Housing White Paper - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 7th February 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 3:10 pm, 7th February 2017

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s Housing White Paper, Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, copies of which I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I had hoped this White Paper would dominate the headlines this morning, but it seems someone else beat me to it.

Our housing market is broken. Since 1970, house price inflation in Britain has far outstripped the rest of the OECD. The idea of owning or renting a safe, secure place of your own is, for many, a distant dream. Over the past seven years, the Government have done much to help. We have taken action on both supply and demand, and the results have been positive. Last year saw a record number of planning permissions granted and the highest level of housing completions since the recession. Between 1997 and 2010, the ratio of average house price to average income more than doubled, from 3.5 to more than 7; but in the five years to 2015 it crept up only a little, to just over 7.5, but still heading in the wrong direction.

Behind the positive statistics are millions of ordinary working people. I am talking about the first-time buyer who is saving hard but will not have enough for a deposit for almost a quarter of a century, or the couple in the private rented sector handing half their combined income straight to their landlord. The symptoms of this broken market are being felt by real people in every community. It is one of the biggest barriers to social progress this country faces, but its root cause is simple: for far too long, we have not built enough houses.

Relative to population size, Britain has had western Europe’s lowest rate of housebuilding for three decades. The situation reached its nadir under the last Labour Government, when in one year work began on only 95,000 homes—the lowest peacetime level since the 1920s. Thanks to concerted action in central and local government, last year 190,000 new homes were completed, but that is still not enough. To meet demand, we have to deliver between 225,000 and 275,000 homes every year. In short, we have to build more of the right houses in the right places, and we have to start right now.

Today’s White Paper sets out how we will go about doing so, but housebuilding does not just happen. Meeting the unique needs of different people and different places requires a co-ordinated effort across the public and private sector. This means there is no single magic bullet that can fix the problem; rather, we need action on many fronts simultaneously.

First, we need to plan properly so we get the right homes built in the right places. To make that happen, we are going to introduce a new way of assessing housing need. Many councils work tirelessly to engage their communities on the number, design and mix of new housing in their area, but some of them duck difficult decisions and fail to produce plans that actually match their housing need. It is important that all authorities play by the same rules. We need to have a proper conversation about housing need, and we need to ensure that every local area produces a realistic plan which it reviews at least every five years.

Once we know how many homes are needed where, we need sites on which to build them, so the White Paper contains measures that will help us to identify appropriate sites for development: not simply empty spaces, but usable, practical sites where new homes are actually required. Let me reassure the House that this will not entail recklessly ripping up our countryside. In 2015, we promised the British people that the green belt was safe in our hands, and that is still the case. This White Paper does not remove any of its protections.

Government should not be in the business of land-banking, so we will free more public sector land more quickly. We will increase transparency around land ownership, so everyone knows if someone is unfairly sitting on a site that could be better used. People need a say in the homes that are built in their area, so everywhere must have a plan in place and ensure communities are comfortable with the design and appearance of new homes.

The second area of focus is all about speeding up the rate of build-out. At the moment, we are simply not building quickly enough. Whether it is caused by unacceptable land-banking or slow construction, we will no longer tolerate such unjustified delays. We will speed up and simplify the completion notice process. We will make the planning system more open and accessible. We will improve the co-ordination of public investment in infrastructure and support timely connections to utilities. We will tackle unnecessary delays caused by everything from planning conditions to great crested newts. We will give developers a lot of help to get building, and local authorities the tools to hold developers to account if they fail to do so. Local authorities also have a vital role to play in getting homes built quickly, and I am therefore looking again at how they can use compulsory purchase powers. We will also introduce a new housing delivery test to hold them to account for housebuilding across their local area.

Finally, the White Paper explains how we will diversify the housing market. At present, around 60% of new homes are built by just 10 companies, and small independent builders can find it almost impossible to enter the market. This lack of competition means a lack of innovation, which in turn leads to sluggish productivity growth. So we will make it easier for small and medium-sized builders to compete. We will support efficient, innovative and underused methods of construction, such as off-site factory builds. We will support housing associations to build more, and explore options to encourage local authorities to build again, including through accelerated construction schemes on public sector land. We will encourage institutional investment in the private rented sector. We will also make life easier for custom builders who want to create their own home.

Together, these measures will make a significant and lasting difference to our housing supply, but it will take time, and ordinary working people need help right now. We have already promised to ban letting agents’ fees, but this White Paper goes further. We will improve safeguards in the private rented sector, do more to prevent homelessness and help households who are currently priced out of the market. We will tackle the scourge of unfair leasehold terms, which are too often forced on to hard-pressed homebuyers. We will be working with the rental sector to promote three-year tenancy agreements, giving families the security they need to put down roots in their community.

In the past few years, we have seen almost 300,000 affordable homes built in England, housebuilding starts increase, and more people getting on the property ladder thanks to schemes such as Help to Buy. Now we need to go further—much further—and meet our obligation to build many more houses of the type people want to live in and in the places they need to live. That is exactly what this White Paper will deliver. It will help the tenants of today facing rising rents, unfair fees and insecure tenures; it will help the homeowners of tomorrow by getting more of the right homes built in the right places; and it will help our children, and our children’s children, by halting decades of decline and fixing our broken housing market. It is a bold, radical vision for housing in this country, and I commend it to the House”.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:18 pm, 7th February 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for repeating the Statement given by his right honourable friend in the other place earlier today. I must say that after all the hype—the promise that it would be published before Christmas, then that it would be out in the new year and then that it was expected shortly, followed by a series of briefings to the media over the weekend and the noble Lord himself saying in Grand Committee yesterday that it was expected imminently—it is a disappointing and missed opportunity. It is not the first time we have been disappointed, but probably the first time with so much hype and so little in reality.

It will not come as much of a relief if you are a young family on the council house waiting list or a young couple living in a home that does not meet the basic fit-for-human-habitation standards, but of course the Government have form here. The nearly 1,000 announcements on housing since 2010 include the following. In 2011, a housing strategy running to 78 pages from the then Prime Minister David Cameron was described as “radical and unashamedly ambitious”, and one that would “unlock the housing market”. In 2012,

“a major housing and planning package”, again fronted by the then Prime Minister David Cameron, was designed to boost housebuilding and stimulate the economy. In 2013 there was a housing Budget from the then Chancellor, George Osborne, including Help to Buy, the mortgage guarantee scheme that has now been closed. There was a 2015 plan to radically redesign the planning system, commissioned by the then Chancellor, George Osborne. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 runs to 200 pages but the majority of it remains unimplemented eight months after it passed into law.

The independent House of Commons Library has confirmed that between 2010 and 2015, under David Cameron, we built fewer homes than under any peacetime Prime Minister since the 1920s. The number of new affordable homes built below market price to rent and to buy fell to the lowest level in 24 years, with the number of properties built for genuinely affordable social rent the lowest on record.

The number of rough sleepers has doubled since 2010. Just walk from Charing Cross, Victoria or Waterloo on your way to this House and you will see homeless people huddled in doorways. Enter the building through Westminster tube and you will see people sitting there trying to keep warm. The number of households owning their own home has fallen by 200,000 since 2010 and the number of people under 35 owning their own home has fallen by 344,000. One in four families with children now rent privately. Only one home in every six sold under Right to Buy has been replaced, despite all the talk from the Dispatch Box of like-for-like replacement. I very much agree with the Minister that the housing market is broken, but to repair it we need action to build across all tenures and provide homes that families can thrive in. This is more of a Lemsip, “There there, it will all be better soon” approach rather than the radical surgery needed to deal with the housing crisis.

I have a number of questions for the Minister that I hope he is able to answer. What caused the hold-up in the production of the White Paper? I can only assume it was what is not in the document today, rather than what is in it. Do the Government have a problem with council and social rented housing, rather than seeing the sector as part of the solution? Will the Minister confirm that local authorities will have the flexibility to build council housing or work in partnership with providers to build social rented housing instead of starter homes, if they can demonstrate that need in their area?

Why do the Government continue to rely on the unaffordable, so-called “affordable” rent model? Will they be taking further action to make homes fit for human habitation? Making a home safe, warm and dry at a price that can be truly afforded is what is needed here. Do the Government think they have got the tenure balance right and, if so, how did they come to that conclusion?

I will study the White Paper carefully over the coming days and I hope it will provide solutions to our broken housing market, although so far my reaction is one of disappointment that the Government have again missed the opportunity to fundamentally deal with the housing problem, and have put dogma in the way of finding solutions.

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I welcome some of the proposals in the White Paper but it is not the ambitious, radical plan that is needed to solve the housing crisis. At the outset, I will ask the Minister a specific question. There is no mention in the Statement of the 1 million net new homes commitment by 2020 and there seems to be no new money for investing in the homes we need—yet the Government have an ambition in the Statement for between 225,000 and 275,000 homes a year to be built. Exactly how are the Government going to deliver those numbers?

I agree with the Government that our housing market is broken and I think we should be grateful for that admission. We should be grateful, too, for the admission that the country has not built enough houses and that millions of “ordinary working people”, in the words of the Secretary of State, are saving hard but will not have enough for a deposit for almost a quarter of a century—or, if they are in the private rented sector, they are handing half their combined income straight to the landlord, if they are a couple.

It is true, and the Government are right to say, that we need action on many fronts simultaneously—but I believe that they are not working on as many fronts as they should. There is an acceptance, which I welcome, that brownfield sites must be developed before green belt site. There is, rightly, an acknowledgement that the Government should not be in the business of land banking and that we must free up more public sector land more quickly. There is also an acknowledgement of the need to make it easier for small and medium-sized builders to compete, to encourage off-site factory builds, to support housing associations to build more and to “explore options” to encourage local authorities to build again, including through accelerated construction schemes on public sector land.

I am not clear why the Government are still “exploring options”, because they have had months to get on with permitting local government to start building again—I declare to the House my vice-presidency of the Local Government Association, which has campaigned for years on this matter. Local authorities can borrow prudentially under the prudential code against their housing assets or, quite separately, against their overall assets. I would like to hear from the Minister that there will be government support for local authorities to get on building again.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, referred to the changes that the Government seem to be making to the Housing and Planning Act—which was, I hope it is now generally conceded, a very bad Act. We have seen U-turns. To cite just four: the Government introduced pay to stay for those in social homes and then abandoned it when they realised that it was impossible to manage, as they had been warned in your Lordships’ House; they extended the right to buy to housing associations and then made it voluntary; they refused to ban letting fees for renters because it was bad for the market and then changed their mind; and they cut funding for supported housing and then extended it for another year to think further about it. What other U-turns are on the way? What exactly is the position on the compulsory sale of high-value council homes?

Finally, the Government need to apply tests over the coming months to the White Paper. The tests I would apply are these: will it reduce homelessness? I remind the Minister of the Government’s own figures in December that almost 75,000 households are in temporary accommodation. Will it build more social homes for rent in the volume required? Will it make housing more affordable to those on low incomes, to enable those in work on the living wage to afford to live reasonably close to where they work? Will it definitely prioritise brownfield over greenfield development in practice, and will it get local authorities building in the volume they are capable of against their assets?

I have a final request. Not for the first time, I ask the Government to cease using the word “affordable” to describe housing that patently is not affordable for millions of people?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Shipley, for their contributions, but I am rather amazed that neither of them welcomed many of the things that they have been asking for over the past three days in Committee which are contained in the White Paper. There is action on planning fees: a 20% increase for planning departments from the summer, with a further possible 20%, to which we are minded to agree, tied to performance. That is something that I am sure they would wish to welcome.

There are provisions on land banking, on which we were pushed continually in previous sessions on the Bill, and before that, as well as action on brownfield sites. It is also very clear, to answer the noble Lord’s penultimate point, that brownfield land is something that we specifically go for before greenbelt land in the White Paper.

I appreciate that noble Lords have probably not had long enough to study the White Paper, and therefore that some of these points may have been overlooked. They asked what we were doing in relation to councils. We intend to work with them, with all the levers that we possess. The reason there is no immediate action is that this is a White Paper that is out for consultation from today until 2 May. That is why this does not represent legislation. Noble Lords need to be careful what they wish for. There seemed to be an implied criticism from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that there was too much legislation. Some of this we hope will result in legislation and some of it can be carried out without legislation—but this is not legislation but a White Paper.

Clearly, building 1 million new homes—to which the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, referred—is still very much our policy. It was in the manifesto and is still very much there. We are going for a mixture of tenure—again, the White Paper makes that very clear. We are putting fresh new emphasis on the private rented sector and, indeed, we are working with the social rented sector. We provided extra money in the Autumn Budget last year for the social rented sector by allowing it to lift the cap. That is also a very positive point about this White Paper. So I am amazed that noble Lords do not wish to welcome some of the points in the White Paper.

The test that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, applies is a fair one. Will the White Paper reduce homelessness? I believe that it will. Also, of course, other things are happening with relation to homelessness. As we know, with all-party support, the Homelessness Reduction Bill will be an important part of that panoply of measures, and that comes before us after our Recess, towards the end of February, when it will get its Second Reading in this House.

I was asked what we were doing in relation to rough sleeping. We doubled the grant for that recently, as noble Lords will be aware. Another measure that we have, quite rightly, been encouraged to provide for is woodlands. Again, woodlands are featured here. We want to protect woodlands with measures in the National Planning Policy Framework. Again, this is in the White Paper.

There is an awful lot of radical stuff which, quite rightly, Peers across the House have been calling for and which is in the White Paper. So I think that the welcome given to it—if welcome it were—was far too muted as regards the content of the White Paper.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 3:32 pm, 7th February 2017

Will the Minister confirm that the last Labour Government left 19,000 more hectares of greenbelt than they inherited and that the one thing we are not short of in this country is land? In England, the last time I checked, 15% of land is made up of areas of outstanding natural beauty—no one is talking about building on that; 9% is made up of national parks, and no one is talking about building on that; while only 9% is actually built on, and 13% is greenbelt, most of which is rubbish land—collars around urban areas—which can be swapped. It can be built on because the infrastructure is there. This is nonsense—no one is talking about building over the countryside. Forty-six per cent of that, added to what I have just said, leaves 54% of land which is farmland and unprotected land. One thing that we are not short of is land—and the public sector, last time I checked, owns enough land to build 2 million homes. We keep being told about this but nobody is using it.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about 13% of land in England being greenbelt. That is absolutely right; that figure has been constant for some years and we are determined that it should remain at 13%. I do not agree with the noble Lord about his classification of greenbelt land; it is absolutely vital that we maintain the greenbelt. But I do join him in saying that there is plenty of land that can be built on; 87% of land is not greenbelt, on that calculation, and there is much that we can do in relation to building on brownfield land and in relation to land that the Government hold—and, as I indicated in the Statement, that we are releasing, because the Government, along with everybody else, should not be land banking. It is important that we do that, and it is also important that local authorities that have difficulty identifying land in their own area should discuss the issue with their neighbouring authorities to see whether they can do something together. All those things are highlighted in the White Paper.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his Statement is timely and has bite, which is to be greatly welcomed? However, one area seems to have been overlooked. After decades of no action, is it time to look again at the development of new towns? One has only to look at the success of Milton Keynes and Northampton—which I had the privilege of representing for 23 years. Why is planning not being done? Can this not be added to the White Paper after the consultation?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his welcome for what we are doing in the White Paper. I understand why noble Lords would not have been able to digest everything in it in a short period, but there is provision for new towns and for the garden cities and garden villages which are currently being developed—16 and 10 of them respectively. We are looking at the possibility of transferring these to local planning authorities because, in pursuance of our policy of localism, we need to ensure that there is local control and involvement. We have been working with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and other noble Lords who are also keen on this, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, to ensure that we involve localities, and this is in the White Paper.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Goss Moor Lord Taylor of Goss Moor Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments on garden cities, villages and towns, which I have taken an interest in. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests. As the Government reform the local planning process, will the Minister give a strong message—I hope it is reinforced in the White Paper—that it is vital for local authorities to take a long-term view of how communities will develop? Many thousands of homes will be needed over time; we cannot simply rely on a five-year supply, doing it piecemeal with tens, fifties or hundreds at a time. This leads to housing estates with no facilities or proper community which are often of very poor design quality, rather than creating a vision for the future which allows all the things the Minister talks about: a supply of plots for small businesses, affordable homes and much better quality place-making.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I am happy to endorse what the noble Lord has said about local community involvement and taking a long-term view. The possibility of engagement on design is also featured in the White Paper. We want to ensure that local authorities discuss the importance of design with developers, so that is earmarked as well. The noble Lord is right and this is central to the developments which are bringing fresh housing in our garden cities and villages.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop

My Lords, on these Benches we are acutely aware of the huge crisis in housing. We hear stories about this from all around the country and we share some of the concerns that have been raised from the Benches opposite. There are a number of things which we welcome hugely. Examples are the new powers for local authorities to prevent land banking, measures to encourage local authorities to work together over larger areas, and new requirements for local authorities to undertake a more thorough assessment of housing needs.

I will focus on one area in which I have a particular interest. Housing is a key issue for rural sustainability. What steps will Her Majesty’s Government be taking, first to encourage the development of new homes in rural areas and, secondly, to ensure that any new housing developments are designed to meet the needs of local people and families, rather than continuing the worrying trend of large, expensive rural homes that are simply not meeting real local needs?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right about the importance of the rurality factor. As somebody who used to represent a very rural area, I understand that. In the White Paper we reinforce the importance of rural housing exceptions. However, the point is a very good one and we will give proper weight to rural housing as the consultation—which, as I have indicated, ends on 2 May—goes forward. I hope people, institutions and local authorities will respond to it.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, as someone involved in commercial and residential development, I warmly welcome aspects of the White Paper, particularly the attention it gives to the private rented sector, its encouragement of institutional investors in that area and the way it addresses land bank issues, including reducing the window after planning permission from three to two years. These are very welcome. Will the Minister examine closely Crisis’s campaign and the comments of both the private rented landlords’ associations to ensure that more homeless people can access the private rented sector? I am particularly concerned about young disadvantaged people without family support. Support for that campaign, a mortgage guarantee scheme and for private landlords implementing the right to rent scheme would be very helpful to the Government’s endeavours.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that welcome, particularly in relation to the private rented sector, and for his comments on land banking. Crisis is a very valued partner. The point made about the importance of ensuring that the private rented sector frees itself up to the homeless much more than it has done previously is well made. As we take forward consultation on these areas, I hope that we can accommodate it.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

My Lords, I welcome the White Paper as far as it goes given the disastrous Housing and Planning Act of last year, as has already been mentioned. I wish to put to the Minister a question and a suggestion. The question follows that asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, which the Minister did not answer. Therefore, I would be glad if he would answer it now. It is not in the White Paper. The Government are extending the right to buy with large discounts to housing association tenants. Does the Minister still expect those discounts to be funded by the forced sale of council homes as they become temporarily vacant between tenants, robbing social tenants in another tenure of the opportunity to rent their own affordable homes? Secondly, on the cost-free suggestion, those in severe housing need may qualify for housing benefit. As has been mentioned, social housing is seldom available. It has been sold off. Yet in the private rented sector many private landlords worried about reliable rents refuse to let to tenants on housing benefit. Where tenants and landlords wish it, will the Minister persuade his unsuitably rigid DWP colleagues to reinstate direct payments to landlords so that some of the most vulnerable have a chance to get a home?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

I thank the noble Baroness, who has great experience in these areas. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that I did not cover the point on HVA. There is a section in the White Paper on this. It correctly states that we are proceeding with pilots on the measure in relation to the right to buy and housing associations. That is the position. We want to see how the pilots play out. As I say, it is in the White Paper.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

What is the page number?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I am not aware of the page number. However, I am happy to meet the noble Baroness afterwards and point out where it is in the White Paper.

The point the noble Baroness made on housing benefit is beyond the scope of the White Paper. We talk to the DWP regularly and do not find its staff as hard-hearted and difficult as she does. However, she makes a very valid point and I will ensure that it is appropriately discussed, as it has been in the past.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and draw attention to my entry in the register as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. As regards the provision of utilities and connections to support planning for housing, rather than waiting to see whether this is a problem will the Government step in and make it clear to utilities providers that they must put in the necessary connections to planned development alongside the local planning process rather than wait until the houses are given planning permission?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, once again, my noble friend is very experienced in this area. He is right to draw attention to the importance of utilities. That, of course, extends not just to the normal utilities, as it were, that we all recognise from the past but also to broadband, which, again, is mentioned in the White Paper. My noble friend is absolutely right; we need to ensure that these parts of the infrastructure are taken care of in moving forward with the plans for the additional housing.

Photo of Lord Scriven Lord Scriven Liberal Democrat

My Lords, paragraph 2.29 of the White Paper says that the Government are looking at,

“options for reforming the system of developer contributions”.

Can the Minister give an assurance to the House that that reform will not lessen the amount of contributions that developers give? This White Paper is about building communities, not just homes.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, I anticipate that it is looking at greater contributions—the wording is obviously broader than that, but my reading is that we are looking at ways to ensure that there is a more effective contribution. I look forward to the issue of contributions when we consult on that.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

Will not private individual landowners all over the country be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of transforming, at the stroke of a planner’s pen, land worth £10,000, £15,000, £20,000 or £25,000 a hectare, into land worth anything between £1 million and £5 million a hectare? Is not the price of land in the United Kingdom, and huge profit-taking by individual landlords when they secure planning permission on their land, at the heart of the problem? Until that problem is sorted out, we will never resolve the problem of housing in this country.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, the noble Lord is being a bit of an Eeyore. We are being encouraged to build more, which we are seeking to do here. If it is a question of supply and demand, the more supply there is, the more that would affect the price. There are also provisions in the White Paper with regard to landlords, which we are consulting on, and which landlords would not necessarily welcome—the bad ones certainly will not. We are looking across the board at unreasonable terms in leasehold provision, and at some where people think they are buying their own home only to find that they have a ground rent payment, for example, or things of that nature. Therefore, if the noble Lord studies the White Paper, he will see that it is extremely fair.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend just mentioned the leasehold system, which is quite iniquitous and very damaging. There should be encouragement for more freehold, or commonhold, properties in new build, because then people will own their houses instead of being indebted to someone who owns the land they live on.

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My noble friend makes a valid point on the point I just made, and that is exactly what we are seeking to do. However, across the board we are going for a mixture of tenure. It is important that it is properly regulated; most landlords are perfectly honourable, obey the rules and are quite fair. We want mixed tenure and we are putting fresh emphasis on leaseholds, so that people realise what they are getting, rather than finding, when they thought they had purchased their own house, that they have a long lease with unreasonable terms.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Housing), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I refer to my local government interests. I have not read the White Paper in detail but I have certainly looked through it, and I can see no reference to two matters which I have raised on more than one occasion in your Lordships’ House. The first relates to the rent increase imposed on local authorities of 1%, which will cost, as I have mentioned before, £590 million, and which would otherwise have been invested in housing stock in Newcastle, either in existing or new properties. That will translate into billions of pounds nationally, yet it is not mentioned in the report. The other issue is to do with private tenancies. Is there any intention to promote and facilitate more selective licensing schemes to deal with landlords who are simply failing their tenants, not looking after properties, and all too often exploiting their tenants?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the issue of rent increases on local authorities is not covered by the White Paper. On the position of landlords who act unreasonably, he will be aware that we are bringing in, under previous legislation, the register of rogue landlords, which is due to happen later this year—perhaps he was referring to that point. That is mentioned in the White Paper and it is already scheduled to happen. However, in addition we are, as I have indicated, looking at where landlords are acting unreasonably and holding a consultation on that issue within the White Paper.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I warmly welcome the White Paper and congratulate the Government on their decision to require local authorities to prioritise and make plans for accommodation for older people. The fastest growing group in our population is the older generation. I also welcome the building of the right homes in the right places and the encouragement for small and medium-sized firms. Too often, the very large builders make outsize profits at the expense of smaller ones, which often have the specialist knowledge to build homes suitable for older people. I also welcome the emphasis on institutional investors. Many insurance companies are now engaged in build-to-rent programmes. In the current low interest rate environment, that is a very fruitful avenue for them. Will my noble friend consider encouragement for local authority pension funds also to invest in housing in the build-to-rent sector?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

I thank my noble friend very much indeed for her welcome of the part of the White Paper that relates to older people and disabled people. It was prompted by a Conservative Back-Bencher in the Commons but is supported, I think, across the other place and across this House as something that is very valuable. I have indicated to my noble friend my hope that as we take this forward she and others who have shown an interest—the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Greengross, who have great experience of this through institutions that they represent—will help us craft some thoughts on this. As was indicated in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, this is the first time there has been a provision like this in legislation. It is valuable. It helps not only those who are elderly or disabled but has the bonus that it will free up housing, although that is not the prime intention.

I will respond to a couple of the other points that my noble friend made. There are certainly provisions in the White Paper by which, again, we are seeking to encourage institutional investment in the housing programme. I believe that that will be fruitful and I echo the point she made about pension funds. We will make sure the message goes out that pension funds should, I hope, be included in the process of trying to encourage outside investment away from the public sector towards the private sector and the third sector.

Photo of The Bishop of Chester The Bishop of Chester Bishop

My Lords, I want to ask about the politics of all this. I speak as a fool in relation to that, but let us take the hypothesis that this policy is a great success, that we have lots more houses and that the price of houses starts to fall. Indeed, let us imagine that land prices start to fall in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, rightly pointed out. All the people who have bought houses in the past 20 years will find that those houses are worth less than they used to be. It seems to me that this is tinkering with a major problem. Do the Government seriously wish to get the average value of a house back down to 3.5 times average earnings? If so, what are the consequences going to be?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an interesting point. However, as noble Lords will know, I am not a wizard. I can seek to take forward measures that I believe will stabilise the position and mean that house prices do not rise as quickly as they should. That is good news for young people and people who are trying to buy their own house. I accept that, over time, if prices fall, that will not be good news for people who live in those houses. But the most important thing is delivering housing that is affordable. This is not a single policy; a whole raft of policies exists across the range, which is why it has taken some time to promote and produce the White Paper. Although they may not agree with all of it, anybody who has studied the White Paper in any detail will see that it offers a range of tools that can be used to help us build more and get more people on the housing ladder. I think that will be a fair response once noble Lords study the White Paper.