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Housing: Long-Term Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:33 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk 5:33 pm, 9th February 2016

I am very pleased to hear that. There is quite a lot going on in the south-west, and I hope it will spread right across the country to all corners of our great kingdom.

According to a YouGov survey, 75% of people do not particularly want to buy the product of the volume house builders. That probably has something to do with the quality of the offer and the fact that there is not enough choice. However, they sometimes have to do so even though they would prefer to do something else. An Ipsos MORI survey discovered that 53% of people would like to build their own house at some point in their lives, that 7 million people would like to do it in the next five years, and that 1 million would like to start in the next 12 months.

There are a whole range of benefits in this approach. We get much better quality building standards—I am sure the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead would approve of this—because people who are investing in their own homes are not doing it to get a margin that they can sell on in the way that, perfectly understandably, a volume house builder tries to do. Rather, they will try to get the highest quality fabric, and the highest thermal performance standards, that they can possibly afford. It also helps the skills agenda. Some people are doing it themselves, while some are commissioning others to do it but often still get involved at some level or other. There is a tremendous opportunity for the apprenticeships programme. Locally built housing causes money to stay in the local economy.

Self-builders are often much more community-spirited. They are much more likely to stay and to become pillars of their local communities; they are the ones who get on to the parish council. It is great for helping the vulnerable. What I find so depressing about the droning I have heard from the Opposition Benches for some years now is that there is no sign of radicalism. Somebody who goes on to the Community Self-Build Agency’s website—I encourage anyone to do this—will read the following on the front page:

“I was encouraged by the local council to apply for the CSBA Scheme, I rang them and said; ‘I am disabled, unemployed, on benefits and I know nothing of building.’
They said; ‘You fit all the criteria!’
I have never looked back.”

Rod Hackney said:

“It is a dangerous thing to underestimate human potential and the energy which can be generated when people are given the opportunity to help themselves.”

That is what this is really about.

I recently spoke to the headteacher of a small, rural high school in my constituency. It is always going to be a small school, because of the demographics, and it finds it difficult to recruit teachers. I told him, “You and the governors could tell a potential recruit in a difficult-to-fill subject, ‘If you come to our school, we’ll help you create your own house, which you could either rent or perhaps buy from us in the future.’ A history teacher could have a library for a couple of thousand books, and an arts and crafts teacher could have a workshop. Do you think that would help you recruit teachers?” He said, “God, yes, it would.”

The head of children’s services at Norfolk County Council recently told me that it is very difficult to recruit senior social workers with lots of experience of leading teams. Under the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act, a county council could register as an association of individuals; a planning authority would then be required to provide them with service plots. The potential of the Act is extraordinary. It gives us a chance to change the equation and how things are done.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said in his opening remarks that we cannot rely on the dysfunctional market. Of course we cannot. It is touching that there are people who think we have a functioning housing market, and the fact that he refers to the market in that way suggests that he is one of them. What we have to do is fix it. In markets, people have real choice. My hon. Friend Stuart Andrew said earlier that there have been decades of under-investment. I was going to intervene on him, but I did not, to ask him why he thinks we have managed to have enough shoes for everyone without decades of Government investment in the shoe industry. No one says that we need a national shoe service in order to solve the problem of not having enough shoes. What we need is a market that actually works.