Localism Bill — Report (6th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 12th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 7:00 pm, 12th October 2011

My Lords, if I understand it correctly, the purpose of these amendments is to make sure that a proper assessment and evidence base for housing needs is incorporated into the work on the local plan. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, spoke about the immediate crisis in housing. Of course, these amendments will not solve the problem in the short term. The problem of why houses are not being built is far more to do with the financial situation, and the lack of availability of finance for building houses and of mortgages for people buying them. It is nothing to do with the planning system per se but the points he is making are very valid in the longer term.

However, the argument comes down to whether this kind of requirement on local planning authorities should be in this Bill in primary legislation or should be provided in guidance. I have no doubt that the Minister will point out that the draft national planning policy framework, with which we all live and sleep at the moment, has a great deal in it about this. For example, on page 30, under the heading "Significantly increasing supply of housing", paragraph 109 reads:

"To boost the supply of housing, local planning authorities should ... use an evidence-base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full requirements for market and affordable housing in the housing market area, including identifying key sites which are critical to the delivery of the housing strategy over the plan period".

Paragraph 111 is rather longer, and therefore I will not read it all out, but it requires that,

"local planning authorities should ... plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends", which I think was a point made very eloquently by the noble Lord. I suspect that there is not a great deal of difference between what the noble Lord is putting forward and what the Government want to happen, and that it is simply a matter of where the requirement should be and whether it is necessary to be in the Bill.

Reference has been made to "Cathy Come Home". I confess that I am old enough to have seen that programme, but I did not see it because we were old-fashioned enough not to have a television at our house at the time, which seems astonishing nowadays when everyone has a television in every room. Televisions themselves are now supposed to be old-fashioned and you are supposed to watch it all on your PC, laptop or strange little devices that can be carried in one's pockets.

However, the important point made here by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, was the need for affordable housing. I would say that the phrase "affordable housing" is another phrase which seems to be a bit vague and fluffy in the way in which it is used. There are a number of different sorts of affordable housing. There is affordable housing to buy; affordable housing to rent, which is nowadays called social housing, a phrase which still grates with me; public housing or third sector housing; and affordable housing in the private rented sector. I live in a part of the country which is not only a great deal more hilly than East Anglia but I suspect that we have a lot more-or perhaps we do-poor quality, rented accommodation in the private sector, which is extremely affordable by any standards because the levels of rent are set at the level of housing benefit. Anyone who qualifies for housing benefit can afford that housing.

In any case, that housing by standards across the country is very cheap to buy and to rent. But the quality is not very good. I am old-fashioned enough to think that what is required is not just a lot more rented accommodation, but rented accommodation in the social housing sector, council housing, housing association housing and similar types of housing. I keep being told by coalition Ministers that this coalition will provide much more of such housing than did the previous Government. I still cannot quite work out exactly how it will happen but they believe it will. I wish them the best of luck. The outcomes will be the outcomes, which we will see. If that happens, the coalition will be able to trumpet it as a great success. Frankly, the previous Government in this area was a bit of a flop.