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It is a pleasure to follow John Woodcock, although he seemed unable to find a single positive thing to say about the Budget, notwithstanding the remarks of his colleagues about the support for energy-intensive industries. That is in complete contrast to the country as a whole because, as the opinion polls published over the weekend indicate, the general public seem quite supportive of what we are doing.
Rugby is the fastest growing area in the west midlands, with a very positive attitude to growth and development. My constituents will benefit substantially from our long-term economic plan. They are keen to look at the measures in the Budget that will contribute to growth, which are very welcome. The British Chambers of Commerce stated:
“Budget 2014 passes the business test.”
The Federation of Small Businesses stated that its measures
“will maintain increasing confidence in the construction sector”.
The Home Builders Federation called it a
“Budget that builds for the future”.
The Federation of Master Builders stated:
“Government intervention to finance small house builders welcomed”.
The Building Societies Association referred to
“welcome proposals to boost house building, especially Help to Buy.”
That sounds to me like a pretty ringing endorsement for the measures the Chancellor announced last week.
Many of my constituents have already benefited from the Help to Buy equity loan scheme and will be pleased to see it being extended to 2020. It was announced today that already 17,000 people have been able to realise the dream of owning their own home. In my constituency 75 loans have already been completed and there are 77 “scheduled out” sales, meaning potential completed loans following the reservation of a property in the scheme. That is the 18th highest level in the country. It is enabling people to start on the housing ladder with a 5% deposit. Many of those buyers would otherwise still be renting.
In Rugby we are proudly building more homes, with 320 completions last year. Work is currently taking place on development sites across my constituency, the largest being Eden park, where 1,400 new homes are coming forward, with outline consent granted in the last couple of months for a sustainable urban extension on the old BT mast site. The continuation of Help to Buy will speed up the site’s development. It will not be built overnight—it is anticipated that it will take over 15 years—but it will reduce the build-out time, as well as providing many of the houses our country needs.
However, the majority of new build is now done by major-volume house builders, as smaller builders were hit hardest by the downturn, so I am rather disappointed that the Chancellor did not accept recommendations to reduce the VAT rate on improvements and extensions, which attract VAT at the standard rate while new build attracts zero VAT. That work is often carried out by smaller, family-owned building companies, which have been hardest hit over the past few years. I was therefore very pleased to see the £500 million builders finance fund, which will enable small builders to deliver 15,000 housing units. The market share of 100-unit builders has halved since 1995, from 30% to 14% of the market. This is a very welcome incentive for that sector.
I was delighted by the proposal for Ebbsfleet, and there is such support within the community there. We heard my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson, who represents Ebbsfleet, speak about the virtues of the development site. The critical difference between that proposal and the previous Government’s eco-towns is that they failed through a lack of local support. In Ebbsfleet the development is being welcomed by local people. It is entirely right for the Government to bring forward incentives for local authorities to consider how garden city proposals, such as those in Letchworth and Welwyn garden city, can be brought forward. At a time when the national planning policy framework sets out the principle that planning is no longer something that people see as being done to them, but something in which they have a real say, it is vital that any proposals for substantial new development have real public support and consensus.
I welcome the pensions reform, which means that pensioners will finally be treated as adults, but there are those who are concerned that use of the pension pot might encourage people to invest in buy-to-let properties or to support the next generation to buy their homes, which will add upward pressure on house prices. Opposition Members talk about a bubble, but we cannot have a bubble when, as today’s BBC report reminds us, 8% of households in the UK are in negative equity, and the figure rises to 16% in the north of England. We would need a very substantial rise in house prices across the country for there to be any form of problem.
I welcome the support that the Government are bringing forward for energy-intensive industries, which of course will support manufacturing, including cement manufacturing, which is so important in my constituency. We have seen a Budget that is good for business, good for development and good for individuals across our country.