The country has a housing crisis, and Ministers are tinkering with the technicalities of the planning system. I thank the Secretary of State for the early copy of his statement, but 70% of people now see that the country has a housing crisis, and they are right: everyone knows someone who cannot get the home they need or aspire to. Home ownership has hit a 30-year low, homelessness is soaring and just 1,000 new homes for social rent were started last year under this Government, directly as a result of policy decisions taken by Conservative Ministers since 2010. There have been seven years of failure on all fronts. Not just the public but his own party expect more of the Secretary of State. Even the Prime Minister knows that housing was a big reason why Conservatives did so badly in the election.
Some of what the Secretary of State has announced today will be useful to help to underpin the national planning policy framework, albeit five years after it was adopted, but we cannot meet local housing needs without new homes of all types—from new homes to buy to new homes for affordable social rent—and securing planning permissions is only a small part of the answer. There were 300,000 planning permissions granted last year, yet the level of new affordable house building has hit a 24-year low.
The Secretary of State is right that the duty to co-operate is not working in a system in which there has been no strategic planning since 2010, so how is another plan going to help, even if it is called a statement of common ground? What will he do after 12 months if local authorities do not meet his deadline? It is sensible to have a standard method of assessing housing need, and the national housing and planning advice unit had one until 2010, when it was abolished. Will the new method apply from April 2018, as the White Paper promised, and if not, when will it apply? Lack of a standard method causes delay in producing local plans, and that is part of the reason why it now takes months longer to adopt a local plan than it did in 2010. How much quicker will these changes make the plan-making process?
At the heart of this is a new national formula that fixes housing numbers for local areas. The Secretary of State tells us that it is not a hard and fast target, yet local plans must meet the new numbers, and in more than half the country the numbers will go up by at least a third. What is it—tough action or warm words, a big stick or small beer? What action will follow a local authority’s failure to use the numbers in delivering the local plan? How many local authorities will at present meet and how many will fail to meet the new housing delivering test that he set out in the White Paper, and how many Conservative councils will fail his housing delivery test? Why did he make no mention of it at all in his statement?
One advantage of having the statement in advance was that I noticed the Secretary of State failed to mention one of the constraints that may mean these numbers do not need to be adopted. The green belt is in his script, but he failed to mention it in the House. Will he make it clear whether he meant to leave out any mention of the green belt?
Finally, people are looking for big action from the Government to fix the broken housing market and housing policy failures. They are looking for leadership to tackle the housing crisis. After seven years of failure, simply fine-tuning the detailed workings of the planning system falls dismally short of what the country needs.