(1 month, 3 weeks ago)Westminster Hall
My hon. Friend makes a tremendously apposite point. It is a very good point indeed. The answer is yes, we do: the demand is such that the supply is always going to be vastly outstripped by it, so we need to look at other measures. I hope that when the planning Bill comes forward, it will help us towards that route and show that there are other opportunities out there.
The region’s job market has been among the worst hit by the pandemic, sitting alongside the rocketing house prices that I have mentioned, with affordability only expected to worsen. That means overcrowding, homelessness and a generation of young people unable to move out of their parents’ home or live near their workplace.
My hon. Friend makes a tremendously good point. It is important that planning applications are seen in the round. As I will go on to describe, we need to maintain the beauty and special qualities of our rural towns and villages, while at the same time providing the homes that people so badly need.
In 2019-20, the total housing stock in England increased by about 244,000 homes. The number of new homes each year has indeed been growing for several years, but still not quickly enough to meet the demand. Estimates put the number of new homes needed at up to 345,000 per year. That means 42,000 new homes are needed each year in the south-west alone, and yet we are building fewer than half the homes required to plug the gap. We must do more, not only to match supply to demand but crucially to ensure that new homes are genuinely affordable and built where they are needed most—and, yes, that does mean protecting our rural villages from overdevelopment.
As Mrs Thatcher said, borrowing the words of the Scottish Unionist Noel Skelton, Britain should be a “property-owning democracy”. Back in the 1960s, when the Government were building more than 300,000 new houses a year, that ambition was achievable, but the same is not true today. Annual supply needs to increase by a further 23% by the mid-2020s to meet the Government’s own housing target, and by another 39% to reach the National Housing Federation’s recommendations.
There is general agreement that we need more homes, but there is less agreement, both in politics and in the housing industry, about how best to achieve that step change. I believe that there are three key areas where the Government and industry can work together to meet housing need. The first is public sector land reform. Priority for public land sales should change from maximising cash to the provision of public housing.
Secondly, we must adequately invest in building new affordable and sustainable homes where they are needed, creating jobs across construction and the supply chain and building the confidence of consumers, investors and developers. The recent £8.6 billion funding allocation from the affordable homes programme is a good start, but it does not cover the long-term funding gap and the structural barriers that have to be addressed.
Thirdly, there needs to be greater flexibility in the delivery of affordable homes. The most effective way to do that would be for the Government to allow developers to decide what tenure their homes should be on completion of a property so that we generate solutions that respond to the latest local need and allow the building of the right homes to continue in all economic conditions.
(4 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
The planning process is part of our democracy. It is one of the reasons we elect local councillors and one of the reasons we have planning committees that are independent of party political leadership. Citizens in every community across the country have a stake and a say in what happens in their local area, but the Conservatives’ planning reforms pull the rug from under our local democracy and instead roll out the red carpet for the big developers, with the automatic granting of outline planning permission; statutory presumptions in favour of development; planning notices moving to online only; no real role for existing neighbourhood plans; still not enough action on net zero energy-efficient housing resources and low-carbon heat; proposals that do not go far enough to deliver more council and affordable housing; and, based on recent permitted development rights, high-street shops that can be converted into often low-quality housing, with limited standards on space, light or community structure, and mobile phone masts that can be seemingly plonked anywhere. All in all, it is a complete shambles.
Let me take a few examples from my constituency. In Horfield, a developer bought a large house on the corner of a street and is developing a complex of bedrooms with shared living spaces. Local residents with concerns were able to submit them to the planning process, but under these proposals, the development could have had its planning permission automatically granted. In Avonmouth, we have had a long-running battle with an over-concentration of low-quality waste processing sites. Each new application for such a site now receives very high engagement from local residents, but under these proposals, a statutory presumption in favour of development could now apply.
On the Downs, a proposal to convert an old toilet block into a new coffee shop required the publication of physical notices. Even in those circumstances, many local residents did know about them. Under these proposals, those notices will now just be online. In Lawrence Weston, we have a very successful local neighbourhood development plan, but under these proposals, all that hard work by local residents now stands for nothing, with neighbourhood plans being effectively closed down.
In Henleaze, a freeholder is trying to use permitted development rights to build more flats on top of existing ones. Leaseholders sought to buy the freehold to prevent a future development, but under these proposals, the cost of the freehold has massively increased because of speculative development, making it impossible for the existing tenants to afford it. The Government promised to revive high streets, but under these proposals, they are just closing them down.
Lastly, for the thousands of young people and families on low incomes, these proposals offer little hope. We need more council houses, more affordable homes, a route to home ownership where tenants can save for their deposit, and low-carbon, energy-efficient houses now, and we need to protect the rights of citizens to be a valued part of our local democracy. It is therefore evident that the Government need to get back to the drawing board.
I am so glad to speak in this debate, because if there was no problem in Cornwall with housing, we would not be having it. We need the planning White Paper to deliver the right housing in the right places for the right people, and we cannot get close to delivering on the Government’s levelling-up agenda unless we get the housing right.
This debate is about local involvement in planning, and local priorities are at the heart of this. I know that my local community in west Cornwall and on Scilly would rally behind house building if my constituents knew that local families would be provided with homes they can afford and can call their own. I ask the Secretary of State to take a careful look at the situation in Cornwall, where local people find it difficult to get on the housing ladder. The demand to live in such a beautiful place as ours has created great problems for people who already live locally. With the fresh administration on Conservative-led Cornwall Council and incentives from the Government to help first-time buyers, I am of the belief that we can fix this problem. With the planning White Paper, that is made even more certain.
The planning White Paper must and can sweep in three areas of opportunity, all of which are consistent with the Government’s levelling-up agenda, and they all depend on a robust local plan. The first is homes built for people who need them. In places such as Cornwall and other areas referred to this afternoon, we need to look carefully at how housing policy can ensure that the houses being built are available to local people.
(5 months, 1 week ago)Commons Chamber
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell).
On principle, we need a planning agenda that is community-led, levelling up-led, flexible, thoughtful and environmental. If the planning Bill is about those values, I will support it; those values are good Conservative aims and I recommend them to Ministers and their special advisers. However, I have a couple of caveats. I do not believe that Ministers have made the case for why we need to scrap the current system rather than reform it. We are better off improving what we have. To seek revolutionary change rather than evolutionary change is un-Conservative and more likely to result in failed policy, unforeseen outcomes and, frankly, disenfranchised and irritated constituents.
Specifically, when it comes to the plan to strip away local democracy in individual planning applications, there is going to be considerable disquiet. The plan threatens to give our opponents throughout England a rallying cry of “Save local democracy from the Tories”. That is a very bad position for us to be in. The system is already weighted far too much in favour of developers.
Let me give an unfortunate example from the Island. AEW, a multibillion-pound property firm, bought a site, Ryde ice rink, a few years ago. The firm fell out with the community group that was using it, kicked them out and finished skating on the Island, meaning all the kids have had to go to the mainland. AEW’s tactics have been to sweat our council to allow a change of use—it has gamed the system to make more money by achieving a change of use. Its behaviour has been utterly wretched—the firm is little more than white-collar bully boys who care little about Ryde, my community and the Island more generally. When asked to do something about it, the firm boasts about its exceptionally expensive lawyers—it is part boast, part legal intimidation of Isle of Wight Council and, presumably, me. Under the current system, as imperfect and in need of reform as it is, we can fight these dreadful, arrogant people, in the hope that they will eventually give up, get fed up when they do not get change of use and, frankly, go forth and multiply. I am genuinely worried that under the new system communities like Ryde will not have a voice in what is happening to the property—especially significant property—in their patch, and it is ethically questionable companies like AEW that will profit.
Many Government Members and, I am sure, Opposition Members have a lot of ideas, and I strongly advise the Government and Ministers to engage with us, because we are only too keen to come up with workable ideas that get the planning Bill through and deliver for our communities. In the one minute I have remaining, I will rattle through some of those ideas.
As the excellent Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said, we must introduce a “use it or lose it” system for land-banking, because 1 million land-banked properties is a scandal. Secondly, for future development, there must be a meaningful start-by date or the developer loses permission to build. They must start paying council tax on a given date in the future, and if they have not built the properties, they must pay the council tax anyway.
Thirdly, if we are serious about our environmental agenda, we must lift VAT on brownfield sites and slap VAT on greenfield sites. We can then use the VAT from greenfield sites to equal out the equation, equal out the economics, equal out the true environmental and social costs and double down on brownfield sites. Fourthly, we must give councils more permission to make compulsory purchases. There are 600 long-term empty properties on the Isle of Wight alone; we could be using every single one of those. Fifthly, we must provide a legal requirement for brownfield sites.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am aware of what you just said about timing, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will go on for no more than another 30 seconds. There is not enough—we badly need affordable development, and that is what I want to see on the Island. What we do not need is speculative, low-density greenfield development that is not built for Islanders but is built for second home owners, is bad for our community and is dreadful for our visitor economy.
Seventhly, we must ban, except in exceptional circumstances, low-density greenfield development. Let us close speculative loopholes that allow people to game the system and introduce a character test that is applicable for planning applications. Out of respect to others, I will leave it there.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. According to Shelter, a quarter of a million people were homeless and stuck living in temporary accommodation at the start of the pandemic, and more than two thirds of all homeless people living in temporary accommodation are in London. That equates to one in every 52 people living in the capital. In Lewisham, there are currently 10,000 people on the housing register, 7,739 people are living in temporary accommodation, and we have waiting times of up to 10 years for a two-bedroom property and 22 years for one with four bedrooms.
One of my constituents, a health worker in the NHS, was placed in temporary accommodation with her three children, aged between three and seven, nearly a year ago. She said:
“We have a single room with a door, a kitchen and a toilet. My 2 girls share a single bed and I share the other with my 3-year-old son. I work with covid patients and living in a single room with my kids does not allow me to isolate if and when I need to”.
Another constituent, who has been on the housing register for five years, lives in a two-room hostel with shared facilities with her four children. During their time at the hostel, a shotgun was let off by a neighbour and they have endured other antisocial behaviour. They have also dealt with disrepair such as broken windows and cockroach infestations. The family are at breaking point. Another constituent, living in the private rented sector with her 12-year-old and 22-year-old with mental health conditions, is facing a section 21 eviction after eight years, having raised numerous complaints of disrepair.
The daily anxieties that my constituents are facing are unconscionable. Far too many lack even the basic security of knowing that there will be a roof over their head and a safe place to sleep. Since 2010, there has been a 78% increase in the number of children living in temporary accommodation. Lockdown and home schooling has been hard enough for most of us, but when someone lives in poor conditions with no space to learn or play it becomes unbearable. This Queen’s Speech could have been an opportunity to offer hope to my constituents that many of those problems would be fixed.
The Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto promised to ban section 21 evictions, yet in the Queen’s Speech this commitment has been watered down from a renters’ reform Bill to publishing a consultation on a White Paper. It looks like this commitment has been pushed into the long grass, but my constituents cannot wait any longer. Equally, the Queen’s Speech did not include a Bill to improve regulation of social housing, despite a Government White Paper on the subject last year. The paper put forward a new charter for social housing residents to ensure that they are safe, live in good quality homes and have access to redress when things go wrong, yet it is now nowhere to be seen.
Finally, we will never really tackle the problem without commitment to investment in a new generation of social rented homes that are genuinely affordable for families on low and average incomes. My constituents desperately need this, and until it happens thousands of families will continue to go to sleep at night not knowing whether they will ever have anywhere that they can truly call home.
“Build back better” is not just a simple catchy headline. Quite rightly, the Prime Minister and the Government have created the expectation that we will build back better, and in time the great British public will judge whether they believe we have achieved that aim.
Today’s subject for debate is “Affordable and Safe Housing for All”. A significant measure of our commitment to build back better will be how well we have driven down the harmful emissions of the built environment. It was a Conservative Government who set in law the commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and only recently this Conservative Government strengthened that commitment with a pledge to reach a 78% reduction by 2035—just 14 years from now.
Housing accounts for 14% of total UK emissions, so I am glad to make the case in this debate for stepping up our efforts to drive harmful emissions from our homes. We must start by including in the planning White Paper tangible and ambitious measures to deliver environmentally friendly protections and climate change mitigation. They must be part of a legislative framework that determines the quality and efficiency of new homes. We need to strengthen energy efficiency standards and we certainly need to review how energy performance certificates are organised—if you have ever tried to get one, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will know that it is an absolute nightmare.
We need strong assessment of the environmental impacts of the built environment. We need to bolster the national planning policy framework and drive up the requirements for net-gain biodiversity. Basically, in my view, the build back better White Paper must in effect become the green Bill. The Government and the Queen’s Speech have set out a commitment to support growth through significant investment in infrastructure, skills and innovation, and to pursue growth that levels up every part of the UK to enable the transition to net zero. The Committee on Climate Change has already made its message clear, saying that
“the 2020s must be the decisive decade of progress and action on climate change”
including by taking on the significant task of
“renovating and decarbonising the UK’s…homes.”
We must turn to fixing the problem rather than keep building on it. There is no better way to do that than by transforming the house building sector to ensure it has a highly skilled, highly motivated workforce that leads the world in developing and building homes that are great to live in, cheap to run and carbon neutral. To achieve this, a concerted cross-departmental effort must be made to ensure that planning rules accept only the greenest homes; that construction colleges shift towards teaching the latest methods and technologies, harnessing young people’s interest in the environment; and that building companies large and small have every reason to take on and train apprentices to build the homes in which we can be proud to live.
(1 year, 7 months ago)Westminster Hall
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Harborough, who made an excellent speech, and I congratulate him on securing this important debate.
Like everybody else, I feel there is a whole range of issues that we could address when it comes to housing and planning, so I will be specific and talk about planning and regulation relating to those homes that are not typically lived in. In my constituency, roughly a minimum of 7,000 properties are not lived in. They are second homes, boltholes owned by people who can afford more than one home. It is not their principal home. That is not even beginning to count the number of holiday lets, which are an important part of the tourism economy in the lakes and the western dales.
We also have a more recent development with the rise of Airbnb. I want to be very clear that Airbnb, like all technology, is neutral; it is what we do with it that gives it moral value for or against. I can think of many advantages of affordable holidays for people, and I can think of advantages for people who have holiday lets on the platform. It is also a way of making good use of space.
There is a lot that is good about Airbnb, but there are some problems as well. Research conducted for The Guardian just a few weeks ago showed that one in five houses in the Langdales, in Ambleside and in part of Windermere were on Airbnb. Many of those will be in estates that would not typically house second homes or even holiday lets, so it is clear that there is a movement out of the full-time, affordable family market into homes that are being used simply for rental. That is deeply troubling, and I would like the Government to look at it.
I would also like the Government to understand that although in a free society people should be allowed to use their money however they wish, the excess of second homes in communities such as mine can become deeply problematic. When we think that probably 80% to 90% of homes in certain Lake District villages are not lived in all year round, it is no surprise that beautiful places such as Dent and Langdale—wonderful communities at opposite ends of my constituency, one in the lakes, one in the Yorkshire dales—have school rolls of less than 30. Why? Because the majority of the homes that could send children to those schools are owned by people who do not occupy them or add much in the way of economic value to the community.
So what would I like the Government to do? I would like them to tackle this matter, as they have been promising for many months now. I ask the Minister in particular to address this. The Government have had a consultation, which closed in January 2019. They have still to act upon it and say whether or not they are going to close the loophole, as the Welsh Assembly have done, that allows some second home owners to game the system and avoid not only paying business rates, but paying council tax altogether. A conservative estimate in my constituency is that second home owners using that loophole are costing local council tax payers in the south lakes at least £3 million a year.
Will the Minister close that loophole, as the Welsh Assembly have? Will he also look at changing planning law, so that having a second home is actually a separate category of planning use from having a first home, so we can regulate the amount of second home ownership in places such as the lakes and the dales? Will he allow councils to look at raising council tax in certain areas, to create a disincentive and allow a redistribution of income in national parks in particular?
Finally, will the Minister look at the Airbnb market, recognising its value and the contribution it makes, but also recognising that a lack of regulation, health and safety applications, insurance and other things may make it an unfair competitor, added to the fact that Airbnb seems to be taking away houses from the affordable market for local families in the lakes? Those issues are a challenge that a Government ought to be addressing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I will talk about Mostyn House in Parkgate, which was originally a boarding school and is now a listed building. Once the school closed, the site was certainly attractive to developers.
Revised plans to build apartments into the fabric of the old school were submitted halfway through its redevelopment. Despite the many efforts of under-resourced local authority enforcement officers, the developer, PJ Livesey, continually drags its feet, with the result that there is a list of outstanding works as long as your arm. Planning permission was only finally achieved some five years after residents first moved in. Developers have similarly patchy records elsewhere in the country, but because the system lacks the capacity to challenge these people, they continue to get away with it.
I have long spoken about the industrial scale mis-selling that arose as part of the leasehold scandal, and we finally saw official recognition of that last week from the Competition and Markets Authority. The situation at Mostyn House is slightly different but has many similarities. Little specific legal information was provided at the initial stage, particularly regarding planning and the leasehold position, and little documentation was produced in respect of service charges. What was provided was misleading and inaccurate on ongoing costs. There were also financial incentives to use panel solicitors and pressure to exchange contracts within a tight timescale.
Many people buying these apartments were experienced professionals whose concerns about those issues were assuaged at the time by the developer’s sales staff, who confidently stated that the purchase was covered by a Premier Guarantee warranty, which gave the buyers a 10-year guarantee similar to the National House Building Council’s. That sounds good, does it not—a Premier Guarantee warranty? It sounds pretty solid, and something to give certainty. Being compared to the NHBC’s guarantee gives it an air of respectability.
However, buyers might find that they have more rights if something goes wrong with their kettle. It is at best a dispute resolution service, not a guarantee, and is seriously compromised by virtue of being funded by the developers against whom it is meant to enforce the guarantee. Premier not only provides the warranty on the build of Mostyn House but also acts as the approved inspector in respect of building regulations. Premier is effectively employed as the building control and building regulation compliance body to inspect, approve and guarantee works undertaken by the developer that it is supposed to be insuring against.
After four years of back and forth, Premier’s surveyor recently viewed the development and agreed with the defects raised by residents. However, Premier is not prepared to progress the claims, even though water is pouring into apartments right now from the defective roofs, gutters and walls. Premier said:
“The remit of our service is to attempt to bring the two parties together, investigate the dispute and make recommendations…That being said, the conciliation service will not be suitable for all disputes.”
That is not a guarantee or warranty; it is a cop-out.
It is clear that some works by the developer were non-compliant, as additional fire separation works and modifications have had to be undertaken since occupation took place. How did Premier sign off those works in the first place? It is plainly evident that there has been a general lack of supervision of the development during its construction and a lack of inspections by the approved inspector. If it finds too many faults, it will have to pay out under its own insurance policy, funded by the developer. It is therefore easy to see how the temptation to be less than thorough could arise.
My constituents have been let down. The ombudsman has proven toothless and the Solicitors Regulation Authority ineffective. Indeed, anyone who cares to look at Trustpilot ratings for the ombudsman, the SRA and Premier will see that there is very little customer satisfaction anywhere in the country. There is a wholesale failure of regulation across the board on many issues, including in this case and others we have heard about. It is time that the Minister and the Government listened and sorted out this shambles once and for all.
I certainly will do that, Sir Charles, and it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
It is also a great pleasure to follow my old friend the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O'Brien) on securing this important debate, and I also thank him for the entirely unsolicited testimonial that he gave me at the start of his remarks. I also thank and congratulate all right hon. and hon. Members for their presence today. The number of colleagues from across the House who have attended the debate is testament to Member’s interest in and concern about this important topic. I thank them all for being here.
I will now address some of the important points raised by hon. Members. I am conscious that I do not have a huge amount of time, so if I am not able to address them all, I certainly contract to meet with or write directly to those I miss, to ensure that we cover all the points that have been raised today effectively.
One of the key issues, raised by a number of colleagues, is unfair practices in the leasehold market. Let me say that those practices have no place in a modern housing market, and neither do excessive ground rents, which exploit consumers, who get nothing in return. That is why we are reforming the system so that it is fairer to leaseholders.
In December 2019, we announced that we would move forward with legislation on leasehold reform, reaffirming our commitment to making the system fairer and more transparent. The Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), will have more to say about that as the Minister responsible for that legislation; I shall certainly relay to him the concerns that Members from all parties have raised in the debate today.
I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough that we want to minimise the effect of inappropriate access routes for construction vehicles by encouraging temporary access routes that should ideally be delivered through voluntary arrangements. We have all faced the issue in our constituencies; I have faced it specifically with respect to wagons building the High Speed 2 railway line. I hope that I can give my hon. Friend some reassurance that we have legislated for local authorities and other acquiring bodies to compulsorily purchase land temporarily under the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017, and we are engaging with the sector on how best to implement those powers.
It is important that breaches of planning conditions are tackled by local planning enforcement teams, given that conditions are often imposed by councils to make a development acceptable to local people. That is why we have provided nearly £2 million of funding this year to help to strengthen enforcement teams in 37 local authorities, and we have also updated the National Association of Planning Enforcement’s practical handbook to help.
We will also outline further measures to help to improve local authority enforcement in the forthcoming planning White Paper, so I hope that Members will forbear and bear with me as that White Paper is released. I hope that that satisfies colleagues about some of the concerns that my hon. Friend raised.
The green belt is very important. We need to ensure that green spaces are protected, and that we have beautiful spaces in which we can all live. We also need to ensure that local plans are up to date and fit for purpose, in order to ensure that the houses that people want and need can be built.
That brings me rather nicely to my fundamental point. We all know that this country does not have enough homes. That is why we need a more agile and flexible planning system. KPMG and Shelter have both reported that simply to meet rising future demand, a minimum of a quarter of a million new homes will be needed every year. The median house price in England is eight times higher than median gross annual earnings; in London, it is 12.3 times higher.
We have to be bold and ambitious in our vision for the future of planning and house building in England. That is why, in January 2018, we set up Homes England as our housing accelerator, to intervene in the market and drive a step change in housing delivery. We have an unwavering commitment to enable the housing market to deliver at least 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, and a million homes by the end of this Parliament. I am pleased that the latest figures show that last year housing supply, which has been growing year on year, increased by more than 241,000, to the highest level in the last 31 years.
(1 year, 8 months ago)Westminster Hall
Before I answer my hon. Friend’s question, I welcome him to this Westminster Hall debate. I appreciate that he cannot speak this afternoon because he has yet to make his maiden speech. The rail freight interchange will have as much of an impact on his constituency of Bosworth as it will on my constituency of South Leicestershire. The 24/7 impact on the current infrastructure—let alone the very modest additional infrastructure that has been proposed—will be detrimental to his constituents as well as to mine.
I will put the location of the proposal into context. The planned site for the Hinkley rail hub would, in its totality, encompass a 440-acre area; for comparison, that is almost a quarter of the size of Gatwick airport. We are talking about a very large area that is currently beautiful rolling South Leicestershire countryside. The site will neighbour the historic and picturesque county villages of Elmesthorpe, Stoney Stanton, Sapcote, Sharnford, Aston Flamville, Potters Marston, Croft, Huncote, Thurlaston and Wigston Parva, which are collectively and colloquially referred to as the Fosse villages.
I appreciate that people in the Chamber—with the exception of those in the Public Gallery—will not be familiar with the Fosse villages, much to their detriment. The settlements, many of which date back to medieval times, vary in size and, because of their location, share a collective bond in this area of Leicestershire. My constituents in the Fosse villages contend with overburdened infrastructure at the very best of times.
I entirely agree. Government policy is to reduce HGV traffic by moving freight off our principal road arteries and on to rail, but the concern about this specific proposal is that developers often propose a purported rail freight head development when all they want is a very large logistics park. We must be ultra-cautious that this particular development is not just a front for yet another large-scale logistics park.
(2 years, 1 month ago)Commons Chamber
The social and financial cost of homelessness far exceeds what we spend on temporary accommodation, which was £1 billion of taxpayers’ money last year—every £1 of it badly spent. Some 6,980 families in my constituency are trapped in bed and breakfast accommodation, having been there longer than the six-week legal limit, including 810 children. Others are stuck in hostels far away from their schools, families and friends.
Some of my constituents are housed, at least temporarily, in Connect House, a warehouse on the busiest south London industrial estate. For anybody who wants to see what Connect House looks like, please have a look at the video on my Twitter account.
I am just crawling through my speech, because I see more and more people here.
Other families who have come to see me are on the ever-expanding waiting list, with 1.2 million families across our country now waiting for a place to call home—1.2 million. Just 6,464 new social homes were built in 2017-18, the second lowest number on record. At that rate, it could take 172 years to give a socially rented home to everyone on the current waiting list. That is utterly appalling when we compare those figures with the 150,000 social homes delivered each year in the mid-1960s or the 203,000 council homes that the Government delivered in 1953. It has been done before and we all know that we can do it again.
In Merton, where my constituency is based, 10,000 families are on the housing waiting list, with lettings for just 2.5% of them in 2018-19. What hope can I give the other 97.5% that they will ever find a place to go? I would like to provide statistics on home ownership but, again, I will move on to some of the other data in my speech.
The statistics and the stories that I have detailed this afternoon should provide thoroughly fertile ground for the British house building industry to get on and build, but its record does not match the potential. Here is the reality: our country’s housing target is 300,000 new homes a year—a figure that has not been reached, as we have already identified, since 1969, when councils and housing associations were building new homes. England is now on course for the worst decade for house building since the second world war.
I would like to look specifically at the performance of the leading house building companies in our country. To the best of my understanding, the figures are all correct as of June. In the last financial year, just 86,685 homes were completed by the 10 FTSE 350 house building companies, despite an extraordinary collective pre-tax profit of more than £5.37 billion. That is a mind-boggling figure, which is better understood when broken down.
Let us start with the four FTSE 100 housing companies: Barratt, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Berkeley. In the most recent financial year, Barratt completed just 17,579 homes—slightly more than Persimmon, which finished 16,449 homes, with profits of £1.1 billion, of which half was down to public subsidy through the Government’s Help to Buy scheme. Taylor Wimpey came third with 15,275 homes completed but, in fourth place, despite an astonishing pre-tax profit of £934.9 million, is Berkeley homes, which completed a pitiful 3,894 homes. Together, those four companies collected a pre-tax profit of an unimaginable £3.68 billion, despite completing just 53,198 homes—less than 18% of the Government’s house building target.
What went wrong? Did they perhaps just not have the land to build the houses? Those four companies are sitting on a land bank of more than 300,000 plots between them. If we add in the rest of the FTSE 350 house building companies—Bellway, Bovis, Countryside, Crest Nicholson, Galliford and Redrow—the collective land bank is a staggering 470,068 plots, yet they completed 86,685 homes between them.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman and would love an opportunity to have a debate about planning law, building on the green belt and other matters. I could speak at great length about them but I will not because I want to allow other people to get in.
I would like Members to focus their attention on pay. Some of the figures are staggering. Let me be clear: I am new Labour to the core. I have no problem with successful businesspeople earning a lot of money, but what happens in this sector goes beyond earning a fair day’s money. I was furious to see that, almost exclusively on the back of the British taxpayer through Help to Buy, Persimmon awarded its former chief executive Jeff Fairburn a staggering £75 million bonus, despite an appalling record of utterly substandard homes. How can that be right or fair?
(3 years ago)Westminster Hall
I utterly agree; I was about to make that very point. At the moment, we infill bits on the edges of every village and town. We are effectively building in the places that annoy people the most, so we do not build enough homes, as my hon. Friend said. When we do that, we cannot keep up with the infrastructure needs of these places, because it is physically impossible. Perhaps the primary school is on too small a plot or we cannot widen a road that has become a rat run because there is not enough money to meet infrastructure needs.
Previously, we did things very differently. There was the new towns programme: those new towns now house more than 2 million people very successfully. They are fast-growing places. Mrs Thatcher created docklands in London and Liverpool, and the model was roughly the same for both. A development corporation would buy land cheap at existing low values. It would assemble the land, install the infrastructure and sell on that land for uplifted values, therefore paying for itself. That model has been used successfully all over the world.
(3 years, 4 months ago)Commons Chamber
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your kind words.
Through the changes that we are making to the national planning policy framework, we want to streamline the process to get homes built and, particularly through our emphasis on the housing delivery test, to make sure that homes are built for the next generation.
(3 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
Order. Just one second. We are not going to be able to get Members in. Members have had six minutes each and I have now dropped the limit to four minutes. We are in danger of being self-indulgent if we are not careful. Some people will not get in and that is unfair when this issue matters to every constituency.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree that one thing councils should not do if they are trying to raise money is increase in-town and in-city parking charges? In her report, Mary Portas clearly identified that as a disincentive to the public to shop in our town centres.
I feel like this is one of those debates where there may be less disagreement than usual, given the appalling cuts that almost all our councils have faced over the last seven years. Let us be clear that council budgets are at breaking point. There are very few places left to cut. We are talking about our councils struggling to stay financially viable. There is little to nothing known about their sustainability from 2020 onwards, and there is real fear in our communities as we begin to lose services that are essential to people’s wellbeing. The truth is that the Government have put so much pressure on councils that statutory services have never been on a more insecure footing. They have put ever-increasing pressure on councils such as mine in Bradford and in other areas that sadly face the reality of deprivation.
In February in this Chamber, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government said that
“local government delivers vital services for the communities they serve—services that many of us take for granted, provided by dedicated, often unsung councillors and officers in places that we are all proud to call home. As such, as I have said before, local government is the frontline of our democracy and deserves the resources it needs to do its job,”
which is to
“deliver truly world-class services.”—[Official Report, 7 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1561.]
So the question is: why do the Government treat our tremendous councils, councillors and officers with such contempt, expecting them to provide world-class services that people desperately need with crumbs from the table?
Bradford will have seen a near 30% reduction in its funding by 2020. It will have lost in real terms nearly £65 million from its budgets, and all the Government can do is tell it to manage and keep providing essential services. The difficulty—this has been true of many councils for a long time—is that there is no room left to cut. We are at breaking point, with councils having to lose frontline services at a rate of change that leaves some of the most vulnerable in our communities at risk. In Bradford alone, we face some of the most difficult decisions yet, and that is before we need to find another nearly £30 million in savings in the next year.
A local group, Bradford Families Against Children’s Services Cuts, is fighting to try and save the special educational needs and disability and children’s services provision in the city. These real families are directly affected by the cuts, but the council is in an impossible position: instead of the expected £15 million funding from central Government, it will receive only £7.5 million. Let me be clear: this is at the Government’s door—they are deciding that these services are not worth protecting. The same is true for our early years children’s services, where, because of the extreme savings required by the Government, we are likely to have to lose nearly 200 members of staff. This is the grim reality for councils up and down the country while they strive to provide the most important services with less and less money.
This is not sustainable, and as the National Audit Office report on the financial sustainability of local authorities highlighted in no uncertain terms, as pressures grow, there are real and immediate risks to statutory services. Sadly, the Government seem content to keep dividing people. The chair of Solace and chief executive of Doncaster council wrote in The Guardian that councils can take no
“more shocks to what is already a shocked system.”
They are being thrown over a cliff edge, and Northamptonshire Council is one of those examples. The Government can wrap it up how they want, but the fact is that the situation is due to their cuts and their austerity policies. They really need to take stock and change those policies.
(3 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
We are all agreed: the UK has a housing crisis. No matter which party is speaking, there is universal recognition of the desperate need to urgently increase the supply of housing. So there is no debate, then, is there? The global financial crash had a catastrophic impact on the house building industry in this country. Given that much of the credit crunch was down to bad debts, particularly those resulting from bad lending in the US domestic housing market, this was perhaps to be expected. In just two years, the number of homes built crashed by 30%, and with this the supply of housing just dried up. That economic shock forced the then Labour Government to drive for affordable house building as part of an economic stimulus programme to help the country through the deep recession.
By 2009, the foundations for a new era of affordable house building were laid, with a £4 billion annual affordable housing programme, backing for councils to receive grant funding and build new council housing, full localisation of council housing finance agreed with the Treasury to boost building still further, and a programme of progressively higher standards agreed with industry to make all new build homes zero carbon by 2016. It was a comprehensive programme.
Since the change of Government in 2010, public policy has been perceived as at best indifferent and at worst hostile to affordable housing. One of the first decisions made by Conservative Ministers after the 2010 election was to cut back new housing investment by more than 60%. As a result, the number of new Government-backed homes for social rent started each year has plummeted from almost 40,000 to fewer than 1,000 last year. The number of new low-cost ownership homes being built has halved. The plans that Labour left to get councils building 10,000 homes a year were undermined, dashing any hopes of councils being able to build at scale again.
At the same time as the number of new homes being built has fallen, there has been a huge loss of existing social homes. In 2012, right-to-buy discounts were hiked to a massive £100,000.
Yes, the figures do show that, but if one drills down into the number, one will find that they were provided by Labour authorities, and that is despite the borrowing cap that has been placed on them. Without that cap, to which I shall refer, far greater supply would be available.
Despite a promise that there would be one-for-one replacements, in some areas only one in five homes sold under the right to buy has been replaced. A new kind of publicly funded housing was introduced. Ministers branded it “affordable rent”, with rent set at up to 80% of the market price and thereby directly linked to often unaffordable private market rents.
(3 years, 7 months ago)Commons Chamber
The hon. Lady makes an important point but, if she looks at the detail of the new revised national planning policy framework, she will see that there is scope for local authorities to make precisely the distinction that she mentions. I look forward to her support.
I should declare an interest, because I have been shopping at Cribbs Causeway many times and it is probably my mum’s favourite shopping complex. It is a live planning issue and we are considering it in detail. It is relatively complex, but we will try to reach a decision as quickly as possible.
(3 years, 9 months ago)Commons Chamber
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, these growth deals are extremely complicated. That is why I have agreed to meet the backers of the Ayrshire growth deal to talk about how, for our part, the UK Government can take an exciting deal forward.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We delivered 217,000 new homes last year, which is 50% more than the last year of the last Labour Government. We want to get that level up to 300,000. We have planning reform, release of public sector land and targeted funding to achieve that, which is crucial for key workers, the next generation and those on low and middle incomes.