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The House will probably be aware that I am passionate about home ownership and about helping people on modest incomes to be able to afford to buy their first home. In fact, such is the interest that I have taken in housing that I am referred to as a housing spokesman by my Cornish Conservative colleagues, and for that I am thankful.
For more than a quarter of a century, housing policy has failed the people of Cornwall. Thanks to this Government, we now have a number of approaches that will change that, including the introduction of starter homes, Help to Buy, the newly announced £19 million self-build project for the south-west, and continuing discussions with lenders about affordability. We now finally have a number of policies in place that will help the Cornish working population own their own home.
Many colleagues across the House will know the amazing feeling when you buy your first home—the sense of pride and achievement when you get the keys to the front door. It is one of those first big steps in life, like being accepted to university, getting married or having your first child.
When the Bill first appeared in this House back in October, the Government had clear goals to build more homes for a growing population and to reform the planning process. That included 400,000 new homes by 2020; 200,000 starter homes; the extension of right to buy to housing association tenants, turning generation rent into generation buy; and speeding up the planning process.
Since then, I have had many conversations with councillors in Cornwall who have been concerned about certain aspects of the Bill, including the right-to-buy policy and making councils sell off their high-value council houses. That policy could result in coastal communities in Cornwall losing very important social housing stocks, unless like-for-like replacements are built. I therefore welcome amendments 42A, 44A and 44B to clause 2, which were tabled in the other place by Baroness Williams and which allow some flexibility to the under-40 cap for purchasing a starter home. Some people over 40 are still looking to buy their first home—many of them in Cornwall—and certain exemptions will benefit couples where both are over 40 and have a right to buy their first home.
To give those starter homes some security, the Government’s Lords amendments 2 and 3 to clause 2 will introduce a minimum age of 23 to buy a starter home, which is a good policy. It will prevent abuse of the system by those who would try to buy a starter home with a 20% discount by using a young person or a student who otherwise would not intend to buy one.
Turning to part 4 of the Bill, I want to address amendments relating to high-value local authority housing. The initial announcement that councils would be made to sell off such housing caused concern in Cornwall, because the county has a high level of coastal communities where properties have, through no fault of their own, increased significantly in value in recent years. The selling off of high-value council assets would have resulted in a reduction in the number of homes available to people on low or modest incomes, and would likely have increased second-home ownership. That would have been bad not only for local families, but for local communities, as families would have moved to urban areas, thereby bringing about a decrease in local trade.
The Government’s Lords amendment 53 replaces the term “high value” with the term “higher value”, which will introduce a much more local approach, as housing prices differ from area to area. A council house worth £400,000 may have been deemed worthy of selling off, given that that figure is very high compared with that for a council house in an inland urban area. Without protection, communities could suffer.
Local people in coastal communities should not be restricted from access because of where they grew up. I am therefore very pleased that the Secretary of State and Baroness Williams acknowledged concerns about the issue and made changes accordingly to give more freedom to local authorities over how they classify their higher value council homes.
I will not address other amendments now, because I want fellow Members to have the opportunity to speak. Suffice to say that the amendments I have touched on strengthen the Bill; illustrate the Government’s commitment to addressing the housing and planning challenges of the modern age; and ensure that rural communities are better protected while we drive towards more affordable homes throughout the country.