Housebuilding - Question

– in the House of Lords at 12:07 pm on 26th January 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 12:07 pm, 26th January 2021

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to increase the number of houses being built.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I point to my residential and commercial interests as set out in the register. The Government are committed to supporting the supply of new homes; we delivered around 244,000 last year, the highest number in more than 30 years. We are bringing forward an ambitious nearly £20 billion investment that will include over £12 billion for affordable housing over five years and more than £7 billion to both unlock new land through the provision of infra- structure and to diversify the market through our national homebuilding fund. Alongside our reforms to the planning system, this will deliver the new homes the country needs.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

While I welcome what has been done, does the Minister agree that we need something on a much larger scale—a Beveridge-scale programme for new affordable housing? That would provide the jobs needed for those who have possibly lost their jobs because of the pandemic. I would also suggest that there should be a Minister at Cabinet level with just one job—a Minister for housing. We should also co-operate with the Ministers for housing in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff. I hope that he will agree with that and help to put it into operation.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I would point out that housing is a devolved matter and I am not looking to tie the hands of the Prime Minister in how he prioritises this. I would also point out that we need to be very clear about the levers that the Government have to deliver new housing. The most important of those is the investment in infrastructure and the very substantial £12 billion commitment to affordable homes.

Photo of The Archbishop of Canterbury The Archbishop of Canterbury Bishop

My Lords, I declare non-financial interests in various Church lands through numerous charities of which I am a member. The Church will be publishing a housing, church and communities report in February. Can the Minister tell us what criteria Her Majesty’s Government use to define affordable housing? Is it genuinely affordable in the sense that most people would use the word?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

The definition of “affordable” that we use is taxpayer-subsidised housing. Of course, that is council housing as well as housing association and social housing but, importantly, it is housing that takes you on a pathway to home ownership—so it is immediate housing that is also discounted by the taxpayer.

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative

My Lords, home ownership is a huge contributor to a prosperous and contented society, and I am glad to see the Minister’s focus on this. What is the gross number of new homes that were built last year? I am not sure about the basis for the figure of 244,000 that he mentioned. How many were in existing buildings such as pubs, offices or shops?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, the gross figure for additional dwellings was 252,790. That figure was obtained by adding 243,770 net additional dwellings to 9,000 demolitions. Some 26,930 gains were made through change of use.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

I congratulate the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on his appointment of a Church of England bishop for housing; that is a most helpful move. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to accept the excellent recommendations made by Sir Oliver Letwin to get more homes built by ending our dependence on the oligopoly of major housebuilders who corner the land market and build out at a speed that suits themselves? Instead, we should capture the land value through local authorities and thus ensure the building simultaneously of a variety of new homes, including social housing and retirement housing and so on, for every major site.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, there is a great deal of sense in that question. I would point out that the proposals to revise the National Planning Policy Framework make it clear that sites for substantial development should seek to include a variety of development types from different builders.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell Baroness Bakewell Labour

My Lords, many charitable housing providers such as almshouses—for which I am an ambassador—are very small and are not included with regulated social housing providers, so will the Government review Section 106 of the planning guidance to extend its benefits and allow almshouses and other charitable providers to extend their housing provision?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

The use of Section 106 is a very important driver of the delivery of affordable housing. Perhaps I might take that point away and respond in writing.

Photo of Lord Hussain Lord Hussain Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware of many local authorities such as Luton—my home town—which do not have much building land within their own boundaries; their housing waiting lists continue to run into thousands. In order to meet local needs, can he tell us how the Government plan to help such local authorities acquire land from neighbouring councils to build much-needed affordable social housing?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I have pointed to a substantial amount of money—£12 billion—of which £11.2 billion is for the affordable homes programme. In addition, we have announced a new, £7.1 billion fund, which is designed to help precisely with land acquisition and to deal with the requisite infrastructure to enable the housing that the noble Lord describes.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Conservative

My Lords, small and medium housebuilders who build most of the existing housing stock have practically ceased to exist in the last few decades, in part because of the cost, time and risk involved in obtaining planning permission. Does my noble friend agree that there is a case for exempting small builders developing small sites from the need for planning permission, subject only to a pre-published design code?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, my noble friend is right that we are seeing the level of planning regulation deter small builders. It is important that, as part of our reform of the planning system, the Government take that into account and find ways to, let us say, level up the field to let the small players participate in the market and therefore deliver on the small sites the new homes that this country needs.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues)

I speak as a vice-president of the LGA. With government targets continuously missed, the last time anywhere near 300,000 homes a year were built, councils contributed more than 40% of them. So the only way the Government could get back to building at this scale would be by supporting councils to build homes. What steps therefore are the Government taking to help local authorities build the homes they need to build?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, achieving the highest housebuilding target in over 30 years is a credible achievement. There is no doubt that the 300,000 target will be stretching, particularly in the light of the national Covid emergency. We will rely on councils to build; we have released the constraints on local authority finance and the ability to borrow, as well as providing a huge £12.2 billion programme for affordable house- building.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, these questions have been focused entirely on the supply of housing, but the future demand for housing is surely a key aspect. Is the Minister aware of the latest ONS household projections for England? They show that, over the next 20 years, just over half the extra homes needed for our projected population growth will be the result of immigration; that is, nearly 300 new homes every day. Surely we need action on demand as well as on supply.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, it is important that we think about both the demand and the supply of homes, but it is also important that we attract global talent to this country. It is about getting that right—but I am not the Minister for immigration policy.

Photo of Baroness Eaton Baroness Eaton Conservative

My Lords, more than 1 million homes that have been given planning permission over the last decade are yet to be built. Does my noble friend agree that, for the Government to meet their aspirations on the number of new homes being built, giving councils tools to encourage developers to build on sites with permission would enable building in a swift and timely manner?

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My noble friend will know that the Government want to see new homes built faster and to a higher-quality standard. Our planning White Paper proposes to introduce more speed and certainty into the planning system through the granting of automatic outline consents for growth areas. This will ensure that developers, authorities and communities can have greater clarity at an early stage of the process and will reduce unnecessary delays as those developments progress.

Photo of Lord Fowler Lord Fowler Chair, House of Lords Commission, Lord Speaker, Chair, House of Lords Commission

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the second Oral Question.