Housing: Availability and Affordability - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:52 pm on 12th October 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 12:52 pm, 12th October 2017

My Lords, it is a little daunting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, after such a passionate speech, which I wholeheartedly agreed with. I was also born in a council house; I live now in a council flat, albeit privately owned, and I love the sense of community and security that living on a council estate can offer. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for bringing this debate to the House. It is a crucial time: the situation is worsening daily and we need dramatic action.

I want to make three specific points on what is obviously a huge topic—I should like to speak for much longer than six minutes. I have three specific questions to which I would appreciate an answer. My first question is about an issue which the noble Lord, Lord Smith, referred to: land banking by developers and builders, which often delays the supply of housing and makes it more expensive when it does come on stream. Have the Government thought about land value taxation, which is a very simple method that will make everything much better. It would remove the incentive for land banking and holding back on building houses.

My second question is about the demolition of estates. It seems to be happening quite a lot—I have seen council estates demolished against the wishes of the residents themselves. It is absolutely wrong to do that, if residents like the place they are living in. What happens is that estates are demolished and less affordable, social housing is then brought in—and some of the housing is sold off privately and very expensively. I understand why councils do it; they have been kept short of money by this Government. But if you demolish estates against the will of residents, you are not listening to people who understand how that development works. That is extremely damaging.

My third point is about community housing. It has been said already that more housing could be built, but sometimes nimbys are blocking it—but in fact many communities are stepping up and providing more affordable homes through community-led housing. Such groups have already built 800 homes in recent years, many in areas of outstanding natural beauty, having won support for more homes than the local council thought likely or even possible. In the spring of 2016, the Government announced the community housing fund, designed to help community-led groups build affordable homes. It could help them to build a further 12,000 homes over five years. The first year’s money went directly to councils, but the Government have still not released any funding for this financial year, more than halfway through the year. When I asked the Government in July when the money would be released I was told, “In due course”. The appropriate time would have been in March, after the sector submitted a detailed proposal to the Government. The longer it waits, the more projects get stuck in limbo and the fewer homes acceptable to local communities can be built. A decision from the Government on the community housing fund is long overdue. When will it happen?

As I have a little more time, I shall react to some of the things that I have heard. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned the garden villages, which are so revolting. I would add Poundbury to that mix—it is a truly vile development, and how he got away with it I have absolutely no idea.

I take the point about undistinguished green belt, but it may be quite valuable for biodiversity. One person sees brambles and another sees habitat for all sorts of birds, insects and mammals. So we have to be very careful. There is even an issue about building on brownfield sites, which can be incredibly biodiverse. Every single site should be assessed properly before anything is built, and green belt should be the last option, simply because it is part of our heritage and incredibly valuable for us to breathe and relax in.

The clean growth plan was released today, which offers all sorts of opportunities for not only reducing our carbon burden but making life better for people on very limited incomes. One issue that I would very much like to see included is energy storage solutions in the home. Greens often talk about things for 10, 15 or even 20 years before they get picked up by the majority of other parties, so I would like to say, “Please put this on your radar”. Home energy storage solutions would be an incredible way in which to reduce people’s expenditure on energy and take pressure off the national grid.