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[Relevant Documents: Sixty-third Report of the Public Accounts Committee, Session 2016-17, Housing: State of the Nation, HC 958, and Eleventh Report of the Public Accounts Committee, Homeless households, HC 462; Tenth Report of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2016-17, Capacity in the homebuilding industry, HC 46, and the Government response, Cm 9517; Oral evidence taken before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered housing and homes.
I am delighted to be leading this debate in my new role as Housing Secretary. I pay tribute to the reforms so ably led by my predecessor, my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid.
I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the House as I consider the next steps on the Government’s housing agenda, but our priority—my priority—remains to build the homes our country needs. It is to deliver on that aim, that ambition of families and of those starting out in life, to have a home that they call their own, to give people security in their homes, and to take further action to combat homelessness and rough sleeping.
I know there is more to do to fix the broken housing market, and to provide the opportunities and, quite simply, the stability that previous generations took for granted and that is being denied to today’s families and young people. It feels unfair, and that is because it is; they are being held back through no fault of their own, and as a result our country is being held back. So we need to act to help people and address the fact that we simply need to build more homes. This Government understand that and understand what is needed: more homes of the right type and quality and in the right places. We must ensure that they are affordable and that the housing market works for all parts of our community.
We are making good progress on housing supply. We have delivered over 1.1 million homes since 2010. In 2016-17 some 217,350 new homes were delivered, the highest number in all but one of the last 30 years. Since 2013 we have helped over 158,000 households on to the housing ladder through our Help to Buy equity loan, and 81% of them were first-time buyers. At the autumn Budget we cut stamp duty for first-time buyers, benefiting 69,000 households to date, and also announced over £15 billion of new financial support for house building over the next five years. This brings our total support for housing to at least £44 billion over this period.
However, I know we need to do more to deliver an average of 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the next decade. It will not be easy, but we are determined to get there, and this requires a major push in three areas: improved planning and faster build-out; delivering infrastructure; and diversifying the house building market.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the last time the Government’s target of 300,000 homes in a year was met was in 1969, when not only was the private sector developing, but so too were the councils and housing associations? What can he do to ensure that councils and housing associations can expand their activities?
The hon. Lady will be aware of the borrowing cap issue and how we have made changes around that, and I also gently point out that when her party was in power house building starts fell by 45% in 12 years and homes purchased in England fell by over 40%. I make that point to underline that there are challenges that have existed for many years under a number of different Governments, and that is why this Government are determined to make progress and address the key issues that I have highlighted.
First, on planning and build-out, this Government recently set out a bold and comprehensive approach via our new national planning policy framework. This will help us to build more high-quality homes in the places people want to live. The consultation recently closed and my Department is looking carefully at the responses we received. The framework implements reforms from the housing White Paper and further steps announced at the Budget. It also strengthens our commitment to protect the green belt. Our framework makes it clear that local authorities must pursue all options, such as brownfield land and increasing density on urban sites, before looking to the green belt. Alongside this, we have announced our intention to consult on a permitted development right to build upwards.
The framework also clarifies how our new method of assessing housing need will work. It will help all communities to have a clear understanding of the homes they need while maintaining the importance of local and neighbourhood plans.
Planning permissions are up. That is good news, but a planning permission is not helpful if it is not turned into a home. That is why our housing delivery test is tackling unjustified delays in housing delivery. Local authorities must be accountable to make sure homes in their area are not only planned but delivered.
I welcome the point that the Minister makes about building on brownfield sites first, but how much credence is he going to give to residents groups who have objections to building on the green belt? An example would be the Kings Hill estate in Coventry, around Cromwell Lane and Westwood Heath. All those residents are objecting to building on the green belt, so how seriously is he going to take their views?
This is why I made my point about the national planning policy framework and how it fits within the local plan structure, with which I know the hon. Gentleman will be more than familiar. We are looking carefully at the thousands of representations that have been made—as I have said, the consultation closed in the last week or so—to ensure that there is protection for the green belt.
This is equally about understanding what lies behind the slow build-out rates. Work is being done on this by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, and his report is due by the Budget this year. If he finds evidence of unacceptable land-banking, I again say that we will not hesitate to act.
Our second focus is on the facilities needed to deliver homes faster. We are making serious investments in roads, schools and communities. For this reason, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer doubled the housing infrastructure fund to £5 billion in his autumn Budget. Soon after, we announced the first initiatives of the fund. They involve 133 marginal viability fund projects worth a total of £866 million, and they have the potential to unlock up to 200,000 new homes.
My right hon. Friend is making some excellent points. He referred to the requirement for local authorities to have up-to-date local plans. He might be aware that York, which adjoins my constituency, has not had a local plan since the 1950s, which has put added pressure on other local areas such as Ryedale and Hambleton. Will he commit to stepping in to write local plans for authorities that do not bring forward their plans in good time?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Local plans are central to setting out how and where local authorities expect to meet residents’ needs for new homes. He has highlighted one council that has had issues, and we will certainly be monitoring the position in York closely. If further significant delays occur, intervention will be reconsidered. We have decided that intervention will continue in three local council areas—Castle Point, Thanet and Wirral—and we will now send in a team of planning experts, led by the Government’s chief planner, to advise on the next steps in that intervention.
As I have already highlighted, this is about looking at infrastructure. That includes projects that are part of the housing packages that we have agreed with the Mayors of Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. We have launched a new, more assertive housing agency, Homes England, which will work to secure land and unlock development on brownfield sites. We are also reforming the system of developer contributions so that developers will know the contributions expected of them and local communities are clear about the infrastructure that they will get alongside new homes.
Thirdly, we want to see a wider range of house builders helping us to deliver more homes. In the past, more than 60% of new homes were delivered by small firms. Today, the number is less than half that, despite the fact that SME builders are keen to contribute. This is why we are supporting these builders to deliver and grow through our home building fund. Over 70% of the original £1 billion short-term home building fund has already been allocated to support SMEs, custom builders and innovators in helping us to deliver more than 25,000 homes. At the autumn Budget, this Government added another £1.5 billion to the fund.
It is right that we are taking action in these areas, but we must not lose sight of the basic issue of fairness. With this is mind, I was delighted that the Tenant Fees Bill was introduced to Parliament soon after my appointment. This very welcome measure delivers on our commitment to end costly letting fees, putting more money in tenants’ pockets. The Bill will also cap tenancy deposits, ensuring that the deposit that they pay at the start cannot exceed six weeks’ rent. For too long, tenants have been stung by unexpected costs such as double-charging for the same services. The Bill will put a stop to such unfair practices, and it complements other measures we have taken to make renting fairer.
The Secretary of State talks about fairness. What will he do to ensure fairness for those who buy new houses? Sixty-nine per cent. of new houses in the north-west were sold as leaseholds, purely and simply so that home buyers can be financially exploited into the future. What will the right hon. Gentleman do to ensure fairness for them?
I will come to the point about leasehold that the hon. Lady highlights, but first I want to finish considering some of the issues in relation to tenancies.
Last month, the Department set up a database of rogue landlords and agents and introduced banning orders. That will make it easier for local authorities to act against rogue landlords and agents to protect tenants. We will shortly consult on options to support landlords to offer longer tenancies to those who want them.
Buyers, too, are getting a fairer deal under this Government. We are determined to make the process of buying a home easier, cheaper and less stressful. As part of that, we put out a call for evidence. That has helped us to identify some practical steps we can take to achieve this goal.
We are also cracking down on abusive practices in the leasehold market. We will legislate to ban the development of new build leasehold houses, except in exceptional circumstances. We will restrict ground rents in newly established leases of houses and flats to a peppercorn.
I want to comment on the point about renters. We often hear that people are forced to move frequently because they do not have long tenancies. My right hon. Friend might be interested to know that the average length of a tenancy in the private sector is 4.3 years and the most common reason for its coming to an end is the tenant wanting it to.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for putting those facts on the record. However, all the reforms for buyers and renters are united by one aim: to improve fairness, standards and affordability across the board.
On new build leaseholds, is my right hon. Friend prepared to consider an exemption for the retirement market where retirement living has particular requirements? Is he prepared to meet a delegation of hon. Members to discuss that?
I would certainly be happy to meet my right hon. Friend and others to discuss that issue. I note his points, although we maintain our views on the broader issue of abusive practices in the leasehold market. However, I will certainly listen carefully to him and others.
Affordability has become an issue and that is why the Prime Minister pledged a further £2 billion of investment in the affordable homes programme, increasing its budget to more than £9 billion. In the spring statement, we allocated an additional £1.67 billion of that funding to London, where the affordability crisis is most acute. That money will enable London to build a further 26,000 affordable homes. We have been clear with City Hall that this must involve funding for genuine social rent properties.
We know that we do not need just more social housing. We need to improve the experience of people living in it, especially following the tragedy of Grenfell. We will therefore shortly introduce a social housing Green Paper to look at how well social housing serves our communities.
I am particularly conscious of the needs of those without a home at all who find themselves in the hugely distressing situation of living out on the streets. One of my first actions as Secretary of State was to award £28 million of funding to Housing First to underline the priority I attach to this work.
Housing First is part of our bold new approach to help rough sleepers off the streets. The Housing First approach has an impressive international track record of almost eliminating rough sleeping. It gives people stable and affordable homes, combining that with expert support to address complex issues, such as substance abuse and mental health problems. That work to tackle homelessness and eradicate rough sleeping is essential. It is totally unacceptable that we still have people living on our streets. We must turn that situation around.
The new pilot projects for Greater Manchester, Liverpool city region and West Midlands combined authority will be an important step. Our pilot programmes will support around 1,000 rough sleepers and those at risk of rough sleeping. I am looking forward to seeing the difference that those projects make in their respective areas, and assessing the case for a national roll-out of the approach.
The projects will also expand on steps we have already taken to tackle rough sleeping, including our new rough sleeping initiative, which combines a new rough sleeping team of experts drawn from Government and agencies, a £30 million fund targeted at local authorities with high numbers of rough sleepers, and further funding to support frontline rough sleeping workers in these areas.
The pilot programmes have laid the foundation of our rough sleeping strategy, which will be published this summer. This Government are investing more than £1.2 billion through to 2020 to prevent and reduce homelessness. We are taking these essential steps to meet our commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and to eliminate it altogether by 2027. There can be no doubt about our commitment to supporting those in desperate need.
Everyone deserves not just a roof over their head but a safe, secure and affordable place to call home. That is the foundation on which everything is built. This is the Government’s top domestic priority and, as Secretary of State, I am determined to do all I can to ensure we deliver the homes our country needs.
This is the Secretary of State’s first housing debate, but it is a bit like “Groundhog Day.” He is the fourth Secretary of State, with the seventh Housing Minister, now in the ninth year of a Conservative Government, and it is clear from this debate that the Conservative party still has no plan to fix the housing crisis.
The Secretary of State may be new to the job, but he has been in government since the start in 2010. Surely he cannot look at the Government’s eight-year housing record and conclude that more of the same is what is needed. After eight years of failure on all fronts, how is the answer more of the same when, since 2010, we have seen 1 million fewer under-45s owning their own home and the lowest level of home ownership for 30 years? How can the answer be more of the same on homelessness when it has risen every year since 2010, and we now have 120,000 children growing up with no home? And how can the answer be more of the same when private renters face rents that are soaring way ahead of incomes? The average rent is now £1,800 a year more than before.
Finally, house building rates are still lower than they were at their peak under Labour, and fewer new social rented homes were started last year than at any time since records began.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that last year’s figure of 217,000 additional homes is the second highest in the past 25 years. Completion levels have risen 30% and starts have risen 85% from their low points under Labour. He must welcome those increases in activity in the housing market.
The hon. Gentleman is a hard-working, loyal Back Bencher, and I have to give him credit. He is making some of the same arguments the Secretary of State made when he said the Government are making good progress on supply. In truth, a full decade on from the worldwide financial crash, house building is still below the level it was before that global downturn.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the article in The Huffington Post at the beginning of the week, suggesting that 1,000 homeless families from Birmingham have been housed tens of miles away from their schools, families and jobs? Does he agree that that is probably because London councils are busy placing their homeless families in Birmingham, because that is the only way they can afford to house them, given that the public purse spent £1 billion on temporary accommodation last year?
My hon. Friend is right. The number of families—now nearly 80,000—living in temporary accommodation because there are no homes available, let alone homes in their own area, is a scandal that shames us all. I am interested to hear what the Secretary of State has to say. It is not just in Newham; he has been in government since 2010, since when his own council has seen a fivefold increase in the number of families without a home living in temporary accommodation.
The Secretary of State said that we are now investing more in affordable homes, and he cited £9 billion, which of course is the figure for the rest of this Parliament. Even if that money is spent, spending will still be half the level it was in Labour’s last year. To give people a measure of it: in Labour’s last year, spending on building new, badly needed affordable homes was £4 billion; and last year, under this Government, whatever they say, it was less than half a billion pounds. No wonder we saw 40,000 new social rented homes started in 2009, in that last Labour year, and last year we saw fewer than 1,000.
The £28 million for the Housing First pilots is welcome, but let me gently say to the Housing Secretary that that is a small drop when compared with the £996 million the National Audit Office says is the annual cut in the Supporting People programme since 2010—a programme to help the homeless. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman makes the welcome argument that we need more social rented homes, but what does he say to the residents in his own area, where 6,022 are on the council waiting list and the number of new social homes rented homes built last year was zero? He has a lot to pick up on and a lot to learn.
We have seen eight years of failure on all fronts since 2010, and it is no wonder that the Prime Minister admitted that housing was a big part of why her party did badly at last year’s general election. As the Secretary of State has said, as the Prime Minister has said and as I have argued, the housing market is broken, and housing policy is failing to fix it.
I say to Conservative Members that at the heart of Tory policy is the wrong answer to the wrong question. Ministers talk big about total house building targets, but what new homes we build and who they are for is just as important as how many we build. Simply building more market-priced homes will not help many of those who face a cost-of-housing crisis, because that can influence prices only in the very long term. We have to build more affordable homes if we want to make homes more affordable, and the public know that. It is why eight out of 10 people now say the Government should be doing more to get new affordable homes built.
The public expect much more of Ministers—more urgency, more responsibility, more investment and more action to fix this broken housing market. That is why Labour has set out a bold, long-term plan for housing. It is what people need from their Government. We have made the commitment, with the plan to back it, that under a Labour Government we would see 1 million new genuinely affordable homes built over 10 years: the largest council house building programme for more than 30 years, building those new affordable homes at a rate we have not seen in this country since the 1970s. The very term “affordable” has been so misused by Ministers that it is mistrusted by the public, so Ministers should drop it and replace it with a new Labour definition linked to local incomes, not pegged to market prices.
We must build for those who need it, including the most vulnerable and the poorest, with a big boost to new social homes built as part of the programme, but we should also build Labour’s new affordable homes, both to rent and to buy, for those in work and on ordinary incomes, who are priced out of the housing market and being failed by current housing policy. These people are the just-coping class in Britain. They are the people doing the jobs we all depend on—IT workers, delivery drivers, call centre workers, teaching assistants, electricians and nurses. They are the backbone of our economy and the heart of our public services. This is the same Labour aspiration that led Aneurin Bevan to talk of the “living tapestry” of mixed communities as he led the big house building programme after the second world war.
The right hon. Gentleman’s leader is a keen fan of rent control to cap the total level of rents. Although that may superficially sound attractive, the right hon. Gentleman will understand the impact it will have on the prospects for that market; we may see people leave that market, so there will be fewer homes. Is he too a keen advocate of rent capping?
I am surprised if the hon. Gentleman has not already done so, but he should read the housing manifesto that I launched with the Labour leader during the election campaign last year. It pledged longer tenancies, with a cap on the rent increases during that period. I shall come to the Labour plans for private renters in a minute. This debate is about differing views and very different visions of the housing problems that people face and the solutions that the country requires.
Our determination to get built the new genuinely affordable homes that are needed in this country was redoubled after the terrible Grenfell Tower fire. When the Grenfell survivors who contributed to our review say that
“tenants were victims before the fire” and
“we’re treated as second class citizens in social housing”,
it is clear that radical, root-and-branch reform is required, so we will build more and we will build better, as the public sector has always done in housing. We will have leading-edge standards on energy efficiency and smart-tech design, so that Labour’s new affordable homes will be people’s best choice, not their last resort.
A huge majority of us in Britain aspire to buy our own home, yet the dream is currently denied to millions, especially young people facing a lifetime locked out of the housing market. We set out in our Green Paper a plan for Labour’s living rent homes, which would have rents set at no more than a third of average local household incomes and would be aimed at ordinary working families, young people and key workers—those who need to be able to save a bit for a deposit or who need a bit more to spend on the other things they need.
Labour’s low-cost home ownership home would be a new type of low-cost home, called first-buy homes. Again, they would be discounted, so that mortgage payments would be no more than a third of average local incomes. Crucially, the discount on those homes would be locked in so that it could potentially benefit not just the first first-time buyer, but future first-time buyers.
In the past, local authorities were able to handle housing crises, such as when way back in the ’60s they were building 300,000 homes a year. Having said that, local authorities also built houses for sale, helped first-time buyers and actually offered mortgages. It was the Thatcher Government who abolished that. Can we not do something about that?
My hon. Friend might be interested to read the fine detail of the Green Paper that we launched last month, because it makes the commitment to look into enabling local authorities once more to provide mortgages for local people who may find the mortgage market closed off to them.
The right hon. Gentleman just committed to a policy of permanent discount. Is he aware that lenders generally do not involve themselves in those types of purchase, because they find the perpetual discount is very unattractive on repossession? When we had similar products in the past, such as the price discount covenant, only one or two lenders got involved and they required relatively high deposits.
I have less concern than the hon. Gentleman about that. I recommend that he read the Green Paper. The point of Labour’s proposal is to create almost a parallel market that is permanently affordable to local people who are in work and on ordinary incomes—the very people the Government are currently failing and to whom the housing market is closed. [Interruption.] I give way to
I promised to come back to Mr Prisk on private renters. Since 2010, the number of households renting privately has gone up by more than a third, and there are now 5 million households renting privately throughout the country. The one thing that we cannot do is see a further slide back to those bad old days around the time of the second world war, when we had private rented housing that was unregulated, overpriced and badly maintained, and it was the only default housing for people earning ordinary incomes. What is needed is very clear: it is Labour’s plan for legal minimum standards, longer tenancies, a cap on rent rises and local licensing to drive out the rogue landlords. They are similar consumer rights that we all expect and all have in other markets, but not in housing.
Finally, the tragedy and unforgiveable scandal of the rising levels of homelessness in this country, particularly of those sleeping rough in the streets, is that we know what works because we have done it before. We did it before when the country was faced with rising homelessness in the early 2000s. Our action as a Government then led the independent Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation homelessness monitor to declare that, by 2009, we had in this country seen what it called an unprecedented decline in homelessness. We back the new Homelessness Reduction Act 2017—we pay tribute to Bob Blackman for steering it through—but we cannot help the homeless without more homes. I say to the Minister: go beyond the Housing First pilot; consider requiring housing associations to set aside, let us say, 8,000 of their homes across the country so that those with a history of rough sleeping have a low-cost, secure home in which to rebuild their lives; and then help fund a replacement, like for like, of those homes.
I gave the hon. Gentleman the chance to speak earlier. I will conclude now, because there are many Members wishing to speak.
In conclusion, this has been a disappointing first debate with the Secretary of State, who seems—[Interruption.] I listened very carefully, but saw no evidence that he is willing to challenge his own Government’s thinking or to make the radical changes required to fix the housing crisis. This is the test for the Secretary of State and for the Government. It is a big challenge to political thinking, not just to policy decisions. When the evident answer to the housing crisis lies in a bigger role for councils, stronger regulation of private markets, greater investment by Government in new low-cost homes, higher legal standards on everything from energy efficiency to safety, and tougher conditions on public contracts and public funding, it is clear that Conservative ideology, not just Conservative policy, must change. I say to the House that it is also clear from the Secretary of State’s speech this afternoon that the country will only see this change—the change that millions of people need and want—with Labour in government.
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to speak, and that we have a limited time. We will start with a time limit of five minutes.
It is clear from what we have already heard that the Secretary of State, the Government’s previous housing White Paper and Labour’s Front-Bench team all agree that house building is in crisis, and I agree with that. There are many possible solutions, but I wish to propose just two in the limited time that I have, which, if we start now, could be big and bold enough to make a difference.
The first is to overhaul our slow, expensive, uncertain and conflict-ridden planning laws to give people a legal right to build up, not out, in towns and cities without needing planning permission. I am talking about creating good-looking four and five-storey town houses and mansion blocks rather than sky-high tower blocks, and about giving back local character to our town and cityscapes by letting councils issue local design codes, so that new buildings match local architectural styles or use local materials, killing off town estates of identical homes, which all look the same no matter where one is in the country. Building up, not out, will transform house building, whether it is to own or to rent. Most of Britain’s towns and cities are, on average, two storeys tall, so going up to four or five storeys in urban areas would almost double, at a stroke, the amount of buildable living space in British homes.
Britain’s housing associations are right behind the idea. The scheme would attract much-needed new investment to regenerate and save tired or rundown town and city centres. It would be greener because building in towns and cities would cut urban sprawl, taking pressure off green fields, and letting people live closer to work and commute less. It would also encourage those small and medium-sized builders that we were hearing about before and new entrants to the house building industry, breaking the power of the big housing developers who currently ration supply to keep prices high. This would make housing cheaper for hard-pressed 20 or 30-somethings, whether they want to rent or buy.
My second idea is to get people building faster once planning permission is granted and to give local communities a share in the value that is created when permission is given. At the moment, the value of an acre of land goes up by at least 10 times—often by a whole lot more—when it gets planning permission. That happens before a single brick has been laid or a single home has been built. The value of actually designing and building beautiful houses to rent or buy is far less than the trading gains made by land speculators.
Should not the Government at least look seriously at land value taxation? It is about time that we had a proper review of how the issue that the hon. Gentleman is describing can be capped by land value taxation.
The hon. Gentleman leads me to my next point.
The current situation is the wrong way around. It should not be easier to buy land, do nothing, aim to get planning permission and then flip for a profit than it is to build houses. From a moral and an economic standpoint, design and construction should be the things that add value to land, not hope or speculation. Planning permission is a huge and value-creating decision. The decision is taken by each local community, so they should see some of the value that is created. We need a tax on the speculators’ profits, paid straight to local councils on the day that planning permission is given or changed, in order to fund the local services that turn dormitories into communities.
It is great to hear a radical speech. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench are listening carefully. Will my hon. Friend come to the next Right to Build expo, which is run by the Right to Build Task Force, and speak about lowering the barriers to entry so that more new players can come in? For example, governors of high schools or NHS trusts wanting to use housing as a recruitment and retention device should be able to get involved in this space.
I would be delighted to accept my hon. Friend’s invitation.
Fortunately we do not need a new tax, which Dr Drew mentioned, to achieve this value acquisition. Here’s one we prepared earlier—the community infrastructure levy. The levy nearly does what we need and could easily be tweaked so that it does what we need by making it simpler and broader with fewer exemptions. It would be simpler, faster, cheaper and more predictable for developers, planners and landowners alike. Best of all, the revised community infrastructure levy would completely replace the hideously overcomplicated section 106 agreements, with all their uncertainty, unpredictability and lawyer-friendly viability assessments.
Finally, in order to get developers building faster, councils should be able to charge business rates and council tax starting from the day that planning permission is granted, rather than when developers finally get round to start building. We could give big developers a few months’ grace to get their crews on site, but then the meter would start running. They would have a huge incentive to build and sell promptly, rather than to take their time.
Equally important, the same forces would apply to the hedge funds that own derelict brownfield land in town and city centres. These sites already have old, unused permissions, so the clock would start ticking immediately. Just think of the enormous shot in the arm—the jolt of adrenaline—that we would give to urban regeneration projects everywhere, right across the country, if the owners could no longer sit on them for years waiting for something to turn up.
As the Government’s housing White Paper says, the only way to make homes more affordable to rent or buy is to build a whole lot more of them. I agree. There is no time to waste, otherwise house prices will continue to spiral and we will lock another generation out of the dream of a place of their own.
I am glad that this is a general debate on housing, because it allows me to draw attention to the different directions of policy throughout the UK and the results of these policies. The UK Government have said that they want to reassure voters that they are taking the housing crisis seriously, yet the facts suggest the very opposite. I was actually quite happy to hear the Secretary of State say that the Government are looking into the Housing First scheme, which I believe was developed in Finland, and is about providing people with security and stability as a starting point. That seems like a step in the right direction, but again the facts show a different story. House building has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s, evictions are at record levels, and a mere one in five council homes has been replaced when sold.
Crisis says that 9,100 people are sleeping rough across Great Britain at any one time. We see homeless people all the time. Quite often we pass them coming into work, at Portcullis House and the underground station. Crisis has said that unless there is a significant shift in Government policy, the number of rough sleepers is projected to increase by 76% in the next 10 years. When it surveyed councils for its report, “The homelessness monitor: England 2018”, it found that 70% said that they had difficulties in finding social housing for homeless people last year. It is important to stress that homelessness does not just mean rough sleeping, as I know that many Members are aware. It includes people staying with friends and family, and people living in overcrowded conditions or in poor conditions that affect their health.
In their manifesto for the general election, the Tories included a flagship pledge to build a new generation of social housing. Everybody knows that this is something the UK is crying out for, yet within weeks of the election the Government U-turned on that pledge.
The hon. Lady said that house building had fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s, yet in 2008-09 new housing starts were 88,000 and last year they were 163,000. Where does she get her figures from?
Hold on and I will tell you. [Interruption.] Did the hon. Gentleman say, “From the Labour party manifesto”? Actually, they were from an article in The Independent. I will be happy to send it to him.
What adds another layer of incompetence and complication to all this is that there seems to be total denial on the Government’s part as to the further negative impacts that universal credit is having on the housing crisis. A report this month from the Scottish Government has shown that in East Lothian, for example, 72% of social housing tenants claiming universal credit were in arrears, compared with 30% of all tenants. Similarly, any action to tackle barriers to landlords offering longer and more secure tenancies has been kicked into the long grass, with the Government instead announcing yet another consultation to add to the 15 already ongoing consultations relating to the private rented sector.
The Scottish Government are taking a different ideological and political direction in the areas where they can. The SNP scrapped the Thatcherite right-to-buy policy, freeing up thousands of homes from falling into private rented properties, and we have at least attempted to put back in place some safeguarded housing stock for future generations. Since 2007, we have built more homes per head than in England and Wales—48,000 more than England’s rate, equating roughly to a town the size of Paisley. The Scottish Government have now delivered nearly 71,000 affordable homes since 2007. But we decided that that still was not good enough, so when we set a target of wanting 30,000 affordable homes by 2021, we decided, no, we are going to increase that to 50,000. We know the kinds of pressures that we are putting on ourselves, but, as we are all aware, this issue desperately needs the attention of Governments.
The Scottish Government are attempting to do all this while being saddled with paying £453.8 million in mitigating the effects of and protecting people from the very worst of Tory austerity. The Scottish Government fund the full mitigation of the bedroom tax, which would otherwise affect over 70,000 individuals who would lose an average of about £650 a year. If this is the good that the Scottish Government are able to do under intense pressure, often through no fault of our own, then let us imagine what good the UK Government could do if they just made a simple change in direction.
I am going to speak about street homelessness, because what I observed recently in the seven days that I spent living on the streets of London and in my constituency was a very serious problem of accommodation for single men, and particularly single men who are mentally ill.
Twenty seven years ago I did the same thing for several months, living as a homeless person but also a homeless mentally ill person. Some things were very similar, as we would expect, and some were very different. What was very different this time was that people like the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council and the Prime Minister are at last taking this problem enormously seriously. What was also very different was that, by my reckoning, about 60% of homeless people in London are born overseas. Indeed, when I was camped out in Covent Garden, I was sleeping next to a very nice Italian and Romanian couple. What was the same, though, was that the same mentally ill and drug-addicted people are still roaming the streets of our cities. The kindness of the public and of churches, mosques, gurdwaras and the staff of amazing organisations such as St Mungo’s was also the same.
What I learned this time round is that it is complicated. Each individual has a different reason for being on the streets, and their problem is not primarily homelessness, although of course that is a problem; it is the reason they are homeless that we need to address if we are going to get anywhere. For example, on one night I was camped out behind the goods-in entrance of McDonald’s by Westminster station. I am sure many Members have seen all those people taking this horrendous drug, Spice. I was sleeping next to a young man from the north of England who was an alcoholic, and he had four cans of beer by the time I woke up on the Saturday morning. He showed me the keys to his home, which was somewhere north of London, but was on the streets because he was lonely and an alcoholic.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and it enriches this place to hear the experience of those who have been on the frontline. Does he agree that his experience underlines why we should not jump to conclusions and generalisations about those who are on the streets, but should deal with each case on its merits?
Absolutely. We have to segment the homeless as much as we can. The Prime Minister has made an extraordinary commitment to end street homelessness within 10 years, but if we are really serious about solving the problem, we have to see people as individuals. We have to differentiate between different groups. We have to accept that some people have made a lifestyle choice. We have to ask whether the large number of foreign nationals really are here looking for work. We have to be honest and have the courage to look at whether the provision of services to homeless people is enabling able-bodied people to live on the streets, where they quickly get into a whole other load of difficulties.
We also need to think about whether public kindness is enabling addiction. The guy I slept next to outside the McDonald’s goods-in entrance got £30 on the Sunday night from kind members of the public, but that was enabling his addiction. Indeed, one of the homeless workers told me after I had finished making the programme that someone they looked after who was a heroin addict and was in a wheelchair, having lost a leg, firmly believed that if the public had not been so kind to him, he would have sought treatment a lot earlier, but he was able to continue with his addiction because of that kindness from the public.
We also need to accept that we cannot add to our population year after year and not build new homes and not expect that to have some knock-on effect on the people at the very bottom. We also have to accept the impact of the cost of housing. I was sleeping in the doorway of a shop on Tottenham Court Road, and two or three of the people there were actually going off to work, but they slept there because they would rather not and probably could not afford to spend £1,000 a month on housing. We need to look at whether, by lumping everyone together, we are making it harder for people who are in the direst need. Most of all, in this welfare state of ours, we need to try to rescue the people at the very bottom from roaming the streets of our cities.
I am making a brief speech because I had a Westminster Hall debate on this subject recently, and others wish to speak. We need to look at the root causes of homelessness, look at each individual and rapidly intervene when they need it, for the mentally ill and the drug addicted, otherwise we will get nowhere.
I would like to spend the few minutes available to me in this debate to talk about the financial abuse that arises from the growing practice of selling newly built houses as leaseholds. Over 1 million houses in England and Wales are leasehold properties, and 15% of new build houses in England are built and sold as leaseholds. In the north-east of England, the latest figures—from 2016—show that 69% of newly built houses are sold as leasehold, many of them in my constituency. That is a much higher figure than in any other area or region in England, so the issues that arise are particularly prevalent in the north-west. Many constituents have come to talk to me about problems that have arisen from buying their dream home as a leasehold and suddenly finding out that it is not what they thought it was going to be.
I want to talk about two estates in my constituency—Gateacre Park and Cressington Heath. In Gateacre Park, 40 properties sold as leaseholds were newly built houses on 250-year leases. The roads in the development are to be adopted by the local authority at the end of the work, so there are no maintenance charges. In Cressington Heath, homes have been sold on 999-year leases. It is a private estate, and the roads are not to be adopted when it is finished, so people will be expected to pay ongoing maintenance charges into the far future.
A number of constituents have come to me to complain that not only were they not aware of the full extent of the issues involved in the meaning of leasehold property or of the ongoing financial obligations, but that many of them, having been promised that they would have the option to buy their leaseholds, have discovered that, even on a long lease such as one of 250 years, they will be charged up to 20 times the ground rent. A figure of £5,600 has been quoted to people on the Gateacre Park estate, when it should not in reality be any more than about £2,000. On the Cressington Heath estate, people have been given different figures covering anything up to £17,500—£12,500, plus of course the freeholder’s legal fees—all to escape the escalating ground rents that are being charged.
I therefore welcome the fact that the Government have decided they will do something about this issue. They will prevent the sale of new houses as leaseholds—that is good and welcome, although it has not of course happened yet, and we await the legislation—and make the ground rent a peppercorn rent. However, my concern is that many existing leaseholders are already being exploited, and how far will the Government’s proposals help them? They are stuck in limbo: they are unable to sell their property except at a discount, because there is increasing awareness of the problems of buying leasehold houses, which is affecting the price of properties. I know of constituents who have lost sales as a consequence of their revealing that their houses are in fact leasehold properties.
There is another issue on which I would like a response from the Government. I do not believe that their proposals deal with the ongoing issue of freeholders increasingly selling the freehold—at inflated prices, but none the less agreeing to sell the freehold—but importing many of the restrictive covenants into the transfer document. I am not at all sure that it is lawful under the leasehold reform legislation. Some technical legal points have not been litigated, so I am not sure that that is lawful.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that some companies see the leasehold issue as so toxic that they are moving away from it altogether, as a local company has done in my constituency?
I welcome that fact, but what tends to happen is that companies add an extra £5,600 or so on to the initial purchase price and then put restrictive covenants into the transfer document.
I have constituents who have been told that into the far future, even when they are freeholders, they will have to pay to get permission to change their mortgage provider, paint their door a different colour or make any alteration to their garden or property. That is not a proper freehold; it is finding a way to make sure that restrictive covenants can carry on, be sold on and then used financially to exploit people who have such restrictions in their deeds—whether in a lease or in a transfer document when the freehold is transferred.
I want the Government to go further than they have so far said they will go and consider banning some of these ridiculous restrictive covenants from being put into transfer documents as well as into leases. If they were to do that, I might be able to welcome their package of measures rather more than I have been able to so far.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I acknowledge the Government’s commitment to bettering the housing market, to which end a total of £44 billion of capital funding, loans and guarantees has been pledged, up to 2022-23.
As we have said, more than 1.1 million homes have been delivered since 2010—217,000 last year—and a target is in place to deliver 300,000 net additional homes per year on average by the mid-2020s. House building needs to be tailored to each region and met with the appropriate infrastructure, and I am pleased to say that the Government have taken measures to address that, with the £866 million fund specifically designed for housing-related infrastructure. It has already funded 133 projects.
However, it is time to consider how those incentives can be more effectively unlocked and rendered less bureaucratic—a source of concern for those who are in the industry and those facilitating developments more generally. National development plans need to both make way and create incentives for local authorities to engage in house building and infrastructure building. The “development control” mentality has not served everyone well for the past 50-plus years. In my view, real localism—not just the lip-service variety—will work more effectively with a network of unitary authorities with realistic tax bases relative to their cost bases, which do not excessively hem in their urban or even suburban core with the significant council tax implications that has.
I am pleased that that is now policy at Northampton Borough Council. It has endorsed that vision, which will assist the town’s prosperity in all sorts of ways. In the context of today’s debate, it will allow expansion without the risk of conflicting local plans, allow better highways and housing integrated working and promote joined-up thinking between housing, social care and health.
I want to mention compulsory purchase orders, which I have reservations about. Although they can boost success in the short term—notably, with some of the developments in the 1950s and 1960s—they have to be used sparingly, where compelling national or local key interests are at stake and not just for convenience.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of those local pressures could be the need for a local authority to deliver brownfield regeneration? That might be in multiple ownership and otherwise would not be brought forward for good use—new homes and new commercial premises.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. I have been careful in saying that the power has to be used sparingly in identifying a key interest and not that it should not be used. However, private property rights are, after all, the basis on which there is democracy in a free market economy and they should, generally speaking, be the default. Forcing people out of their homes or off their land for a common good can get out of hand, and we need to be aware of that.
Northampton, the town I represent, is extremely ambitious and focused on delivering the growth agenda. It has bold plans for private and council housing. Building the new north-west link will give the town a much needed full ring road to cope with the projected new housing being built around its edge. That need is an especially good example and an opportunity for me to urge that, as we advance the Government’s good work, we must guard against the “houses first but support infrastructure later” image that housing growth has among many existing and aspiring residents. That is a common, justified and long-standing grievance in Northampton. Northampton MPs have made speeches referring to the problem going back to the 1970s.
Like me, the local authority in Northampton is a supporter, not a member, of the Government—a critical friend—and its ideas include the lifting of the housing revenue account borrowing cap further than already intended and allowing mechanisms to encourage builders, such as charging fees when undischarged planning approvals become a year or two or more old. Northampton and the Borough Council have the plans and the vision. They are ready to translate that on to a broader and more unified—indeed, unitary—canvas, if the good actions the Government have taken to date to support them and our house builders can be improved and, yes, built upon.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Housing is a central issue in my constituency, where, as across England, we face an acute housing shortage. For many years, home ownership grew in the Thames valley and across our country, with young people expecting to be able to afford to buy a place of their own or to have long-term secure and affordable rent of either a private or council house. Sadly, in the present time home ownership and good quality home rentals are all too often out of reach for many people, particularly for younger people in areas like Reading and Woodley in my constituency, where house prices have risen to unheard of levels. Much of the new housing being built is aimed at the more expensive end of the market and private rented accommodation is often very expensive, and some of it is poor quality and poor value for money.
We desperately need homes that are genuinely affordable. There is a severe shortage of council housing, affordable homes to buy and good-quality private rented accommodation. I welcome the Government’s interest in prioritising brownfield land. In my constituency and in many other former manufacturing towns in England, there is a huge amount of brownfield land that can be built on without eating into the countryside or public open spaces. Indeed, Reading Borough Council’s local plan has identified enough former light industrial and commercial land to provide almost all the housing needed until 2036. The council has also identified land to build 1,000 council houses. Reading Borough Council, like many other councils, is doing what it can to help.
The Minister will know that Reading Borough Council had plans to build 1,000 homes to meet the rising demand for accommodation. However, this had to be scrapped following the 2015 summer Budget delivered by the then Chancellor, George Osborne. The former Chancellor made a serious mistake when he changed the financial rules, making it harder for councils to borrow and pay back the cost of building council homes from the rental income gained once the houses are occupied.
By contrast, I was proud to stand on Labour’s manifesto commitment, as we heard from my right hon. Friend John Healey, to build at least 1 million affordable homes over the next five-year Parliament. Our record in government is clear. Between 1997 and 2010, we saw 2 million more homes built, a million more home owners and the biggest investment in social housing in a generation.
In the eight years since 2010, we have seen home ownership falling to a 30-year low and the lowest number of new social rented homes on record. The Government have cut investment in publicly funded affordable housing and relied instead on big developers to build, giving them too much control over what gets built. That is why in my area both Labour-run Reading Borough Council and Conservative-controlled West Berkshire District Council took the Government to court, winning a High Court challenge that means they and other councils can insist on more affordable housing being included in developments in accordance with their own local plan priorities. I hope that the Minister will consider that as a matter for potential policy change.
As I mentioned earlier, renting in my area is often expensive and can be poor quality. In my constituency, we have a particular problem with Victorian terraced houses that have not been fully modernised. Reading Borough Council and other Labour councils in Oxford and London have improved the regulation of landlords and have stood up for tenants, but much more could be done if the Government made it easier for councils to regulate the private rented sector.
At a local level, I have campaigned for a new deal on housing for young people, families and other residents who have been hit hard by the housing crisis. I am working with local councillors and other MPs to tackle this issue and to press for a new approach. In Reading East, as I have previously mentioned to the Minister in other discussions, this approach could involve much more use of brownfield sites, tighter regulation to encourage developers to build more affordable homes, allowing councils to build council houses once again and protecting renters by giving councils more powers to regulate landlords.
The current housing situation is indeed a crisis; it is unacceptable and unsustainable. Young people and other groups have a right to decent and affordable housing, and I will continue to press the Government for the new deal on housing that those renters and owners deserve—a new deal that Labour would deliver.
We all know the importance of housing because we all do surgeries and have families coming to see us, telling us their personal stories about the impact that the current housing market has on them. We need to build more homes. When I talk to people who develop and build homes, they still complain about the length of time it takes to go through the planning process. The Government really need to look at that.
We need to incentivise those who get planning permission to develop. I am not sure whether I would wholly agree with a penal tax system, but some kind of stick and carrot is needed to give people an incentive to get on and develop. When I drive around Poole, I see sites that have been sitting there for several years. One would think that if there were tax advantages to developing or tax penalties, at a modest level that might just tip those sites into being developed.
We need to be more ambitious with our plans for helping young people to buy. The Help to Buy scheme is not ambitious enough, nor is the help to buy ISA. Bearing in mind the billions that we poured into the banks, it is a moral, social issue to do our best to get more people buying their own home, if it is right for them and they cannot afford it. We also need to understand that building is not the only solution. Managing the housing stock is very important. Local authorities talk about voids—these are empty properties—and we ought to be doing rather more to assist local authorities in making sure that the housing stock is being fully and efficiently used.
My hon. Friend mentioned the delays in the planning system, which still exist. He might be interested to know that when I visited the Netherlands in January, I was shown projects for which, because there is much greater planning certainty, planning consent is often given within two weeks.
That might be too efficient for the British system, given that everybody has to have their say. Nevertheless, I think we could do a lot better than we are doing.
There are a number of other areas in which we can do better, including managing the housing stock. I think there are something like 2 million empty flats over shops that are not being used by families. We all know about the major, substantial and probably permanent changes to the high street. We are over-shopped—many areas will never have shops, partly because of the impact of the internet. Perhaps the Government ought to be a bit more ambitious in turning some of those shops into homes. That would have the added win of bringing people back into our town centres and making them nicer places to live.
Our probate system is inefficient. At any one time, about 1 million homes are hung up in the probate system and cannot be sold because they are going through those legal processes. Why can we not look at the probate system to see whether we can clear houses through it before probate is granted or to try to just speed up the whole process? It is expensive enough as it is, and many homes cannot be used during that time.
In some parts of the country we are still demolishing homes, which cannot be a good thing to do. It is bad environmentally. Why do we not encourage more homesteading and give homes to people if they are willing to take them and do them up? These things can be done and they would increase the housing stock.
My final point is to do with private renting, which we all know has taken the strain over the past 10 to 15 years. We also know that many leases are for only 12 months. For peripatetic, young, single professionals, that is not a problem, but if people are married with two kids in a local school and they work locally, it is a problem, because first, there is the uncertainty each year about whether they can stay where they are; and secondly, quite often, for a variety of reasons—perhaps because the landlord wishes to sell or to put the rent up—families are forced to move. We should not forget that when families move, there is a very high cost. That includes the removal van and sometimes the cost of getting new bits and pieces, and so on. If a family with a child doing GCSEs has to move three or four times, it is not good for that child always to be moving into different homes.
If we are going to give security to people, it is right that we should give security to people who can buy. The social housing sector generally gives security to people, and of course we need to build more council homes, but we also need to give more security to those in the private rented sector. Somehow the Government, perhaps through tax incentives or capital gains incentives, ought to try to ensure that leases of three years or five years are available to families. That would take some of the pressure off families with children, who would feel much more content with their lot. Many of the 1.9 million people renting in London cannot afford to buy, so this is a big market, and a politically sensitive market: if people do not feel they have a stake in the country, and if they feel unsettled, they may well take it out on the party in government at the ballot box.
We need to be more creative and forceful in building homes, we need a better planning system, we need to manage our housing stock better and we need to address the glitches in the market so that we can increase the number of homes available. Ultimately, however, we also need to remember those who can only rent and have no choice but to go to the private rented sector. They need rather more help from the Government than they are getting at the moment.
I am grateful for this brief opportunity to contribute to this debate, and I am pleased to follow the thoughtful contribution from Sir Robert Syms. I want to raise three quick points on the percentage of social housing in developments, the role of housing associations and registered social landlords, and leasehold issues and reform post-Grenfell.
Housing is the biggest issue in Poplar and Limehouse and Tower Hamlets in east London. Many of the problems the hon. Gentleman mentioned about voids and empty properties over shops do not exist in east London. Everything that empties is taken up almost immediately. We have 25,000 people on the waiting list, so there is huge pressure to use everything available.
On social homes, in the London mayoral election before last, Labour fought on a policy of 50% of new developments being social housing; the Conservatives fought on a policy of the market deciding. The 50% was probably not affordable for developers, but zero is a complete abdication of responsibility. There has been a collapse in social renting in London since 2011-12. We now have affordable rents, but in my constituency, around Canary Wharf, affordable rents of 80% are just not tenable for local people: 700-square-foot one-bedroom flats at £400,000 and 900-square-foot two-bedroom flats at £500,000 is certainly not affordable for local people and key workers, as described by my right hon. Friend John Healey, the shadow Secretary of State.
In response to the point the hon. Member for Poole made about managing stock, when Labour came to power in 1997, 2 million homes in the social sector were below the decency threshold. We spent billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money bringing them up to standard, with new kitchens, bathrooms, double glazing, central heating and security. The method of delivery was mostly through housing associations. In the past 10 years in particular, we have seen changes to housing associations, with more mergers and acquisitions and bigger units. That is probably unavoidable, because the sharing of back-office functions makes them more efficient, but it is changing their ethos and attitude and taking them further away.
There are a lot of great registered social landlords in my constituency—Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association, Tower Hamlets Community Housing, Swan, EastendHomes and others—doing fantastic regeneration work, looking after local people and bringing private property for sale and rent to market. I would like to know, however, how the Government assess the success and failure of RSLs, because there are some bad ones out there. Is it just the housing ombudsman that can proclaim an RSL a bad organisation, or can the Government issue sanctions?
On leasehold, I accept a lot of the points that my hon. Friend Maria Eagle made about gaps in leasehold reform, but I give the Government great credit for their progress on leasehold reform: more staff in the section in the Ministry, more senior positions, positive statements from the Prime Minister, Secretaries of State and Ministers and others, clear promises on ground rents, the consultation on commonhold, the Law Commission reporting, examination of property management companies and their failures, representation of residents, first-tier tribunal working and more. I give the Government great credit. A Conservative Government in 1993 tried to reform leasehold and made some progress but failed. Labour tried to do it in 2002 and failed. This time the Government must get it right, and we on the all-party group on leasehold and commonhold reform will do everything we can to help.
One area of extreme concern on which the Government are not making any progress concerns the bills faced by leaseholders for the removal and replacement of cladding, and waking watches and temporary fire alarms in those bocks where the cladding is demonstrated to be unsafe. Social landlords and councils have said that they will foot the bill, but private freeholders and developers are saying that leaseholders must foot the bill. Some of these leaseholders are facing bills of tens of thousands of pounds. The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership is doing everything it can to advise them, but they do not have protection under the law. I know the Government are saying that they want freeholders and developers to pick up the tab, but we need to hear from the Government how much progress they are making, because people are at the end of their tether out there right across the country.
My constituency contains the second highest number of leasehold properties in the country, and the highest number of leasehold sales took place there in 2016. The failures identified at Grenfell are not just social housing failures; they involve private blocks as well. This goes across the piece, which is why the public inquiry and Dame Judith Hackitt’s review are so important.
The Government have set out an ambitious target for housebuilding. I welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition that everyone deserves a home of their own, which is something with which we can all agree. According to projections by the Ministry, the number of households in England is expected to grow from 22.7 million in 2014 to 28 million in 2039. There are a number of factors behind that, but I am sure we can agree that it is a significant increase, and we must be mindful of the effects on existing communities.
We have successfully delivered more than 1.1 million new homes since 2010, and I welcome that commitment, as well as the help for first-time buyers with schemes such as starter homes and Help to Buy. The latter has already helped 387,000 people to buy a home of their own, and to get a foot on the property ladder. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention the genuine concerns that have been voiced in my constituency, and others across the country, about the effect of house building on communities. More consideration needs to be given to the need for the views and concerns of local communities to be taken properly into account in areas where house building is taking place.
It is not just a case of opposition to developments for their own sake, and it would be wrong to label those people nimbys. However, when concern is expressed about the way in which the developments will affect their quality of life and the strain that they will place on local services, action must be taken to ensure that those problems are remedied. The scale and design of such developments can cause resentment from the outset, but basic remedial action can often alleviate opposition. Building and infrastructure must go hand in hand, and section 106 agreements must be implemented sooner rather than later.
More consideration needs to be given to the provision of services such as schools and doctors’ surgeries, and to ensuring that homes are not built where flooding occurs, and already congested roads are not made worse by additional vehicles. We need appropriate infrastructure, sympathetic design and landscaping, and highways that are as safe and uncongested as possible. Clear aims and guidance should be given to local authority planning departments on those objectives, so that problems do not occur from the moment that the houses are built.
Again, I welcome our ambitions to give people homes of their own. However, I urge my colleagues in the Ministry to take genuine concerns on board. I urge them to build to give people homes of their own, but also to plan to ensure that those people, and the existing community, have the quality of life that they so deserve.
We are facing a situation in which, for the first time, children can expect to earn less than their parents, and, after decades in which the number of houses built has failed to keep up with demand, we have reached a crunch point at which home ownership is so impossibly expensive that it appears out of reach to a whole generation. The only solution is a long-term, sustainable programme of council house building, along with the provision of genuinely affordable homes.
As we have only a limited time in which to speak, I want to talk about the lucky few who have already realised the dream of buying their homes, but have found that it is all not quite as nice as they expected. As we already heard, 69% of houses built in the north-west in recent years have been leasehold, and as we know, leasehold is a can of worms. I hoped that the new Secretary of State would be present to hear for himself just how rancid the whole business is.
According to research in my constituency, of those who purchased a leasehold property using a solicitor recommended by the developer, a staggering 92% said they were not fully informed of the ground rent terms when they bought their home. The result is that they have been unable to sell on their property. The illusion of home ownership is very real to them. The true owner of their property is likely to be an unaccountable, faceless investment company based offshore.
This matters because many of these accidental tenants have found that some of the terms in their lease, particularly in relation to ground rent, are so onerous that they cannot sell on their property. In one sense they are on the property ladder, but it is a ladder that only has one rung, and it is a rung that they are trapped on. If they find they are unable to move, they might want instead to improve their home and build an extension, but the permission fees for doing so, which are also in the lease, are so outrageous that it is not a realistic option. The term “fleecehold” has been created to describe these practices; the term sums up the avaricious nature of these freeholders quite nicely.
We all remain hopeful that there will be a satisfactory legislative solution to achieve a straightforward, efficient and fair process of enfranchisement either through Government legislation or my private Member’s Bill, but many thorny problems remain, particularly with covenants that involve fees and charges being levied on the home owner even after the freehold has been bought. And of course we need a thorough sort out of the fees that apply in the lease so that those who are not in a position to purchase the freehold are given confidence that those fees are reasonable.
In terms of fees that lie with the property regardless of the tenure, I refer to Gleeson Homes. It proudly proclaims to sell only freehold properties but it has a huge number of covenants that come with the land, and it is those that come with a fee that I am most interested in. Permission fees are levied for extensions and so on even if people just want to put a shed in. It says charges start at £200, but it does not say what they can rise to, and perhaps most ominously it says retrospective fees can be expensive. I really do not know why Gleeson wants to put itself in the position of a planning authority, but the key issue is that there are numerous ways in which developers can choose to earn funds but it does not always have to be through a series of opaque charges that are not always apparent to the home owner at the time of purchase.
We need developers to come clean with a full audit of everything that comes with the property that has an ongoing cost implication. The best way to do that is to undertake a Select Committee inquiry into the whole leasehold scandal so that we can have full transparency. There are many questions a Select Committee ought to ask. Why did developers decide to embark on this industrial-scale scam? What is the extent of ongoing charges that attach to properties? What were developers reporting to shareholders at the time they opened up this additional revenue stream? How did the lenders and the lawyers miss the fact that these leases might render the homes unsellable? What did those running Help to Buy think they were helping people to buy? And who exactly are the beneficiaries of those leases now?
If we are serious about meeting the housing needs of this country, we have to get a full understanding of how the cowboys, the spivs and the speculators were allowed to hijack this vital element of national infrastructure so that it is never allowed to happen again.
I am very pleased to follow Justin Madders, who made some interesting remarks.
We also have to mention in the debate that the housing crisis, such as it is, is a localised crisis; too often in this Chamber we feel that London and the south-east represent the whole country. The housing crisis is particularly acute in the south-east, in constituencies such as mine, and there is huge demand for housing. However, that problem, such as it is, did not come out of a clear blue sky. It has evolved over the last several decades—20 or 30 years—and both of the parties that have shared government over that time have some responsibility for it.
There were two notable features of the period between 1997 and 2010 that have made the problem more acute. First, there was a huge increase in house prices. We only need to look at a place such as Spelthorne, let alone London itself, to see that there was a huge accretion of wealth. Asset prices went through the roof and the Labour Government of the time were relatively happy about that. One of their Ministers said that he was quite happy and relaxed about people being “filthy rich”—I think that that was the phrase used. So there was a boom-time atmosphere that increased asset prices.
The other thing that happened was that we had lots of net immigration. I know that it is not very fashionable to say that but clearly house prices have something to do with demand, and demand for housing has something to do with population increases. That is something that we should be honest about in this House. A Government looking at the problem will try to build more houses, and that is exactly what Her Majesty’s Government are trying to do. There is a commitment to expand the supply so that house prices will not increase in the way that they have done in the recent past, and that is to be welcomed.
The abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers is also a very good thing. It is an excellent policy, yet I remember that, when the Chancellor announced it at the Dispatch Box, there was a howl of protest from Opposition Members. I think that someone rather resourcefully looked at the Red Book and suggested that prices would increase by 0.3%, ignoring the fact that the abolition of the stamp duty represented way more than that in terms of the help it gave. They said that that was a critical point which meant that it was a failing policy.
I would ordinarily want to agree with the hon. Gentleman, but if I did so on this, we would both be wrong. He is talking about the abolition of stamp duty, but in my constituency the number of properties available to first-time buyers at between £200,000 and £400,000 is almost nil, so the policy is of very little benefit to my constituents. It is a subsidy for London and the south-east at the expense of the north and the west midlands.
If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention to my speech, he would have heard me say that this was a highly localised problem. I made it clear that the position with pricing was acutely felt in constituencies such as mine. I cannot speak for his constituency, but in the context of the south-east, my constituents tell me that the abolition has been very welcome.
As my hon. Friend says, the abolition has had a demonstrable impact on first-time buyers. That has certainly been the case in North East Hampshire. Does he agree, however, that more work is required to help second-steppers who are looking to move up the housing ladder?
I fully agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments.
The abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers was an example of the Government trying to help people—perhaps not in the constituency of Gareth Snell, but certainly in constituencies such as mine—and it was widely appreciated. People were very happy to hear that that was what the Government had done.
On the subject of leasehold, I happen to share many of the sentiments that have been expressed today. The property law relating to leasehold is extremely complicated. Anecdotally, I know that, in the part of north-west London where my parents live, for example, flats with 125-year leases are being sold for huge amounts of money. Obviously, the value of those properties will decrease substantially as the lease runs out, and there is clearly a sense that developers are using leasehold law to rig the system for their own benefit. We should absolutely be looking at that and trying to stop it happening.
I am sorry to see that my hon. Friend Adam Holloway is no longer in his place. He made a brave speech earlier, in which he rightly distinguished between homelessness and the housing problem and the more particular problem of rough sleeping, which he rightly suggested was a much more individuated problem than is often suggested. Unlike many people in this House, he has actually experienced rough sleeping. I remember the initial programme that he did 27 years ago—[Interruption.] Well, he has been out on the street. That is more than I have done, and I suggest that it is more than most Opposition Members have done as well. They may mock and ridicule him, but he has actually made that step. He made some very pertinent remarks about the nature of rough sleeping, and he spoke particularly about drug addiction and alcoholism. The social problems associated with rough sleeping should not be used to obscure the wider problems of access to property and of rising prices keeping younger people out of the property market.
I wonder how many of us here have experienced living in a home that is not fit for purpose and its damaging impact on a person’s physical and mental health. How many of us here have had to struggle to scrape together agency fees, find a deposit to put down on a rental property and find the first month’s rent, while still paying all the other basic bills, paying for essentials for the family and dealing with the added constant pressure of thinking about how ever to come out of the cycle of renting rather than owning a property? Countless times, well-meaning people have advised me, as a non-homeowner, that renting is throwing money away and that I really ought to save for a deposit on my own property. I think I can speak for most private renters when I say that, of course, that is everyone’s preferred route, but it is increasingly unlikely to happen because of the cost of living compared with income.
People who rent are faced with significant up-front costs and often very short tenures and they have to pay more fees and find large deposits every time they move. Young people in particular have to move more often and, in England, the length of a let is so short that they face those up-front costs time and again.
Then there is the real problem of what the rented property is like. A home should not damage someone’s health, but we know that housing conditions can affect a resident’s health and wellbeing in the most appalling ways. Housing conditions such as cold and damp can affect health, as can factors such as the accessibility of the home. One estimate put the cost of poor housing to the NHS at £1.4 billion a year in England. With a growing private rented sector in England and Wales, that cost is likely to increase.
Do not get me wrong: several million people live relatively happily in rented homes, but a substantial minority do not. Some 756,000 households live in privately rented properties that are likely to cause residents to need medical attention.
Since becoming an MP, I have witnessed at first hand the poor conditions that some people are living in. In the worst properties, you can smell the problems before you see them. Damp and cold have a distinctive smell. Working taxpayers in my constituency are paying private landlords for families to live in homes where the state of disrepair is jaw dropping: cupboards lined with black mould; broken and dangerous appliances—it is simply not good enough.
I want to speak briefly about homelessness. It is important to recognise that the rise in homelessness can be traced directly to decisions that the Tories have taken since 2010, despite their keenness to ignore and deny that. There have been 13 separate cuts to housing benefit since 2010, including the bedroom tax and breaking the link between private rented sector housing benefit and private rent. In addition, the National Audit Office has revealed that vital funding for homelessness services has fallen by 69% since 2010.
I am of the opinion that a home is a right, that a home should be comfortable and in no way damage a person’s health, and that people should be able to stay in the area where they were born if they want to do that.
When my hon. Friend says that housing is a right and particularly that it is a right not to live in damp housing, does she agree that, thanks to the efforts of a Labour Member, tenants can now take their landlord to court, but they need legal support to do that?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a very good point.
I am of the opinion that someone should be able to aspire to buy a property; that good-quality council housing should be available to those who require it; that those who rent out properties have an obligation to look after them and the welfare of those they are making money out of. Finally, I am of the opinion that the only way that the housing and homelessness crisis in this country can be solved is by getting rid of this out-of-touch Conservative Government.
It is a pleasure to follow Laura Smith.
During the recent Public Accounts Committee inquiry into homelessness I, like many, was surprised to discover the large number of people who, although they are not technically classed as homeless, are living in temporary accommodation. More than 77,000 families are housed in temporary accommodation, which has a negative impact both on those living in often substandard accommodation and on the councils that pay to provide it.
Children living in temporary housing for long periods miss, on average, 55 days of school a year, which can have a devastating effect on their academic attainment. Not only that, temporary accommodation is the single largest item of councils’ homelessness expenditure, costing around £1 billion a year.
Despite more money being provided to tackle this issue, rising accommodation costs are affecting other areas of homelessness funding, leaving spending on prevention, administration and support down by 9% in real terms between 2010 and 2016. Ironically, to break the cycle and reduce costly demands, prevention action is key but, as most of the money is spent on lose-lose temporary accommodation, it is the ultimate Catch-22.
That is why the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and the funding to which the Minister has committed are vital and will provide a shift in policy, focusing on prevention and ensuring that everyone who is homeless, or threatened with homelessness, will be able to get advice and support from their local authority. I am pleased that, in my area, Chichester District Council has already taken the initiative and appointed a dedicated homelessness officer to support those who are in this situation or at risk of needing temporary accommodation.
In the near term, building more houses is the only solution. The shortfall in housing stock has created price inflation, meaning that, nationally, house prices are nearly eight times annual earnings, but that is not uniform across the country. In areas such as Chichester, for example, house prices are more than 12 times annual earnings, pricing many young people and those on average salaries out of the market. That represents a dramatic change, considering that house prices were four times average earnings when many of us were buying our first home.
The ratio is still the same in some areas. Where I grew up, in Knowsley, house prices are still just over four times the average salary, which explains why many of my young cousins, with their partners, can still afford to buy their first home in their 20s. An affordable home in Chichester is currently categorised as 80% of the market rate. With an entry price of more than £300,000, Members can do the maths and see the problem. In expensive, high-priced areas, renting, let alone buying, a home without help is impossible. We therefore need genuinely affordable housing, such as social housing, to be prioritised in more expensive areas.
The Government’s estimated 25,000 social-rent homes to be delivered over the coming five years is a step in the right direction. However, we must make sure those homes are in the right places, where there is the highest need. In Chichester we should be more ambitious on social housing development, rather than expecting market drivers alone to rebalance the housing market.
Both my parents and my grandparents grew up in council houses, which was the only route available for them to be able to afford a family home, and many people across my constituency need the same. To get to grips with our housing and homelessness problem we need to encourage the building of genuinely affordable homes in Chichester. We must continue to be innovative to get the right amount of the right type of housing in the right areas to continue the dream of home ownership for all.
Oxford is now the least affordable place in Britain to buy a home, with the average home costing 16 times average salaries. Rents have rocketed, and we now have up to 60 people rough sleeping on our streets of a night. That has happened despite huge local efforts to improve the situation.
At least half of new developments in Oxford must be affordable housing, of which 80% must be at social rents. We have one of the strictest regimes in the country for landlord registration. The council is establishing a new local housing company and is investing to ensure that our council homes are of a decent standard, and we have retained full council tax relief for low-income families, despite Government cuts.
Even with that local effort, rents and purchase prices are massively out of reach for many. The lack of affordable rental properties, as well as three other factors, is fuelling our rough-sleeping crisis. Kwasi Kwarteng referred to this, and my estimation of the other factors driving this has not been plucked out of the air; it comes from my discussions with professionals, many of them former rough sleepers, who know what is driving the massive increase in Oxford from a time when on some evenings we would have not a single person sleeping rough. Now up to 60 people sleep on our streets on some evenings. The three factors that have driven that, in addition to the lack of affordable housing, are: benefit cuts and freezes; cuts to hostel funding by our county council, as a result of central Government cuts; and cuts to support services in mental health and in addiction services.
Despite that, we are trying to do what we can as a city to improve the situation: we have 180 beds now for rough sleepers in Oxford, with more coming next year; we have a new specialist hostel being set up in Cowley; and we had innovative joint working between our churches and our rough sleeping services over the winter to try to unlock additional places. However, all of that has been against the grain of wrong-headed Government policies, which are stopping my city from being a city for everyone, which it always has been until now. It is becoming a place where people can get on and be secure only if they are wealthy, particularly if they have housing wealth.
It is estimated that another 25,000 homes need to be built by 2031 to keep up with demand in my city. That is an incredibly tall order, given the green belt around Oxford, which is no longer suited to our population’s needs. The Secretary of State suggested that the response was just to build on brownfield land or to build up, but there is not a lot of brownfield left in my city. Although we are increasing the density of housing in my city, I would like Members who have children to reflect on whether we have gardens for our homes and whether anyone here lives in a highly dense area, for example, a tower block, with their children and without a garden. There may well be, but I do not imagine there are very many Members who do, and if it is good enough for us, it should be good enough for our constituents and we should provide them with a decent place to live, particularly for their families.
Meeting current demand is also unachievable given the woefully low levels of public investment in housing, as described ably by my right hon. Friend John Healey. That is compounded by foolish policies such as the changes to right to buy, which have made it harder for councils to build and, thus, further pushed up private rents.
The Secretary of State is no longer here, but I wish to finish my speech by inviting him to come to my city so that he can talk to those families in need. He will be able to talk to the overcrowded families—those whose children are sharing tiny bedrooms—and to those people sleeping on the streets to find out from them what needs to change.
It is a pleasure to follow Anneliese Dodds, who made a considered contribution to the debate. I thank Members from across the House for their appreciation for my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which has as its centre the aim of reducing the number of people becoming homeless in the first place. Prevention is clearly better than cure, but we have to face up to the fact that, although we can attempt to intervene and to prevent people from becoming homeless, we have to build more homes across the piece that are affordable for people to rent and to buy. That means we have to be radical in our thoughts. The Secretary of State set out a range of things that can be done, but we know that some things need to be done straightaway. He rightly mentioned the Housing First pilots, which I strongly support. However, there are only three pilots, in three parts of the country, whereas this is a nationwide problem. So when my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing answers this debate, I look forward to hearing him say how quickly we will roll out the lessons from the pilots right across the country, so that rough sleepers in other parts of the country can gain the benefit of Housing First, because that is key.
One challenge we face is the unaffordability of housing. One point I lobbied strongly for in the last Budget, and which, I am pleased to say, the Chancellor acceded to, was funding for a national rental deposit scheme and help-to-rent projects. We are yet to hear from the Department as to the various different options that will be rolled out on that. Helping people to rent and providing the deposit would enable 30,000 families to secure their own home, because the one thing they cannot do is raise the deposit to start paying the rent and have a home of their own. We need to be in a position whereby we encourage that process.
Across the piece we are paying out £1.7 billion a year to fund temporary accommodation in this country, and people are in temporary accommodation literally for years—that cannot be acceptable.
We see the price of housing to buy escalating and rents escalating, too. We have to be radical in our thought processes as to how we deal with that. One of the biggest issues is the price of land in the first place. The cheapest land is agricultural land. Speculators move in and get options on that land. When planning permission is granted for alternative uses, the price of that land suddenly escalates. Those people then sell the land on and make money on those options. That cannot be acceptable. We see other challenges in retail or commercial land being transferred to the housing usage class, and there suddenly being a dramatic increase in the land value.
We have to take the land value out of the price of housing in the first place, to reduce the cost of people owning their own homes or, indeed, renting a home. At the same time, we force local authorities to sell their land to the highest bidder, and when they do so, the price of the housing built on that land comes back in the form of a huge housing benefit bill when people rent that housing. We have to close the gap and take the value of the land out of the equation completely.
Older people are now going to be renting well into their retirement—
Given that housing benefit, which my hon. Friend just mentioned, takes up 3% of public expenditure and costs some £26 billion every year—it has cost £363 billion, more than a third of trillion, in the past 20 years—would he like to see more of that money going into the creation of new dwellings for ordinary people at prices they can afford, rather than enriching more private landlords?
Yes; my hon. Friend anticipates where I was going. We should tell local authorities, and all other public sector bodies, to gain planning permission for homes to be built on their properties. Instead of paying out huge amounts of housing benefit, we should compensate the public bodies directly from the Treasury for the value of that land, which can then be used for public services. We should then ensure that the rents and prices in the properties built are commensurate with the cost of building those properties, over an extended period of time. Once people have been tenants for 10 years, we should give them the right to buy those properties at the price they were 10 years prior, and then reinvest that money into further new housing. I am a great supporter of the right to buy, but one challenge that we face with it is that we need to invest its proceeds in building new housing.
Those are some of the radical solutions; I cannot do them justice in four minutes, but I hope that we can get some answers from my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing. Finally, may I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?
It is a delight to follow Bob Blackman, who had many very good ideas, but we have to talk about the green belt in London. There is enough land to build a million homes that are 10 minutes from tube and train stations and an hours’ journey away.
What is the green belt? What is the land that I am talking about? Is it nice, pleasant and green—somewhere we would wish to spend the day with our families? No. I spent my bank holiday going around and looking at some of these sites. I started over in Hillingdon, where I saw an illegal waste tip and stood on 20 feet of rubble that could be land on which we could build 3,500 new homes. I went along the A40 to Ealing, where I saw, close to a mosque, two schools and a train station, a site covered with building rubble and surrounded by chain-link fencing. I then went to the pièce de résistance: a tyre-changing shop and car-valeting service at Tottenham Hale, where a housing association had had its application for housing turned down because it was green belt.
At some point, we have to stop being frightened of the title and inspect what land makes up this designation. I do not want to build on a park that children use, or on rolling green fields that people enjoy on their bank holidays, but I do want to build on scrappy bits of land that nobody in their right mind would choose to regard as green belt.
I would love to, but I do not want to stop anyone from speaking.
I ask hon. Members from all parties to support my early-day motion on this issue and to support the contribution that we have made to the consultation on the national planning policy framework, which has Members from both sides of this House, academics, housing associations, and businesses saying, “Yes, stop it. Please look at the green belt.” We cannot keep talking about building more homes unless we have the means and the land to provide them, and we do, if only we all got a backbone and started looking at what we call the green belt.
I welcome this debate, and I am glad that the Government have made housing a key priority in this Parliament.
Much has been made of the affordability of houses. Although I recognise that a lack of housing supply and the unaffordability of housing for individuals and families are issues in many parts of the country, it is important that the policies implemented to solve them also take into account the situation in areas that experience low values.
My constituency of Stoke-on-Trent South, and indeed the whole city, poses a number of housing challenges, which often contrast with the national picture. A largely industrial city, Stoke-on-Trent is characterised by an abundance of Victorian terraced stock and a large number of undeveloped brownfield sites. Consequently, the local housing situation can be labelled “low-value”. We have, for instance, the second-highest number of properties in council tax bands A to D.
Such a low-value market creates its own problems of viability. There is little incentive for developers to consider brownfield sites, as the remediation costs coupled with the low eventual sell-on prices render most schemes unprofitable. Even the restoration of existing terraced stock, or the conversion of empty commercial properties to residential, is a challenge. In other areas, developers may land bank to generate excess profits at the expense of local housing supply. Unfortunately, in Stoke-on-Trent, land banking can often be the harsh reality that we face of land owners simply trying to avoid excessive losses. Of course, in many cases, profits are a matter of subjectivity, but where we have sites that fall into negative equity from the costs of redevelopment there does need to be some incentivisation.
A further potentially unseen consequence of persistently low-value markets is the lack of contribution that can be demanded of developers to aid infrastructure development to support planned and future building works. The community infrastructure levy, for instance, is a much simpler way to raise such funds when compared with the complexity of section 106 agreements, but is often not suitable for low-value markets, only further supressing marginal viability. Indeed, there has been a far lower take-up rate of the CIF within lower-value areas.
I welcome the measures that the Government have already taken to address some of these issues, including the £3 billion home building fund, the £3.5 billion private rented sector guarantee scheme and the £2.3 billion housing infrastructure fund. The latter has already made a difference, with £10 million of marginal viability funding from the housing infrastructure fund awarded to the city.
In 2015, Stoke-on-Trent City Council secured housing zone status, making it one of 20 pioneer authorities outside London. The council has also recently established Fortior Homes, a wholly owned company, in which it will initially invest £50 million to act as that catalyst for development, as well as stimulating the market, particularly in the PRS sector. I hope that Fenton town centre will see those developments coming forward in the very near future. What this recognises is that specific housing products within a market can be untested, and despite high potential demand there can be an unwillingness by private investors to take the risk of that first step—having the confidence to invest.
We also see demand for a range of different types of living. Yes, we need housing that people can afford, but we also need more family homes, more homes for the elderly, more tenures that have the flexibility of PRS and more executive homes for people to grow into. We have started to see those executive homes—I was very pleased to open the final phase of Wedgewood Park recently—but it is crucial that we do not lose sight of the unique and sometimes contrasting challenges in housing markets in low-value areas such as Stoke-on-Trent.
I will focus on York’s local plan during the short time I have to speak. We do not yet have a local plan, but it will be debated at full council on Thursday.
Although the Government’s planning and housing policies are clearly not delivering what is needed in our communities, I believe that City of York Council should at least try to follow what the Government have set out, rather than detracting from the figures with smoke and mirrors. Allow me to focus on those figures. The planning process requires 1,070 homes to be built, yet the council’s submission will only include plans for 867 homes. In fact, the NPPF for 2018 demands 1,135 homes, so York is 268 homes short. The former Secretary of State wrote to the council’s leadership about this. However, the council is determined to submit its plan with inadequate provision. This will clearly not address the real housing crisis in York, which has already been eloquently described by my hon. Friend Anneliese Dodds. York is a mini Oxford in so many respects, and it is absolutely essential that our city has the housing that it needs.
I want to the Minister to focus on these points. Over the past five years, 1,458 student housing units and 2,737 flats and town houses—mainly exclusive, luxury apartments—have been built in York, only 5% of which are affordable according to the Government’s own definition. They are therefore completely inaccessible to my constituents. Seven residential care homes have also closed, with only 27 replacement units, in a city with an ageing demographic. Since I have been elected to this place over the past three years, zero social housing has been commissioned in the city, even though we have a housing crisis and just 73 houses were sold under right to buy in the last year.
York is not an affordable city by any stretch of the imagination, and we are seeing an escalation of the crisis. That is why I need the Minister to focus on the local plan, which will be landing on his desk any day now. He also needs to look at the wider context of the local plan, including transport. Our city is suffocating under the air pollution caused by gridlock, yet high-density housing is being built in the heart of the city. Yes, we want to see the development of brownfield sites, but it will just add to the traffic crisis. The local plan that will soon be submitted relies on old data, not the most recent data, so it will not set out the real scale of the crisis.
When the Minister receives the local plan, which will go to the inspectors, will he ensure that all people in the local community are involved in the next phase? It is clear that the Government will have to intervene in the submission. It is therefore really important to listen to the expertise that has built up regarding what is actually needed for our city for the sake of the local economy and for our public services, which are unable to recruit the vital staff that they need. Of course, we also need to ensure that we have a transport system that is built for the future.
As we all know, York is an amazing city, but there are many people in crisis. The housing crisis means that there has been a sharp rise in homelessness in the city, and there are people with complex housing needs. This situation needs to be addressed. I trust that the Minister will say in his response that he will give the issue his attention from today.
It is a pleasure to follow Rachael Maskell.
Instead of looking at the broader policy, I will focus on a specific constituency case. Although planning is generally the key responsibility of the planning authority—in my case, Babergh District Council in South Suffolk—this is an issue for Parliament because it concerns a loophole in retrospective planning that has caused great distress to my constituents Clare and James Frewin of the village of Bures St Mary. I was councillor for Bures St Mary before I became an MP in 2015, and the last planning application that came before me—to which I objected—was an application to build six houses on a former slaughterhouse behind the Frewins’ grade II listed property on a very steep hill in the village of Bures.
As the development has gone on, it has become very clear that these properties, which are built just behind the my constituents’ back garden, are far higher than was given permission for. In fact, in January this year, the developer himself, Mr Steve Dixon of the Stemar Group from Southend, confirmed that there was a height difference of at least 1.7 metres. My constituents then commissioned an independent survey from Randall Surveys LLP, which found that the height difference was in fact 2.6 metres. That is the same as one floor of an entire residential property. Imagine, Mr Speaker, that someone is building a house behind your back garden, where your family enjoy their time, that is almost 3 metres taller than they were given planning permission for.
The key thing is that all we can do in this situation is ask the council to request that the developer seek retrospective planning permission. It is true that in theory the council could put a stop notice on the development, but the problem there is that if the developer gets planning permission, they can sue for any damages resulting from the stop notice. Obviously, therefore, the council is very reluctant to use it.
In this case, the real problem is that the developer in question simply does not give a damn about my constituents. In fact, he has been extremely aggressive with them. He has trespassed on the Frewins’ property. He has told Clare Frewin—this was overheard by another constituent—“If you had as much money as me, you would not live around here,” and he described the village as “scum.” Actually, Bures is a very beautiful village on the Suffolk-Essex borders, so I do not know what this builder from Southend understands by beauty. Imagine being in my constituents’ shoes, Mr Speaker. They have this development behind them that they did not want. They have to accept that it has been approved. It is being built far higher than the builder was given permission for, and he just carries on building it. He ignores all their concerns. He does not engage with the local community but rides roughshod over them.
We in Parliament have not given the district authority the right powers to deal with that, because it can itself be liable to legal action. I would like to see some kind of review of retrospective planning permission, so that where the developer is clearly causing detriment against the public interest, a stop notice can be issued. It could be appealed against, but whether it was upheld or even rejected, the builder would not have the right then to sue the council for damages, because it had acted in the public interest.
This case has caused great dismay in Bures and across South Suffolk. The impression given is that the system is weighted firmly in favour of the developer, who cares not a jot for my constituents. I want a system that better represents my constituents, so that they are not subject to people riding roughshod over them with planning permission they have been legally given. Instead, we should have a system that is weighted fairly between both sides of the argument.
It is a pleasure to follow James Cartlidge.
I want to focus my comments on private rented accommodation and fairness. We all know that there are many fantastic private landlords out there across the country who offer a high-quality service for the people living in their accommodation, but we also know that there are many who do not. The issue of fairness concerns who pays to regulate this sector. Who foots the bill for dealing with some of the problems that are identified? We have all, I am sure, had constituents come to us and say that they have had problems with their accommodation. One of my constituents came to me with her baby who was suffering terribly from asthma because of the damp in her private rented accommodation. I spoke to Hull City Council’s housing team, whose fantastic housing manager, Dave Richmond, dealt with the case and the landlords had to resolve the problem.
But what about all the people who do not go and see their Member of Parliament? What about all those to whom it would not even occur that they could go to their MP and they could help them deal with the issue? Who goes to check that private rented accommodation is of a high standard? I have had this conversation with Hull City Council. I am sure that it would love to be able to go out there and check that some of the accommodation that people are living meets the standard that it should, but who pays the bill? People who live in Hull are paying their council tax to deal with problems that are caused by private rented accommodation and private landlords. Can anyone name me another type of private organisation where the general taxpayer foots the bill to deal with problems created in its own industry?
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that that is why selective licensing schemes, which allow private landlords to be charged for some of that enforcement, are important? Does she share my bemusement and even frustration that the Minister has still not signed off numerous selective licensing applications, including mine in Brighton and Hove? The Government have been sitting on those for months now, and we are still not able to move forward in many of our cities where councils want to do exactly what she says.
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. That is exactly the point that I wish to make.
The Ministry’s data shows that in Kingston upon Hull there were a total of 22,132 properties in the local authority area with a housing health and social care rating category 1 hazard—all of them in the private rented sector. A category 1 hazard is one that poses a serious threat to the health or safety of people living in or visiting a home. It is estimated that the cost to the council of dealing with all those issues would run to £23.5 million. Surely that bill should not have to be footed by the people who live and pay their council tax in Hull.
I absolutely agree that there should be a local licensing system whereby those who own private rented accommodation make a contribution to the regulation and maintenance of some of their properties. That is the only fair way to do it. I am calling on the Ministry to make it easier for local councils such as Hull City Council to introduce landlord licensing, so that they can check that all these people living in private rented accommodation are not living somewhere that is a hazard to their health.
It is a pleasure to follow Emma Hardy.
Planning and housing are hot topics in my area, as neighbourhood plans, the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council plan and the Greater Manchester spatial framework are all currently being worked up, and people are rightly focused on the need for brownfield use and green-belt protection.
I welcome the Minister’s comments on the importance of green-belt protection. The Campaign to Protect Rural England recently launched its “State of Brownfield 2018” report to highlight and reinforce that very issue. It analysed the potential use of brownfield land to address our housing shortage and its findings were quite stark. An examination of the recently published brownfield registers from across the UK found that there is enough space on brownfield land to build at least 1 million new homes, with more than two thirds of those homes deliverable within the next five years. That would mean that three of the next five years’-worth of Government housing targets could be met through building homes on brownfield land that has already been identified, thereby easing pressures on councils to release green-belt land unnecessarily and preventing the unremitting creeping loss of countryside. Local authorities must be empowered and use powers to refuse planning permission for greenfield sites where there are suitable alternatives on brownfield land.
The draft Greater Manchester spatial framework was published in 2016 but was widely criticised for focusing too little on brownfield land and too much on development on the green belt. Indeed, Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, was elected a year ago pledging to “radically rewrite” the framework and promising a “substantial reduction” in the loss of green-belt land. Currently across my borough of Stockport, more than 12,000 homes are proposed on green-belt land. Shockingly, 8,100 of those—67%—are planned on the green belt in my constituency of Cheadle. I look forward to a radically reformed proposal.
Greater Manchester has 1,000 hectares of underdeveloped brownfield land across 400 sites that has not been earmarked for use. That is enough land to build 55,000 homes. The revised spatial framework is an opportunity to further redevelop our major town centres, and we should be radical in our approach. We need a more ambitious attitude if we are to ensure that our town centres benefit from the investment generated by urban regeneration schemes.
We also need to see more co-operation between local authorities. I was encouraged when that was reflected in the Localism Act 2011 and reinforced by the Secretary of State last autumn, with the introduction of a requirement for local authorities to publish a statement of common ground. Councils already have a duty to co-operate with bordering authorities, as set out in the Localism Act. However, under the new proposals, they will have 12 months to set out how they are working cross-county to meet their local housing needs.
This issue is particularly pertinent to my constituency because, as I have already mentioned, the number of houses proposed to be built on the green belt is considerably high. Stockport Council, for example, has argued that, by calculating housing need at the Greater Manchester level, over a 20-year period, 18,720 fewer homes could be built on the green belt than under GMSF and 5,680 fewer than under the current national methodology.
In my constituency, the strength of feeling is a concern and most evident in the activities of local neighbourhood groups. I very much want to mention the Woodford neighbourhood forum, which was set up in October 2013. The people who are part of the forum have worked unremittingly hard on their local plan and I urge the Minister to listen to local voices as he takes this policy forward.
I thank everybody who has participated in the debate. We have heard some incredibly thoughtful, welcome and, in some cases, unexpectedly radical contributions. That drives home just how important an issue housing is up and down the country.
However, we have a Government who have failed to do anything over the past eight years to help those who are suffering in this housing crisis. Speeches by Members on both sides of the House have given a glimpse of how across the board the Government are failing. Whether it is statutory homelessness, social house building, rough sleeping, home ownership or the proliferation of temporary accommodation, there is not a sector that has not suffered as a result of eight years of austerity.
To give one example, rough sleeping has increased by 169% since 2010. Crisis predicts that, without substantial changes in Government policy, it will increase by a further 76% in the next 10 years. I cannot be alone in being alarmed by the fact, as Gillian Keegan said, that children in temporary accommodation lose out on 55 days of school on average. I think that we should all have a great sense of urgency about tackling this issue, rather than waiting for 2022 or 2027 to get to the heart of tackling it.
The Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Mrs Wheeler, who has responsibility for housing and homelessness, has said that she does not know why rough sleeping is going up. Perhaps she should listen to the 70% of councils that said that they had difficulty finding social housing for the homeless. Even worse, almost 90% of councils have said that they have struggled to find private rented accommodation.
I welcome the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which was driven through by Bob Blackman. It has huge promise, but we know that the resources that will be delivered to local authorities, which are expected to deliver on every element of the Act, will not match those demands. Schemes such as Housing First are a drop in the ocean compared with the losses of the supported people funding, which the Conservative Government decided to cut.
All of that is no surprise. We know that social house building is hitting historic lows under this Government. In the last year, during the now Home Secretary’s time at the MHCLG, £817 million was handed back to the Treasury that was meant to be used to build affordable homes and support local authorities. That is simply unacceptable. Where private house builders are building, the Government have been slow to close regulatory loopholes that harm consumers.
We heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) about the issues in their constituencies. Sixty-nine per cent. of new build properties in the north-west are being sold as leasehold, and that figure is higher than anywhere else in the country. I am sure the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood in Gateacre Park and Cressington Heath will be delighted to hear that their MP is so active on their issues. The fact is that 999-year leases are being given out and maintenance charges continue in that period. That will be incredibly prohibitive. There are charges up to 20 times the ground rent to purchase the leasehold. People have been misled and exploited, and there are clearly issues with covenants in transfer documents. The House must give its attention to those issues when leaseholds are discussed, as I hope they will be later in the summer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston was absolutely right to call these “fleeceholds.” He said that his constituents were unable to move up the ladder because the leaseholds were far too restrictive. I have seen the same in my own constituency. Constituents in Cambridge Park and Limber Court are in retirement villages, on fixed incomes, and they cannot sell their properties. We also have to think about what we can do retrospectively to try to deal with legacy issues when it comes to people selling leaseholds to freeholders who simply want to make as much money as possible out of people. The Government are taking action on the issue, which I welcome, but we have to make sure that we tackle the issues that have been brought to the House this afternoon. To be laid back in any way about this matter would not be acceptable to any of our constituents.
If the Government turned around tomorrow with the money and regulation changes required to seriously start to challenge the housing crisis, that still would not be enough. House building itself faces a crisis, with skills in the building industry in seriously short supply. The Federation of Master Builders warned earlier this year that small and medium-sized house builders are facing the worst skills shortage on record. Demand for carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and plasterers is outstripping supply. Two thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to recruit bricklayers. Who will build the 300,000 houses the Government say they want to build?
Then there is the £250 million that has been put into a flagship Government scheme to boost starter home constructions: it has not led to a single property being built. What a betrayal of young Britons who are struggling to buy that all important first home! I commend my hon. Friend Matt Rodda for his work standing up for young people in his constituency. He says that the wrong kind of housing for local people is being built. It is too expensive. He urges the proper use of brownfield sites, and I hope the Minister has listened. That is a snapshot of the situation across the country.
I turn briefly to the speech made by my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick. It is telling that there are 25,000 people on the council waiting list in his constituency. The number of social homes being built has collapsed. The idea that affordable rents should be 80% of market rents means that in reality they are anything but affordable for his constituents. He was absolutely right to raise that issue. The private rented sector is therefore often the only option available. Perversely, one of the leading causes of homelessness is the end of an assured shorthold tenancy—the numbers have quadrupled since the Government came to power.
Rents are rising faster than incomes and there are 900,000 fewer homeowners among the under-45s. Renters are spending £9.6 billion a year on houses that the Government class as non-decent. My hon. Friends the Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith), for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell) discussed really important points about the quality of private rented accommodation. Hopefully, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, which my hon. Friend Ms Buck is promoting, will make its way through the House rapidly so that we can start to tackle properties that are simply not suitable for anyone to live in, impacting not only on people’s physical health but on their mental health.
There are also the issues around tenant fees and the expenses of people in rented accommodation, who may not ever have the opportunity to be anything but renters. What can we do for those people? In Oxford East, someone has to earn 16 times the average salary to be able to own their own property. That is an extraordinary figure. It cannot be a city for ordinary people—all those who are “just about managing”, who the Government have spoken so regularly about. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central was clear that the provision of homes in her city was inadequate and that property there was too expensive. Only 5% of homes are affordable there—surely far beneath what the Government would expect.
We know that building affordable homes is a good investment. The Government currently spend 95% of their housing budget on benefits to support people in their homes. In the 1970s, over 80% of Government spending funded homes, with just a fifth spent on housing-related benefits.
I would just like to mention very quickly the contribution by my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh, who was absolutely right as well as very brave to mention the classification of the green belt. Too often the assumption is that the green belt is a national park or an area of outstanding natural beauty and not, as she described, a tyre replacement plant.
Labour has a plan; the Government have empty words and eight years of failure. On every graph to measure housing failure, one can pinpoint clearly where Labour left office and when the Conservative party took charge.
I welcome all the contributions to the debate, those from across the aisle as well as from the Government Benches.
The Government are more determined than ever to make sure that this country is one where the dream of home ownership can become a reality for aspirational working Britain and where, at the same time, we address the challenge for generation rent, whether they are in the private or social sector. We delivered over 217,000 new homes to rent or buy in the last year alone, the highest in all but one of the past 30 years.
This must be the point of departure, not the point of arrival. We are ambitious to go much further, first through planning reform, including the revised draft national planning policy framework and reforms to developer contributions. That is fundamental to delivering the homes the country needs, and fundamental to ensuring they are the right homes built in the right places to the right quality. As my hon. Friend Damien Moore argued clearly and cogently, density is a key part of that, which is why the NPPF says that local plans should significantly raise minimum densities in towns and cities, and on other land well-served by public transport. My hon. Friend John Penrose spoke powerfully about the importance of this particular policy measure and I recognise that he wants the Government to go further. Anneliese Dodds spoke about the need to preserve garden space when we utilise density.
Planning reform also means giving greater weight to the need to put suitable brownfield land to good use. Arguments on that were made on both sides, including by Matt Rodda and my hon. Friend Mary Robinson. As the shadow spokesperson said, Siobhain McDonagh gave us an iconoclastic blast at the prevailing consensus around green belt, which I will certainly reflect on. Under the revised NPPF, we will also hold local authorities to account through the new housing delivery test to make sure we have a stronger focus on getting homes built, because people cannot live in a planning permission. There can be no ducking or diving; councils must build the homes that their communities need.
We must also deliver the infrastructure to support house building, a point made by my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer and Rachael Maskell. People rightly ask, when they see a new development near them, will the roads be congested, will local schools have enough places and will it mean a longer wait to see my GP? We are investing £5 billion, so local authorities can secure vital infrastructure in areas where housing need is greatest. Through our marginal viability funding, and through the £4 billion from the latest tranche of Forward Funding, which goes to larger-scale projects, there is the potential to deliver 200,000 homes in relation to marginal viability and over 400,000 new homes from the Forward Funding pot. That is the way the Government will deliver more homes, while at the same time build the stronger communities we all want.
At the same time, we will not shrink from holding developers to their responsibilities. The most recent figures show that 684,000 homes with planning permissions granted have not yet been completed. That is far too high. My right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin is leading a review of the gap between the number of planning permissions granted and homes being built. He will make recommendations in autumn for closing the gap. It will be important in addressing the concerns expressed so eloquently by my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Sir Robert Syms) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton). Where planning permission is granted, we believe it should be viewed more like a contract for delivery, not the start of an endless haggle that exhausts councils and frustrates local communities.
At the same time, we recognise that central Government have a lead role to play. We must lead by example. Releasing surplus public sector land has the potential to increase the supply of new homes and meet our ambitions. We are pressing all Whitehall Departments to release more sites, with the capacity to deliver 160,000 additional homes. Of course, that offers a special opportunity for us to provide more affordable housing for the teachers, nurses, veterans and all those key public sector workers who should be able to afford to live in the communities that they serve with such dedication.
Our mission is not just to build more homes, but to deliver housing that is available and affordable to everyone in our society, especially the most vulnerable. Strong speeches were made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, including Laura Smith and my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan. The Government are committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and to eliminating it by 2027. We are backing that ambition with £1 billion of funding and with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which has just come into force. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Adam Holloway for all his work in this area, and for having the guts and gumption to see what it is like at first hand and to look at the issue through the eyes of someone who is sleeping rough.
The Housing First pilots launched last week have put £28 million into helping those who are either sleeping rough now or who are at risk of rough sleeping. This aims not only to keep a roof over their heads but to help them to address the underlying challenges that lead to rough sleeping, from mental health problems to alcohol abuse. I welcome the support from Mhairi Black and right the way across to my neighbour, my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng. It is also important to recognise the restlessness of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman to go even further than those existing pilots, and that point was very powerfully made.
More broadly, 357,000 affordable homes have been delivered since 2010. More council houses have been built in the last eight years than in the whole period in office of the last Labour Government. Those are the facts. We believe that anybody who works hard and aspires to own their own home—
I will not, because I have such a short time, and I want to address all the points that hon. Members made on both sides of the House.
We believe that anybody who works hard and aspires to own their own home should have the opportunity to realise that dream. Right to buy has helped nearly 2 million to realise their aspiration to own their own home. I recognise that the shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey, referred to the Labour party’s Green Paper, which recently vowed to scrap right to buy—there was not a lot made of that in his speech. The public will note that while Labour’s Front Benchers may enjoy owning their own cushy homes, they now oppose extending the same opportunity to those in our country for whom that is currently beyond reach. Government Members understand why people dream of owning their own home. That is why we will launch our £200 million pilot of the voluntary right to buy for housing associations in the west midlands. Only the Conservatives are serious about—
I will not. Only the Conservatives are serious about reviving the dream of home ownership and only the Conservatives have a credible plan to achieve it. Our Green Paper on social housing in England is a historic opportunity to address this crucial sector, from landlord-tenant relationships to, frankly, some of the ignorant and offensive stigma that too many social tenants suffer today. This Government—a Conservative Government—are dedicated to eradicating that prejudice, recognising the hard work that so many social tenants put in, valuing the pride that they take in their neighbourhoods and restoring the respect and dignity that they deserve. We will publish that groundbreaking report before the summer recess. That is our mission: to reverse the decline in home ownership for the teachers, nurses, shift workers, the couples working overtime up and down the country and for all those who dream of owning their own home.
Too many feel that the housing ladder has been pulled up beyond their reach. We must grasp the opportunity to right that wrong, to build the homes that Britain needs, whether to buy or to rent, to make them more affordable and to make the Conservative dream of a property-owning democracy a 21st-century reality for the next generation.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered housing and homes.