I am sure we all welcome debating a subject other than Brexit. If I was to use the issues that constituents come to see me about in my surgery as a guide to what else we should be talking about, housing would come at the top of the list every time. From the parent facing eviction from their private tenancy with no permanent housing options on the table, to the tenant coming back to me for the fifth time because the damp still has not been fixed, to the young couple whose kids have to share a box room totally unsuitable for them, it is very clear that we do not have enough housing at the right prices or of the right tenure.
On a positive note, my local council, Chester West and Cheshire Council, is now building council housing, the first for nearly 40 years. I am delighted about that, but we still have less council housing than we had a couple of years ago, due to a huge increase in right-to-buy applications. Who can blame people for wanting to take advantage of 70% discounts? The policy, however, is short-term in the extreme. It is, of course, the Government’s stated aim that every council property sold under the right to buy should be replaced, but the reality is that, rather than one-for-one replacements, it is more like one new property for every four sold. The situation is clearly unsustainable.
There needs to be a wholesale change in the culture of and approach taken by developers. There seems to be general agreement across the political spectrum that we need to build more homes, but those good intentions are at risk of failing because there is an over-reliance on the market to deliver those aims. To date, the private sector has shown itself incapable of working in a way that chimes with the needs of the country. To put it mildly, I remain to be persuaded about the altruism of the house building industry; one need only look at the £100 million Persimmon bonus to see where its priorities lie. Plc house builders that help themselves to more than £8 billion of taxpayers’ money through the Help to Buy scheme show their true colours when they rip off their own customers through “fleecehold”. They have a lot to answer for.
The reliance on a small group of developers has been a very poor deal for the taxpayer, and that is the backdrop against which the leasehold scandal emerged. I look forward to the Government’s response to the excellent report by the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government. I hope concrete action will be taken soon.
Many in the industry have signed a pledge to move away from onerous leases, but to be frank I think that has happened only because there has been so much bad publicity against the people guilty of this wholesale scam over the years. The pledge also seems hollow to those of my constituents who have been notified in the past couple of weeks that their freehold has changed hands again, from one opaque company based in Guernsey to another opaque company based in Guernsey. The industry pledge intends to make the whole process
“cheaper, easier and more transparent”,
but actions such as those in my constituency will make it more expensive, more difficult and less transparent for people to buy out their freehold. The only way these rapacious people will be brought to order is through changes to the law, and the sooner the Government get on to that, the better.
The biggest developers in the country have not just ripped off millions of homeowners; they have ripped off all of us. We should not rely on them to solve the crisis we face. The housing market is broken and needs radical intervention, and it certainly needs a Labour Government.