My Lords, I am honoured to follow the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. He has had an acknowledged academic career, during which he has relentlessly shone a clear spotlight on the self-interested behaviour of various corporations that are acting against the public interest. He has shown how they have often been unchecked by the accountants and the banks—truly, as he said, the dark side of capitalism. His lifetime of working for justice in the taxation and accountancy fields will be of great value to your Lordships’ House, and I look forward to working with him.
I also welcome the opportunity that the noble Lord, Lord German, has grasped in bringing forward his concerns. These statutory instruments reveal how the Government have become excessively fixated on housing delivery in their approach to the planning system, almost to the exclusion of all other issues. According to a government response to a parliamentary Question, these instruments are aimed at reducing planning bureaucracy and speeding up housing development. Now everyone in this House recognises the need to build more houses of good quality in the right place, and which are, above all, affordable; but we also know that laying the blame for lack of housing delivery at the feet of the planning system is a wrong premise. There are already over 1 million houses that have been granted planning approval which have not yet been built and will not be built for many years, as developers build out sites sparingly to avoid reducing housing prices locally—the exact opposite of what the Government are trying to achieve.
These statutory instruments are also harbingers of the sort of stripping down of the planning system that the Government’s overall planning reforms, which are currently out for consultation, will bring. Those proposals will considerably reduce the say of local people over what gets built and where in their local area. The planning system used to be one of the few forms of genuine democracy in this country, balancing competing local development needs and making decisions locally. But local authority planning departments have been hollowed out, denuded of specialists and hounded by an unholy alliance of government and housebuilders to give in to any housing development that will help them meet the government-imposed housebuilding targets.
These targets are now highly questionable. Covid has radically changed the view of many people as to where they will want to live and work remotely. The targets are based on estimates of population growth, which included 5 million net additional migrants to this country—and that is now highly unlikely to happen on this scale. Surely the Government need to reassess the housing targets urgently, if only to address the two issues of Covid and immigration.
We already build the smallest houses in Europe. The Government’s own review has revealed that housing built under permitted-development rights is of a worse than average quality. Can the Minister tell us what he plans to do about this, and what safeguards will be put in place to prevent this widened permitted-development regime building even more substandard housing? Can he also tell us how these statutory instruments accord with the Government’s stated desire in the planning system consultation for beauty, high quality and sustainability, when permitted developments are exempt from the local services infrastructure payments that are so often vital for enabling place-making and the development of sustainable, fair local communities?