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Housing: Long-Term Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:59 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Campaigns Chair 5:59 pm, 9th February 2016

It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and to follow Andrew Bridgen, and it is good to hear that positive things are happening. During debates on important subjects—albeit on an Opposition day—it is important to acknowledge the gravity of the challenge that we face as a nation in addressing the housing crisis. We must consider that in a serious way, rather than just score party political points.

The housing crisis has not been properly dealt with by Governments in the past, and the lack of contributions to this important debate from Back-Bench Members from all parties is disappointing. Whatever positive things may be going on in certain parts of the country with certain sectors of the population, more people in my surgeries mention housing than any other issue, and every week families come to me who are living in unacceptably overcrowded social housing.

We are desperate for more social housing in Leeds, and to pin all our hopes on this extraordinary—and in my opinion disgraceful—extension of the right to buy, not to the state but to housing associations, will make that worse not better. At the same time, what is happening in Leeds shows not only a lack of balance but real confusion from this Government. Although he is no longer in his place, my neighbour, Stuart Andrew, knows full well the frustrations of the national planning system. In his constituency and mine, the current planning system sometimes gives carte blanche to developers to develop greenfield sites, because we do not have the brownfield sites and the kind of houses that we need.

Although a number of houses are being built, if we build expensive housing in already popular areas—that is what developers want to do and it will not be solved by the market—we will end up with more expensive housing, which those who do not have access to housing, be they in private rented housing or social housing, or trying to get on the housing ladder, could never have considered buying in the first place. That does nothing for the housing crisis even though it leads to more housing, and the Government must be more honest about that.

The target of 300,000 new homes a year is perfectly achievable, but it is just as important to ensure that we focus that on the right kind of housing and in the right places. At the moment that is not happening sufficiently, and I look forward to hearing more about how Ministers will achieve that. We hear consistently from the Minister and his colleagues that brownfield development is being prioritised and incentivised, but that is not happening in Leeds, and I look forward to hearing how it will happen over the next few years. We need bold thinking on garden cities and not to have that shot down, and there is support for some of the areas suggested by the Liberal Democrats in their manifesto, including between Oxford and Cambridge—a great part of the country and an area of particular demand—and for a garden cities railway.

On the right to buy, why is there a blind spot for those people and families—including, in some cases, single parents—who work incredibly hard bringing up children on very low incomes and who are stuck in the private rented sector? Where is the hope for them? In many cases, their only hope is to get into a more affordable social home—a council house, as people in the north of England call houses that are owned by the local authority. Frankly, I have heard nothing from the Minister today that will give that huge section of the population any hope. Until they can get a council house—and that means building more of them—those people simply will not have that possibility. The idea of them getting enough money for a deposit is cloud cuckoo land.