for delivery of their plan with the absolute obligation for authorities to consult local people? With a significant change on the issue of housing targets, surely it is understandable that further consultation must be undertaken. Has that been taken into account? If, as the Secretary of State has threatened, recalcitrant local authorities have their planning powers removed, who will undertake the planning work for their area? The Planning Inspectorate is already underresourced and its involvement in local plan-making would be a significant conflict of interest.

Time and again in debates during the passage of the levelling-up Act we were told that the Government would not accept amendments because provision would be included in the National Planning Policy Framework; for example, on ensuring that housebuilders focus on healthy homes and on making specific provision for housing for older people, flooding, access to open space, protections for historic buildings and a wide range of environmental issues. What assessment has the department carried out to ensure that all those issues—all those promises that were made to us—are incorporated into this new set of policies?

I return to my initial point: without a determined effort to deliver 300,000 homes a year, which we will need to resolve the housing crisis, we will continue to see the shameful situation where children are homeless, where they share beds with their parents because of lack of adequate space, where permitted development allows appalling housing conditions to prevail, and where poor housing affects the health and life chances of a whole generation. Perhaps it is time for a new ITV drama, “Mr Bates versus DLUHC”. In failing to tackle this through a clear housing strategy and the policies to support that, including targets, this policy amounts just to failure and another missed opportunity.

Baroness Pinnock Portrait Baroness Pinnock (LD)
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My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interests as a councillor in Kirklees—where we have an up-to-date local plan—and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, just said, there are 1.2 million households on the social housing waiting lists and the Government’s own assessment is that 300,000 new homes need to be built every year. Having somewhere to live is a basic human right and a basic requirement that all Governments should fulfil. We have a housing crisis, and the response as set out in this Statement and the newly published National Planning Policy Framework fails to address that crisis. The policies are incoherent and fail on many levels. For example, the newly published NPPF refers to social housing only once and in a single sentence. There is a desperate need for social housing to rent. Can the Minister tell the House how long the 1.2 million households on the waiting list will have to wait for a safe, affordable home at a rent that is within their means?

I could tell the Minister of a family in my ward that contacted me this week. There is the wife, husband and a four year-old boy living with the grandmother, who has serious dementia, and a baby is on the way, in a two-bed Victorian terraced house with a front door that opens on to an A-road and the back door on to a ginnel, as we call it. It is an alley, I guess; we call them ginnels in Yorkshire. There is nowhere, literally no space, for that four year-old to play, or to put the baby. They rang me to ask what chance they had for a council house or a housing association home, and I had to tell them the awful truth: that virtually all the family homes have been sold under right to buy, very few replaced, and their chances are virtually nil within the next five years. How are the Government going to address that example and many, many more like it?

Debate on this vital national policy should have taken place when we debated the levelling-up Bill in this House. Many Members across the House, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, asked for the information on the revised NPPF at that time, and it is now clear to me why the Government held back, because the National Planning Policy Framework as published fails to tackle this housing crisis by enabling local authorities to plan with confidence and with the goal of meeting their local housing need.

Housing need is defined not just by numbers of housing units required but also by type and tenure. The Government’s own figures show that 62% of the rise in households is of people over 65 living alone. Perhaps the Minister can say how the Government intend to ensure that this particular need is to be met, given the policies that they have now published. Is it possible, for instance, for local authorities to allocate a site for building with specific requirements to meet such locally determined need?

Next, the Government are relaxing housing targets by describing these as an “advisory starting point”. Can the Minister flesh out “advisory” in this context? How advisory is advisory? What advice will the Government be giving to the Planning Inspectorate on the definition of that word and what they expect it to mean?

Given that housing targets are to be determined more locally, can the Minister explain the rationale behind the requirement for 20 of the largest towns and cities to have 35% more homes than are determined by their local housing assessment? Why is it 35%, not 20% or 40%? Where does the figure come from, and what will it actually mean for those towns and cities?

One of the major holes in the Government’s planning and housing policies is that there are no penalties for developers who, having obtained planning consent, fail to start building or start a site and then delay building out. This is one of the major reasons for the crisis in housebuilding numbers: more than 1 million properties have planning consent but have not been built. Yet local authorities are to be penalised for failing to provide sites while, in those same local authorities, developers are failing to develop sites that have permission. What will the Government do about this dreadful state of affairs? What pressures will they put on developers to ensure that, once planning consent is given, the developer gets on and builds out the site?

Many residents oppose new homes because of the impact on local infrastructure, such as traffic, school places and access to health services. Many are justified in their complaints. For example, in my area of Kirklees, GP patient numbers are at 1,900 per doctor, as compared to the national average of 1,600. When residents raise the issue of more houses meaning greater numbers of patients for their local GP, where I live it is genuinely the case. There are already 20% more patients per GP where I live than the national average. What will the Government do to address the genuine complaints from residents about local infrastructure? That is just one example.

Providing the housing that we need is dependent on local authorities having up-to-date local plans, yet the majority of them do not have one. What action will the Government take to ensure that local authorities have up-to-date local plans? A local plan is the initial building block that unlocks sites for housing of a type and tenure that is so desperately needed. This Statement absolutely fails to address this. I look forward to the Minister’s replies to all the questions that have been raised; if she cannot answer them, I hope that she can give us written responses.

Baroness Penn Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Penn) (Con)
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My Lords, I will endeavour to answer the questions from both noble Baronesses as fully as I can, but it is first worth reflecting on what this update to the NPPF sought to do. Both noble Baronesses rightly situated it in the context of the broader changes in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act to bring forward a reformed planning system that allows more homes to be built in the right places, more quickly, more beautifully and more sustainably.

The right way to do this is through a reformed planning system. In December last year, we laid out our plan to do that. We made it abundantly clear that the only way to do so is through up-to-date local plans, which local authorities can deliver for communities to protect the land and assets that matter most and lay the foundation for economic growth. Part of that plan for reform was the update to the National Planning Policy Framework. In December 2022, we consulted on a series of proposals that received more than 26,000 responses, which we have worked through in detail. The updates that we made, which were announced at the end of last year, strike a careful balance between delivering homes that our communities need and protecting the things that we care most about, such as our natural environment, heritage assets, high streets and town centres—matters referenced by both noble Baronesses. The NPPF update acknowledges that different areas and different parts of the country must be approached in different ways and that local authorities and communities are best placed to ensure that the right homes are in the right places, where they are both needed and wanted.

Both noble Baronesses asked about the change to the NPPF which clarified that the standard method of assessing housing need is the starting point for local authorities. The NPPF expects local planning authorities to evidence and provide for their housing needs. The Government are clear that the standard method should still be used to inform the process. Local authorities can put forward their own approach to assessing housing needs, but this should be used only in exceptional circumstances. Authorities can expect their method to be scrutinised closely at examination. The standard method remains the starting point for this process and only in exceptional circumstances would we expect local planning authorities to move away from that. However, it is right that we allow for those exceptional circumstances. In the updated framework, the demographics of a particular area are pointed to as the factor which might mean that an alternative method would be appropriate for that planning authority to use.

Part of delivering homes in a way that meets community needs is about having a more diversified housing market. Therefore, the framework also strengthens support for SME builders and the wider diversity of the housing market by emphasising the importance of community-led housing development, ensuring that local authorities seek opportunities to support small sites to come forward and removing barriers to smaller and medium builders in the planning system. In the long run, that will also ensure that we make progress in delivering the housing that we need and keep us on track to deliver 1 million new homes during this Parliament.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about social housing. Her points were well made. These updates to the NPPF did not have that as a particular focus but the Government are absolutely committed to increasing the supply of affordable and social housing. That is why our latest affordable housing programme is backed by more than £11 billion. We have increased the delivery of affordable housing under this Government. I would be very happy to sit down with the noble Baroness and discuss specific planning barriers to affordable housing further.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, referred to the resources needed to unlock the planning system. She is absolutely right. That is why we have increased the resources going into local planning services. The new planning rules that came into force on 6 December increase fees for major applications by 35% and minor ones by 25%. The indexing arrangements now in place also ensure that they rise in line with inflation. Beyond that, the planning skills delivery fund was boosted by £5 million to £29 million. In the first round of funding, 180 local planning authorities are receiving collectively over £14 million. We recognise that the changes we have made to the planning system in the levelling-up Act and through the changes to the NPPF need to be matched by additional resources, which we have put in.

I turn to housing standards and a range of other issues that were debated at length during the passage of the levelling-up Bill. The Government have committed to bring forward further changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, bringing in a national development management framework. We are committed to consulting on those changes this year but, for the development of local plans, we believe that the combination of the measures in the Act and those announced and changed in the NPPF at the end of last year provide clarity and certainty for local areas to be able to make their plans and deliver on them.

Where that is not proving possible for local authorities, the Secretary of State has been clear that the Government are prepared to intervene. That is why the Secretary of State issued a direction about plan-making to seven of the worst authorities. The best outcome from those directions is that the local authorities themselves bring forward plans within 12 weeks and set out a clear timetable to do so. Should they fail, we will consider further intervention, but it would be based on the particular circumstances of those local authorities and reflect their points. I do not want to pre-empt that, as the best outcome for those areas is for the local authorities to take forward those plans themselves.

We are also taking action in London, because the homes needed in the capital are simply not being built. Opportunities for urban brownfield regeneration are being left untaken, as a result of the mayor’s anti-housing policy and approach. His plan does not contain sufficient ambition for housing, and he is underdelivering against it. That is why we are undertaking an urgent review of it.

There are a number of areas from both noble Baronesses that I may not have addressed. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned infrastructure and of course we have the housing infrastructure fund, which provides the funding needed to ensure that development can take place, is supported locally and comes with the schools, hospitals and GP places needed to support it. I undertake to write to both noble Baronesses in detail on any further points on which I need to follow up.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, there is much to welcome in the Statement—namely, the increase in planning resources—but it represents a major change in government housing policy, which was not there when the levelling-up Bill was introduced. As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, this was introduced to head off a rebellion in the other place. As a result, the targets are advisory, not mandatory, and we are already seeing a result—not just in plans being withdrawn but in South Oxfordshire doing something unheard of in planning by deleting from its plan for development sites that had already been included. We may end up with more up-to-date plans eventually, but they will have fewer homes in them than the country needs. How will a democratically elected Government, committed to building 300,000 new homes a year, deliver that if they are totally dependent on the good will of local authorities that do not share that commitment?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, we announced a number of different changes at the end of last year. However, as I said to both the noble Baronesses, the standard method for assessing housing need remains the starting point for local authorities. It is only in exceptional circumstances that we would expect them to move away from that, and that must be well evidenced. In such circumstances, where it is not appropriate for that area, there is a way and method for those local authorities to put forward a well-considered and well-thought-out local plan, which would have a much better chance of being delivered than something that does not command local support and does not suit the needs of the local area.

We have made other changes that may result in the changes that my noble friend talked about—for example, by removing the buffers needed on land supply set out in local plans. They go over and above the amount of land needed to deliver against the assessed housing need for an area. Where local authorities have done the right thing, put a plan in place and identified the land they need to deliver against the local housing need in their area, it is not the right way forward to require those local authorities to hold a 5% or 10% buffer on top.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I pick up on a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. If we could see the production of decent, accessible, energy-efficient, companionable, new retirement housing for older people needing and wanting to rightsize, we could free up tens of thousands of family homes, which are so badly needed. The planning system can allocate sites, not least urban sites that regenerate town centres, and those absolutely essential local plans can stipulate requirements for a proportion of such housing in all major developments. I add that at the same time removing stamp duty for purchases by those over pension age would stimulate the market, increasing revenue to HM Treasury through the chain that follows, and that housing for older people saves massive sums for the NHS and adult care services. Will the Minister get behind all those trying to boost the output of well-designed homes for the estimated 3 million older people who are interested in downsizing and rightsizing?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I absolutely support the remarks by the noble Lord on needing the right housing to meet the needs of people at all stages in their lives. There are changes within this update to the NPPF that will encourage the delivery of older people’s housing, including retirement housing, housing with care and care homes. In addition, the Government have the Older People’s Housing Taskforce, which is exploring broader changes that we might wish to see to encourage housing for older people to be built in the areas where it is most suitable and most needed. Also, there is the point that the noble Lord made: ensuring that we have the right solution for older people has a knock-on effect throughout our housing supply on the availability for those who may be trying to get on the housing ladder in the first place.

Lord Bishop of Chelmsford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford
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My Lords, the Archbishops’ Commission on Housing, Church and Community recommended that the Government adopt a long-term plan to address the scale of the housing crisis in the UK. I am glad to see that they have adopted the language of long-termism, as the UK’s housing has been held back by short-term planning and decision-making for far too long. However, I believe that such a plan must be holistic, taking into account all elements that make up a good housing strategy, with consideration of both new builds and existing buildings. What plans do the Government have to improve the quality of the homes that we already have, for example by undertaking a programme to upgrade EPC ratings, or by equalising the rate of VAT on repairs for existing houses with that for constructing new homes?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right that, when we consider the quality of people’s homes, we absolutely need to think about existing stock, not just new homes. When it comes to new homes, we have just launched the consultation on the future homes standard, which will have in place regulations that mean that all new homes built from 2025 onwards will need to be net-zero ready and have much higher levels of energy efficiency. They would most likely have heat pumps installed as a way to deliver those net-zero targets. When it comes to existing homes, we have a huge range of government support in place to support increased energy efficiency. A lot of that has focused initially on those on low incomes: for example, looking at social housing, there is the social housing decarbonisation fund. We are broadening that out to support other people too. We have the boiler upgrade grant, which allows people to replace their old boilers with heat pumps, with a significant proportion of those costs met by government. We have debated VAT a number of times in this House, but I will say that we have introduced a reduced rate of VAT for energy-efficiency measures, and we extended the scope of the measures that that covers in the most recent Autumn Statement.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, as the National Planning Policy Framework’s primary purpose is more homes, is it not strange that His Majesty’s Government have yet to make any statement about a new concept of the new town movement? You can see on the ground the wonderful work that was done as long ago as the 30s with the garden city just alongside the A1—I drove past it yesterday. Then there are the new towns. My former constituency was Northampton, and there is the new city of Milton Keynes, which was only a village before. That concept surely has to have a role, modernised to meet today’s requirements in the future.

Secondly, my noble friend quite rightly says: “Yes, more new homes”. But is not the problem at the moment that the developers do not have the confidence that she clearly has? The figures for 2023 are very low. Are they not going to be only marginally better in 2024? Against that background, will His Majesty’s Government bring in new incentives for young couples to be able to provide some of that demand, so that developers can have some confidence to move forward?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My noble friend makes two very good points. England has a proud history of new town development, and well-planned, beautifully designed, locally led garden communities are playing a vital role in helping to meet our housing need, through providing a stable pipeline of new homes. The Garden Communities programme supports local authorities to build places that people are happy to call their home. That programme was launched in 2014, and has awarded over £58 million of capacity funding to assist places to deliver their proposals for housing. A further £12 million has also been invested to deliver the infrastructure critical to unblock the delivery of homes. The 47 locally led garden communities have the capacity to deliver over 300,000 new homes by 2050. That is something that the Government absolutely continue to support.

The number of planning consents being down was referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor. When it comes to the wider conditions in the housing market, we recognise that this is a challenging time. The broader economic conditions we face due to very high levels of inflation, and the high interest rates that are in place to bring that down, make it harder for people to get on the housing ladder. That is why this Government have been focused, laser-like, on tackling inflation. We met our commitment last year to halve the level of inflation, and are back on the road to the Bank of England’s 2% target. That is the most effective way in which we can make sure that people are able to afford their mortgages and access the housing market in the way they wish to. But there are also important things that we can do—for example, ensuring that our affordable housing programme continues throughout this period to provide more stability and certainty in terms of the pipeline of new homes while it is a difficult market out there for housebuilders.

Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB)
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My Lords, may I ask the Minister, following on from the question from the right reverend Prelate, about the certificates—the EPCs? We have had a problem and a review on EPC measurement. Could she let us know where we are on that review?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, my understanding is that the Government launched an EPC action plan to take forward a number of changes to EPCs. We are well on track for delivering against the majority of actions within that, but we continue to look at it. We recognise that there is potentially the need for wider reform to energy performance certificates; we are looking at that very closely and doing further work on it.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I have the honour of serving on the Built Environment Committee in your Lordships’ House, along with one or two other colleagues here. We have been listening to evidence in the last few months from builders, planners and Ministers about why the 300,000 target has not been reached. I think the low point for me was evidence from an Environment Minister and the Housing Minister, who sat next to each other trying to explain why it was all very difficult. At the end of the evidence session, I thought, “When did they ever talk to each other? It is as if they are in completely different silos”. We have heard answers from the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, this afternoon about the importance of the environment. She mentioned affordable housing once or twice. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned that it is only in the NPPF once, I think; I may have that wrong.

When I looked at the Housing Minister’s Statement on 19 December when he launched this, I was astonished to read one paragraph which used several phrases which to me indicate what is really important for this Government. One phrase was “gentle density”—I do not know what that means, but perhaps some experts can tell me—on the design of mansard roof development. Does that really go in a Statement? There was “well-designed places”—we know what that is—and then,

“‘visual clarity’ on the design requirements”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/23; col. 1266.]

Also, the word “beauty” comes into it, as the noble Baroness said. These are all very good things, especially if you want a lovely new house in the countryside, miles from anywhere, but are they the priorities for affordable housing? This is the problem. We have lost sight of what is important. I live in Cornwall and the lack of affordable housing there is just terrible. If we are to say that everything has to be a “gentle density” with “visual clarity” of place, I do not think we are going to get there—until we concentrate on what is important, which is affordable housing.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I do not think that the delivery of more affordable housing and the delivery of more beautiful housing need to be in tension with each other. In fact, the right housing in the right place allows more support for development to go ahead, which is one of the big barriers we see to delivering more housing in local areas, and affordable housing should be beautiful housing too. Noble Lords have had a lot of debates in this House about the standards within our homes, particularly within our social housing. We should be no less ambitious for the standards that people enjoy in their housing, whether it is social housing, affordable housing or private housing. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, talked about space for children to play, for example. Taking into account that kind of amenity is important for the right development to go ahead. We should recognise that we have made significant progress in recent years in building more houses. We have had some of the highest housing delivery in the past four years that we have had in the past 20 years, and we seek to continue that, but without those measures necessarily needing to be in tension. The noble Lord spoke about Ministers talking to each other in different departments. I reassure him that, particularly on these areas that cut across different interests and on something like net zero or environmental impact, we bring together the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, my department and Defra to work together to provide solutions on these issues.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I shall follow the theme of social housing. I declare my position as a vice-president of the LGA and the NALC. Responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, the Minister said that the Government are committed to social housing. We have just heard that again, and it is great, but the Minister may be aware of a document from the National Housing Federation, Lets Fix the Housing Crisis: Delivering a Long-Term Plan for Housing. This crosses over with her former departmental responsibilities. It asserts:

“The wider fiscal, societal and economic benefits of social housing are poorly captured in current cost benefit analysis”,

and, particularly, in the Government’s Green Book. The NHF stresses that we need housing

“in the right location, with the right support for those who need it”,

which sounds very much like the Green Party’s Right Homes, Right Place, Right Price. Does the Minister agree that planning needs to think about this social element as well as the purely spatial element? We have been relying on the market for decades now. It has not worked out very well and has given the crisis we have now, plus the terrible privatisation of right to buy. I will pick up a point from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp: one of the things that the NHF report highlights is the increase in the long-term cost of housing benefit as a result of the increase in the number of retired people who are in private rental housing now. Do we not have to join up far more planning and financial considerations and pure human considerations to secure an affordable place for everybody to live?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, a number of the changes that we are making to the NPPF address some of the noble Baroness’s concerns. They are all about allowing a local area, using the evidence of local need, to produce a plan that works for that area. The noble Baroness touched on the Green Book and how we value social housing but also wider social benefits when we look at value for money in government projects. The Government have done work on reforming the Green Book over a number of years to ensure that we better take that into account. There is also better assessment of national well-being as a factor when we look at policies. We are looking, for example, at valuing our green space more clearly in our policy assessments, so that we can take a more well-rounded look. That is at the heart of my department’s mission. When looking at levelling up across the whole of the United Kingdom, one point that often gets made is that the old ways of doing things incentivises you to invest only in London and the south-east. While that is incredibly important, we know that investing in communities across our country is how we will actually deliver for people, and that is what my department has been created to do.

Lord Shipley Portrait Lord Shipley (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister has said that it is not the purpose of this long-term plan for housing to address the need for more homes for social rent. She has also said that the Government are absolutely committed to increasing the supply of affordable and social housing. In the face of the 14% increase in the past year of people in temporary accommodation in our country—a trend which is likely to continue rising—what is the Government’s short to medium-term plan for getting more long-term homes for those being forced to live in temporary accommodation?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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As I have previously said to noble Lords, we have over £11 billion for the affordable homes programme, but a number of other measures were announced, most recently in the Autumn Statement. For example, the local housing allowance uplift will help with the affordability of the private rented sector, reducing the chances that people might move into temporary accommodation. We also have the Homelessness Reduction Act, which is matched by funding to try to prevent people moving into temporary accommodation altogether. At the Autumn Statement, we also announced additional money for local authorities to increase the supply and quality of their temporary housing to bring down the costs of putting that provision in place so that we can invest in the longer-term solution, which is more affordable housing available to more people.