Housing and Planning Bill - Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 25th April 2016.

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Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 6:30 pm, 25th April 2016

I have some sympathy with the arguments behind it, but the amendment seems entirely the wrong one. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is absolutely right about the release of land. If one has a criticism of government, it is the very strong one that we have not made people release land. There is enough land in London to provide the homes we need if it were released. We have not done it; nor did the previous Government; nor the one before; nor the one before that. Yet all the way along we have known that the land is there.

However, it is not very helpful to bring forward an amendment which simply tells every local authority that it must do the same thing. I deeply disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. You cannot just talk about localism and the postcode lottery. Local authorities have got to be able to make up their minds. The other day, I had a rather sharp disagreement with my noble friend Lord True because I happened to suggest that local authorities were not entirely without guilt in the provision of houses. He immediately jumped up to defend them. I happen to think that local authorities can be good and bad. We have to believe in them and give them the right to make decisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is just wrong to say that we have to impose from the centre these particular requirements. It is acceptable to choose to have them or not.

I want local authorities to have that choice but I do not want the Government to get off the hook on the fundamental thing, which is that action is required to make land available. It is not being made available because local government, national government and quasi-governmental bodies all say, “Well, we might need it. Probably better not to do it now. We would get a bit more money if we hold it back and put it in penny parcels”. We need a serious battle to release the land, particularly in London. If we did that, I think the price would plummet because I would make it compulsory to get rid of the whole lot together and insist it was developed within a short period of time, not just hoarded by housebuilders. There is a great deal to be done but we need some radical change on that front.

If I may dare say so, this is not a sensible amendment because it does not make radical change. It merely says, once again, that every local authority has to do what the Government say. I am not in favour of that but I am in favour of some radical change.