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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Ben Howlett Ben Howlett Conservative, Bath 7:45 pm, 3rd May 2016

I will try to be a little more sober in my approach to this debate. It is a privilege to be able to rise to speak in favour of the Bill. As Members across the House will know, I have raised my concerns about the high cost of housing in my constituency and other high-value areas on multiple occasions, and I have been supportive of the Government’s plans to build 400,000 affordable homes by 2020-21. Starter homes will make a massive impact in the west of England, enabling young families—and indeed families who are not young—to get on the property ladder. I think that is an incredibly important story to tell. I join other Members across the House who have talked about the importance of the housing debate, not just in London, but in other high-value areas throughout the UK.

I am fortunate enough to have got myself on the property ladder at a little bit younger than the average age, aged 29, but that was only because my other half and I were able to combine our earnings in order to afford a two-bedroom house worth £450,000. I have a huge amount of respect for Dr Blackman-Woods, and not just because I went to Durham University and one of the first elections I campaigned in was in her constituency—sadly, we did not win, but we did get rid of those Liberal Democrats, as we managed to do in Bath as well—but I take umbrage with the Labour party on this point, because if a two-bedroom home that costs £450,000 is good enough not to do anything, frankly, I do not think that is an argument that will wash very well with her constituents; it certainly would not wash with any of our constituents.

I am confident that the Bill, which we have now been debating for months, will go some way towards helping Bath residents access the housing ladder. During an earlier stage of our consideration of the Bill I joined several other Government Members, as the Minister has said, in calling for more to be done to increase the amount of affordable housing in high-value areas outside the capital, including Oxford, Winchester, Truro and Bath. Those are all beautiful places, so it is understandable that demand for houses there is very high. In such areas it is often young, aspiring homeowners who do not have the chance to buy, especially when they do not have the financial support of a relative. I do not want those groups to be put off moving to those areas, and ultimately staying there, simply because they could not find a deposit. That has a major impact on economies outside London that are desperate for houses to be built to ensure they have the workers to maintain their economic growth. The west of England has increased its growth rate substantially over the past five years, as a result of the Government’s economic policies, but without housing integrated into the equation, we cannot maintain that.

I thank the Minister for taking the time to meet fellow MPs to discuss this issue and for taking our views into consideration. I agree with him that one answer to the problem is to increase the housing stock in higher-value areas. After talks with him, I am pleased to see the Government amendment changing “higher” to “high”, which will allow them the flexibility to ensure that areas with the highest-value housing are not unfairly impacted. That will have a major impact on the flexibility local authorities have to deliver more homes. I am also pleased that the Government have listened to our concerns and ensured that for every home a local authority agrees to sell, at least one new affordable home will be provided. Such measures will increase our housing stock and allow more young people to access the housing ladder. It also suggests that the Minister has listened to the concerns of the past and produced sensible proposals to ensure that housing is built rather than lost.

I applaud the Government for taking those important steps, but they will not, sadly, increase the housing stock in Bath, where the local authority has already taken steps to sell vacant high-value housing, having sold off a lot of homes for social housing. I therefore welcome what the Minister said earlier and call on Bath and North East Somerset Council to work with fellow councils, such as Wiltshire, Somerset and South Gloucestershire, to bid for the £1.2 billion and other funds available to deliver more homes for our areas. I look forward to working with the Minister, I hope, to see how our authority can put that into practice.