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Housing: Long-Term Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:16 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Defence) 6:16 pm, 9th February 2016

That is not the experience in my constituency, where people are being priced out of the city, which is having an impact on the local economy. Businesses are saying that it is really difficult to recruit and retain the vital staff they need because people cannot afford to live in our city. The NHS requires improvement, not on account of the excellent care provided by NHS staff, but because it is unable to recruit the staff it needs—doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.

Our care sector, too, is in crisis at the moment because careworkers cannot afford to live in our city. It is impacting on discharges from hospital. I know of someone who was in hospital for seven months, trying all the time to get out. We have seen care homes shut down, and we know that it costs more to keep people in the NHS than to care for them in the community, but if we do not have the care staff in the community, people are going to be left in hospital, which is totally unacceptable. What is happening to our public services and to businesses in our city is impacted on by our housing crisis.

We know how much demand there is for homes. We have two universities in the city, which means 22,000 students all looking for homes, on top of the 1,624 people who simply do not have a home in our city at the moment. Under the Government’s right to buy scheme, the situation is going to get worse. The City of York Council will be asked to sell just short of 1,500 homes. It will stretch opportunity further and further away from people because of the price of housing in our city.

We have heard a lot about the opportunity to buy homes, but again this is largely inaccessible for many people in York. Starter homes can cost £209,000 and we know that people cannot afford the deposits. An average income of nearly £59,000 is required, but the average wage in York falls less than half of that. Buying does not provide the solution that people in my city are looking for.

It is not all bad news in York. We have a great opportunity because of the York central site—not to be confused with my York Central constituency—which is a 72-acre brownfield site looking to develop alongside the expansion of the National Railway Museum and the enterprise zone, which is coming in to build the opportunities for business in the city. The problem with the York central site, which is public land partly owned by the City of York Council, Network Rail and the museum, is that the council is looking at developing somewhere between 1,000 units and 2,500 units, depending on the size of the business area, but for high-value apartments. That will not at all address the social needs of my city. We are told that building on the site will be expensive because it is a brownfield site and that social housing cannot be considered. Expensive infrastructure in the form of access roads is necessary. The local housing associations have said that they simply cannot afford to build there. The situation is challenging, which is why I ask the Minister to look again at the principles of how to develop housing on brownfield sites as we move forward.

The reality in York is that recent housing developments are being sold off so that people can come and have somewhere to stay on race days. People have bought homes to use at the weekends or for holidays, or for commuters to use so that they can reduce the time of the journey down to this city to less than two hours, but none of that helps the 1,624 people who are on my city’s housing waiting list. The opportunity to build houses will be lost if we do not change planning priorities.

I would like to see put behind all planning an analysis of the housing need in the city, and secondly, an analysis of the impact on the local economy of what is happening in the housing market. Then we should use those priorities to apportion the way in which housing is developed. I am calling on York First to make sure that the priorities of the people who live in my city are taken into account, so that housing on public land can address their needs. We first need to ensure, then, that the priority is building homes for the most vulnerable in our community—the elderly and the homeless, for example—and making sure that supported housing is affordable. We also need homes for social rent, which is the aspiration of so many. We cannot ignore the real needs of people who simply want a roof over the heads, and are being denied that at the moment. And, yes, we can then build starter homes and other homes. We know that that is possible. The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, for instance, has a fantastic development in our city, Derwenthorpe, to house a mixed community.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government think about the priorities of the city, rather than the priorities of those who want to make an asset out of land.