Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Housing and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 2nd November 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 7:15 pm, 2nd November 2015

I will not give way at the moment. I acknowledge the balanced contribution of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East, but we will not take lectures from her more ideological colleagues about the importance and value of aspiration.

I also remember from my childhood how the lives of the families of my school friends who lived on neighbouring council properties were transformed by the right to buy when it was introduced by Margaret Thatcher. They were given opportunities and security that they had never had before. It is important that Opposition Members remember that the aspiration for ever to be dependent and to be renting is not the aspiration of the majority of the British people.

The hon. Lady is right to say that we all need to build more homes. I recognise that Governments of both parties have failed in that regard, but the reality is, and history shows, that home ownership peaked at 71% in 2003. That happened under the Labour Government at a time when they were largely following the economic policies of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke. After 2003, as the Labour party moved to the left, it lost economic credibility and home ownership declined steadily. The coalition inherited the mess it left behind, which had presented the market with further problems. That is the reality and there is no way Labour can escape that. That is the true history of the matter. This Bill therefore provides a welcome and much-needed boost for the housing supply. The coalition Government made a good start, but we need to do more and my right hon. and hon. Friends in the ministerial team recognise that.

My hon. Friends the Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) have all referred to the particular issue of the London housing market. As a London MP, I endorse and support everything they said, which is why I will support their proposed amendment. The London housing market is complex and much more varied than anywhere else in the country. In looking at how constructively to introduce the right to buy for social housing tenants in London, we will have to bear in mind the particular pressures on the London market as a result of its land-replacement costs being so much higher than those in the rest of the country.

I get the sense that Ministers understand that, and my hon. Friends and I look forward to working with them to achieve an outcome that increases the total supply in London. That includes what we generally call “affordable housing,” although nowadays that term is sometimes used as a proxy for social rented housing, which is important. Perhaps we also need to consider intermediate forms of tenure, which often relate to the squeezed middle in London who are in employment, working hard and cannot immediately get on to the market, but who will never qualify for subsidised social housing. Getting that mix right is absolutely critical.

On the Bill’s planning and compulsory purchase provisions, the planning changes are welcome, particularly the increased transparency as a result of making available basic financial information about planning applications. That follows on from the work my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I did in government to refine and rationalise the rules on predetermination. We can now have a sensible debate about the pros and cons of planning decisions to be made by communities and elected representatives. That is welcome.

Compulsory purchase might not be as headline grabbing as other parts of the Bill, but it is still important. I welcome the important proposals to make advance payment of compensation easier, but I hope the Government will reconsider the rate to be paid. I know they are considering 1% to 2%, but if a business loses its land through compulsory purchase, it will have to reinvest in its business, which, in most cases, will mean going to the bank for a loan. It would be much more equitable, therefore, to align the level of compensation more closely with the going commercial rate of bank loans. I hope we can consider that.

Another point relates to the useful changes to nationally significant infrastructure projects. I understand that it might sometimes be useful to have housing ancillary to a national infrastructure project—the consultation document talks about workers’ accommodation and so on—but it would be perverse if, as under the current rules, and as a result of a nationally significant infrastructure project, land was compulsorily acquired at current use value and the acquiring authority then built and sold houses at the housing value, meaning that the original landowner loses their land without any element of the uplift that comes from the housing development. That seems anomalous and unfair, and I hope that Minister will think about it.

All in all, this is a good and constructive Bill, and I will have no hesitation supporting it in the Lobby tonight. I commend it to the House.