British House Building Industry

Part of Uk Shared Prosperity Fund – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 5th September 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford 4:18 pm, 5th September 2019

May I begin by congratulating the Minister on her appointment? It is good to see her in her place at the Dispatch Box.

The house building market in the United Kingdom is highly oligopolistic, dominated by very few very large players, some of whom are extremely unresponsive to the needs of local communities, as Siobhain McDonagh laid out so well in her speech. They can have an adverse impact on communities in the long term, but they can also have an adverse impact in the short term, while their houses are being built.

We had an example of that in Rayleigh on Monday morning. The schools came back, so clearly the traffic increased, but it was massively exacerbated by three contraflows all in operation at the same time on three different housing developments: Barratt David Wilson at Hullbridge, where a nearby key road called Watery Lane has been closed for many weeks because of the works; Countryside at Rawreth Lane in Rayleigh, which has a contraflow in place; and Silver City, a lesser known, smaller developer which has a contraflow on the London Road in Rayleigh. The cumulative effect, made worse by a road traffic accident that morning, was that the town was in effect gridlocked, and many of my constituents were extremely frustrated as they were simply trying to get to work.

I have remonstrated with the county council’s highways department for granting permits to work on the highway to all of these developers at the same time. It has a strategic overview of the highways network, and I think it should look at that again. I have also contacted all the developers directly, and encouraged them to get this work done as fast as possible and then get out of the way, and the responses have been instructive. The smallest, Silver City, has promised that it will be finished by the end of the week and that it will be off the highway network. Countryside, an Essex-based developer, has said that it will no longer operate its contraflow in the morning and evening rush hours, thus considerably easing the congestion.

Barratt David Wilson, the major national house builder, has been the least responsive of all. It has been on site since February, and my constituents in Hullbridge are just about sick and tired of it. As the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden has pointed out, its chief executive, Mr David Thomas, is on a nice little earner. According to its 2018 annual report, he earned a total package of just shy of £3 million—some 20 times the salary the Prime Minister earns for the responsibility of running the country. I suspect that Mr David Thomas could not find Hullbridge in my constituency with a TomTom.

Barratt David Wilson has now, under pressure, contemplated extending the hours of its work to try to finish the job, but it still will not give me a firm date for when its works will be completed, Watery Lane can be reopened and it will get out of the way. In short, it is a bad neighbour in my constituency, and I think it is about time that this large, unresponsive, uncaring national house builder, run by a fat cat on £3 million a year, was held to account. My constituents deserve better than this, and these developers should put more people on the job, get the job done quicker and get off the roadway.

We are tight for time, but in my last minute I want to mention Sanctuary Housing, the largest housing association in my constituency. I had an Adjournment debate on 18 July about what is wrong with it, so I shall not reiterate it all now, suffice it to say that I had a meeting with its chief executive, Mr Craig Moule, and its outgoing chairman, Mr Jonathan Lander, yesterday. It was a deeply unsatisfactory meeting. Basically, it had promised to build 50 affordable houses a year, but it got nowhere near that. It had no clear plan or strategy to achieve the target. I am afraid the outgoing chairman of the board clearly did not take the meeting seriously. In fact, his attitude was patronising. If he had said, “I hear what you say, Mr Francois” one more time, I think I would have screamed.

There is a governance issue at Sanctuary. It is badly run and badly governed. It is not properly accountable to the tenants it serves, which is why it was slated by “Dispatches” a few months ago. My plea to the Minister is that we need tighter regulation of the registered social landlords market. Some of these are very large organisations indeed. They are not properly regulated by the Government, and Sanctuary is most certainly not properly regulated by its rather useless board.