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Community Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk 5:00 pm, 12th March 2020

It is a pleasure to lead this Adjournment debate, the subject of which is support for community housing—a phrase that comes from the 2019 Conservative manifesto, on which my Conservative colleagues and I fought the recent general election. The manifesto, perhaps for lack of space, conflates two of my life-favourite themes: first, giving people in local communities more real say over the housing that is to be built in their areas; and secondly, self-build housing. On the latter, I declare two interests: first, because what is now known as the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 started life as my private Member’s Bill; and secondly, because I am an ambassador for the Right to Build Task Force.

Under the heading “Community housing and self-build”—which I should emphasise for the sake of clarity are by no means entirely the same thing, although there is often an overlap—the Conservative manifesto helpfully states, on page 31:

“We will support community housing by helping people who want to build their own homes find plots of land and access the Help to Buy scheme.”

I could hold at least three separate Adjournment debates purely based on that one sentence—first, because there is a great deal to say about community housing and the very successful community housing fund; secondly, because there is also a great deal to say about helping people who want to build their own homes, either as individuals or as members of groups; and thirdly, because there is a great deal to say about the fact that the Help to Buy scheme unfairly and inadvertently excluded custom and self-build from its scope. Although that omission was acknowledged and recognised by the Government in 2014, it did not lead to any action being taken until the 2019 manifesto commitment, so in fact there has been an extended period of unfair competition from state-led intervention, subsidised by our tax-paying constituents, which effectively has operated against self-builders and in favour of large house builders, thus limiting supply and choice while reducing overall quality, sustainability and innovation.

However, I do not want to talk about that—first, because my right hon. Friend the Minister knows that I am a “glass half full” kind of guy, and there is much that is positive to talk about; and secondly, because my conversations with Ministers have convinced me that they are seized of that particular problem in relation to Help to Buy, which I hope will in due course be called “Help to Build”, and genuinely want to find a solution that works for self-builders rather than discriminates against them. In the limited time available, I will concentrate just on the first part of the sentence—namely, support for community housing.