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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.