My Lords, on
I thank my noble friend for that reply. Would he agree that the dramatic drop in mortgage lending and the sharp decline in new housebuilding well illustrate that the market is failing in this sector? Would he further agree, therefore, that it is incumbent on government to meet the growing demand from those in housing need by investing further in housebuilding, construction training and new models of social ownership?
My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend; indeed, the very concept of affordable housing demonstrates that the needs of some cannot be met by the market. We have, as I have explained, taken action in the short term through the housing pledge—in particular, the kick-start programme to unlock stalled sites—but we recognise that, in the long term, there will be a continuing need for housing. We need to ensure sufficient land for development, a strong housebuilding sector and an increased long-term supply of affordable housing. Above all, we need strong and active government action.
Can the Minister assure me that, included among those houses to which he referred, there will be rent-to-buy properties as another form of social housing? That means that those people wishing to be home owners but unable to afford to be so will, after a period of renting, have the opportunity to buy their home.
Indeed, there are two ways in which the Government support low-cost home ownership: the shared equity and the shared ownership arrangements. A component of that is Rent to HomeBuy, under which somebody can rent for a period before buying all or part of the freehold.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that bringing existing homes up to standard is an important part of the programme of providing housing. He will be aware of the challenge by a number of councils of all political persuasions against the shift out of the decent homes value-for-money budget. Does this not mean that council tenants will be subsidising the programme to a fairly considerable degree? Frankly, that is a rather odd component.
My Lords, as I understand it, the challenges, coming from three Tory councils and one Lib Dem council, are about the deferral of part of the funding that was originally allocated. Let me remind noble Lords that, in 1997, we inherited a massive £19 billion backlog on social housing repairs, with more than 2 million homes failing basic decency standards and too many of society's most vulnerable on the streets or in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We have made massive improvements since then, radically transforming people's homes through 700,000 new kitchens, 525,000 new bathrooms and the rewiring of 740,000 council homes. This has been a success for the decent homes policy, which did not exist before.
My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that we need lots more affordable homes for the next generation. Does the Minister agree that a good way of producing those extra homes is by providing the retirement housing to tempt people out of their three-bedroom, underoccupied houses in the suburbs? Those are the homes with gardens that we are not building any more, but which could be released if only we had a good enough offer for older people, who need something more manageable and less expensive to heat and maintain. That would thereby release the homes that young families so badly need.
Yes, my Lords, again, I very much agree with the noble Lord. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to him for the committee that he chairs, which is looking at sustainable accommodation for older persons and what that means in helping to tackle underprovision.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the important role that the churches play in the partnerships needed to deliver affordable housing, particularly in the rural areas, as outlined in the significant Faith inAffordable Housing report? Will he help to facilitate these partnerships by ensuring that funding is sustained for the rural housing enablers?
My Lords, I recognise the important role that faith communities can play. Over many areas of policy, faith communities can reach people that Governments sometimes cannot, so those partnerships are valued. As for funding for affordable rural housing, the right reverend Prelate may be aware that our target was flexed, as we are now getting less output for our grant because of the falling away of Section 106 moneys. Subject to that, we need to continue to work together to ensure that we can deliver affordable rural housing.
My Lords, we have not yet heard from a Back-Bencher on this side.
My Lords, while fully endorsing the Government's commitment to build more social housing, may I ask my noble friend whether he accepts that too often in the past quality in publicly funded housing has been traded for quantity? What practical steps are being taken by the Government, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment to ensure that this new affordable housing will be adaptable, sustainable and pleasing to the eye?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. Indeed, it follows on from the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the design of accommodation. It is important that it is good quality. I can remember the days of Parker Morris standards. I hope that we can get back to that and ensure that we sustain good design standards and create spaces in which people are happy to live, particularly older people, who will progressively spend more time in their accommodation than the younger population.
My Lords, given that the official waiting list is now around 2 million—incidentally, the National Housing Federation puts the figure needing homes at 4 million and rising—can the Minister say how many of the 750,000 empty homes are now occupied? Secondly, do the Government intend to build more affordable homes for families rather than concentrating on flats, which currently account for 50 per cent of the new build?
My Lords, the nature of affordable homes is very much driven by the planning process, local development frameworks and local authorities' input to local needs. I agree that that should cover the whole range of requirements, from families to smaller households. We have made progress in reducing the overall number of empty properties, which has fallen by 9 per cent since 1997.