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I thank the Secretary of State for the advance copy of his statement, which arrived half an hour ago.
This is indeed a follow up to the Budget and the Treasury’s flawed thinking runs throughout. After nearly 10 years there is still no plan to fix the country’s housing crisis, while the promise of the White Paper is a threat to give big developers a freer hand to do what they want, ignoring quality, affordability and sustainability. Of course planning requires reform, but planning is not the major constraint on the new homes the country needs when 365,000 were given permission last year and only 213,000 were built; when only 6,200 new social homes were built last year when more than 1 million people are on housing waiting lists; and when, of course, big developers can dodge all planning permission to
“abuse permitted development rights to provide accommodation of the lowest quality.”
Those are not my words, but those of the Government’s own Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission.
The Secretary of State has a number of questions on the planning front. In 2015, the Government set a deadline of early 2017 for all councils to have a local plan in place. Why is he now waiting another three years until the end of 2023? Will local areas have social housing targets, not just total targets, in this review of the formula for local housing need? Will new standards be set for greener zero-carbon homes? How much extra funding will the Government provide to beef up the capacity of our council planning services, which have been cut by a half over the past decade? The White Paper is a red warning. It could strip local communities of the powers they have to say no to big developers taking the easy option of building on the green belt. It could impose Whitehall’s total housebuilding numbers on local communities without the new affordable housing that local residents need. It could mean more unsuitable business buildings turned into slum housing, with no planning permission needed at all.
We welcome the new money in the Budget for replacing dangerous cladding and I welcome the Secretary of State’s personal commitment to building safety. Since the weeks immediately after Grenfell, we have argued that no resident should have to pay simply to make their home safe. Only the Government can fix this problem. It is a profound failure that thousands are in this position nearly three years on from Grenfell. How many fire risk buildings will this new fund have to cover? Will it fund essential fire safety work to retrofit sprinklers? Will he guarantee that this fund means no leaseholder will now have to pay the costs to make their buildings safe?
The Secretary of State’s Department released new building safety figures just over an hour ago, which he has not mentioned this morning—and no wonder. Nearly three years on from Grenfell, 266 high rise blocks still have the same Grenfell-style ACM cladding. The Secretary of State has still not published the test results or the numbers of those blocks with unsafe non-ACM cladding. The existing fund for private sector ACM cladding has already been in place for 10 months, so it is clear that funding alone will not fix the problems. Will he now also back Labour proposals for simple emergency legislation to force block owners to do and pay for this work?
Finally, with one or two minor exceptions, yesterday’s Budget was a golden, but wasted opportunity on housing. When the Government’s borrowing costs are at rock bottom and the Chancellor promises a capital spending spree, the Secretary of State must be deeply disappointed by how little funding he has for new affordable homes. Over five years, there will be just £12.2 billion, and a quarter of that is not even new money. This means an average of £2.4 billion a year. In real terms, that is only half the level of affordable housing investment made in the last year of the last Labour Government. Over five years, it will be less than housing organisations—from the National Housing Federation to Shelter—say is needed every year. Will he concede that on housing, it will be business as it was before the Budget—a continuation of 10 years of Conservative failure on housing, with no plan to fix the housing crisis—and will he admit that despite the Chancellor’s constant Budget boast on housing, this is a Government that do not “get it done”?