I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his entirely predictable remarks. If I heard him correctly, he talked about tinkering with our broken housing market and about failure in the housing policy changes. I think he was referring to the 13 years of the Labour Government, in which he served as Housing Minister, and under which Britain reached the lowest level of housing starts since the 1920s. During those 13 years, housing starts declined by 45%, waiting lists increased by more than 1 million, and the number of units available for social rent was cut by 420,000. This House will not take any lectures from him; that is his legacy. I readily admit that there is much more to do, but we have made serious progress over the past seven years—more than 893,000 new homes, including 333,000 new affordable homes, and planning permissions last year were at a record high. Of course, there is much more to do, and that is what today’s statement is about.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the statement of common ground. The requirement is to build on the duty to co-operate. We want to ensure that every local authority is doing just that—working with its neighbours, but in a much more transparent and open way. They must show their communities exactly how they are going to work with all their neighbours. He will see that the consultation sets out in detail exactly how that will work, but one of the first requirements will be that, within 12 months of the planning changes being made, all local authorities will be required to publish a statement of common ground.
The right hon. Gentleman asked when the new way to assess housing need will apply. We hope to make the changes by April 2018, but the earliest they will apply will be April 2018. To be clear, if any local authority is close to finishing a plan based on its current methodology, and if that plan is submitted for inspection by April 2018, that will be the basis on which the inspector will consider the plan.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the numbers—he referred to them as targets. I have been very clear that the numbers—the new way to assess housing need, which ensures that it is done properly and is more open, honest and transparent, and that there are more homes in the right places—will be the starting point for adopting new plans. When local authorities set out their plans and submit them to the independent planning inspector, they will be expected to have started with these numbers. If there is any difference from these numbers, they will have to explain that. For example, green belt, which the right hon. Gentleman asked about, is a perfectly valid reason, because protections are provided for the green belt, areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks. Local authorities can say, “These are some natural constraints that I have. How can you help me work with them?”
The right hon. Gentleman also asked me about the delivery tests. I did not mention them because they are not part of the consultation. They were consulted on for the White Paper. The White Paper was the consultation for the delivery tests, and it will be introduced, as planned, in 2018.
The right hon. Gentleman has a choice. He knows that his party failed the British people abysmally on housing for 13 years; it took us backwards, not forwards. Now he has the chance to put that right. He can either play party politics with this issue or he can listen to the British people and help us to fix this broken housing market.