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Housing and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:27 pm on 2nd November 2015.

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Photo of Victoria Borwick Victoria Borwick Conservative, Kensington 7:27 pm, 2nd November 2015

I thank the Minister for listening to areas such as Kensington that want to encourage entrepreneurship and business and for continuing to exempt central London areas from the rules on converting commercial premises to residential premises. This recognises that mixed communities are vital in promoting local employment and industry, which is particularly important in north Kensington, which is a business and creative arts hub.

While welcoming the aspirational policies in the Bill and recognising the value and popularity of home ownership, I believe it is important to offer housing prices at different levels. I have been meeting housing associations and colleagues in the borough to discuss the issue in greater depth, but as many others, including my hon. Friends the Members for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), have so eloquently argued, there are unique features to central London, particularly high-asset areas such as Kensington, that require special consideration.

I would like to touch on the right-to-buy proposals, which, although aspirational, will require local councils to fund the discount received by the purchaser. This will force councils to sell off high-value vacant properties, or “voids”, rather than being able to offer them to families in temporary accommodation and thus further decrease the stock. Housing people in temporary accommodation is expensive and often unsatisfactory, and when a void becomes available, local councils must be able to use the property, via the housing associations, for those on their lists.

I ask the Minister to consider land values in outliers, such as Kensington and other central London areas, and to appreciate that the levels should be related to local house prices. Many house prices in Kensington exceed £1 million, and it would be extremely expensive for the council to replace any sold stock. The problem of high-asset values is not unique to Kensington, so I support other colleagues in asking the Minister to keep the money raised by London sales in London to help fund London’s housing provision where it is most needed.

I hope that the Minister will give thought to local land values and consider other possible exemptions—regeneration schemes, supported housing, sheltered care, housing specifically designed for the disabled—because although I support this initiative and want to help people into home ownership, it should not be at the expense of the provision of social housing for our most vulnerable.

I would like to touch briefly on the “pay to stay” proposals—again, I welcome the appreciation that those on good incomes should be able to pay a proper rent and put money into the system to help others. However, I am concerned that setting the level at £40,000 might be a disincentive to work, particularly if we consider a couple or young family with each earning perhaps £20,000 a year and starting out on their careers—two newly qualified teachers, for example. They will be expected to fund up to 80% of the market rent in Kensington and Chelsea, and might find themselves penalised, so I ask the Minister to look at tapering the rates, so that the Bill does not impact negatively on those it most wishes to assist.

Turning briefly to the starter homes proposals, we have become accustomed in central London to section 106 arrangements and have often been able to meet some of our housing need as well as assisting with the provision of disabled-accessible properties. While starter home provision will be financially attractive to developers, the homes are likely to be above the price threshold needed to help those starting on the housing ladder—a point that my colleagues made earlier. I urge the Minister to examine the implementation of the starter homes initiative. Although it has been popular outside London, we would want the Mayor and London boroughs to have a range of different models to encourage shared ownership, including First Steps and other provision. I ask the Minister to devolve the decisions to the local councils for them to choose the most appropriate mix of affordable rented and other models of shared ownership.

In common with my colleagues, I welcome the aspirations in the Bill to increase home ownership, and ask the Minister to consider local needs, particularly those in my Kensington constituency.