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My right hon. Friend makes a perfect point that is relevant to my experience in Cumbria. None of this is to say that a reduction in social rents is a bad thing—it is a good thing—but, as I have said, there is something utterly mean-spirited and counterproductive about being very generous with other people’s money.
Rural areas such as mine in Cumbria face particular challenges in tackling the issue of affordable housing. If we consider the fact that some 8% of homes in rural areas are affordable, compared with 20% across the country, we will realise how difficult it is for children who grow up in rural communities to cling on, make a living there and raise their own families when they get older, and, indeed, for key workers to live in the areas in which they work.
On the positive side, when councils have been empowered and supported to deliver homes, they have proven that they can do so. South Lakeland District Council has delivered hundreds of new affordable homes, bringing the waiting list down by 18% in a single year. It is a fantastic example of a council with the right priorities delivering to meet the needs of its community. So many communities are under threat. The growth in second home ownership means that communities can be hollowed out as the result of a diminished resident population and the subsequent loss of schools, post offices, shops and public transport links.
The increase in stamp duty on the purchase of second homes is good news, but mostly for the Treasury. When communities such as Hawkshead have something like 50% second home ownership, why cannot those funds be redirected to those communities, to support local services and to help provide new affordable homes? Why will the Government not support Liberal Democrat plans to allow second homes to be charged double council tax, to tackle the immense damage that excessive second home ownership does to towns and villages in places such as the west country, Northumberland and Cumbria?
Councils have a valuable part to play in providing the homes we need to tackle the crisis of supply. They could play an even greater role in providing homes of all tenures, by which I mean not just social homes, but homes for sale and private rent, improving the quality of homes in that sector. Yet councils are being hit with cuts and extra taxes from every side by this Government in what appears to be a war of attrition aimed at putting councils out of the business of providing homes.
Councils are not the whole answer to the housing crisis, but they are part of the solution, as are starter homes. We must trust our democratically elected councils, which know and understand local needs, to deliver for their communities. That is why we are calling on the Government to lift the borrowing cap to enable councils to borrow to build. That could lead to an extra 80,000 homes over four years, each providing a secure home for a family to bring up their children. That has been called for by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Local Government Association and others. Most solutions to the housing crisis are long term, but where immediate action can be taken, the Government surely must take it. Ideology must not be allowed to get in the way of supplying the homes that are needed. It is time to trust councils again.