Amendment 207

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - Committee (9th Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 18 April 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Best:

Moved by Lord Best

207: Schedule 7, page 290, line 3, at end insert—“(ha) the assessments of need for older people’s housing carried out in respect of the authority’s area, and”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment would ensure that local authorities consider the needs for housing for older people when preparing local development plans.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for adding their names to Amendment 207. Indeed, when this House had a dress rehearsal for this amendment, discussing the related Amendment 221 last month, the noble Lord, Lord Young, expertly outlined the case for the planning system to do more to reflect our ageing population, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester—in place of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford—gave invaluable support to this theme.

It was very helpful, too, to get the views of the Minister in response to that first instalment in our efforts to improve the Bill from the perspective of housing for older people. We want the Bill to trigger a real breakthrough in provision of suitable housing for older people. Amendment 207 would ensure that local authorities recognise the needs in their area for such housing and, alongside Amendment 221, would enable the outcome of assessments to feed into local plans, as I shall explain in a moment. In this context, I warmly welcome the eagerly awaited announcement of an older people’s housing taskforce, to be chaired by Professor Julienne Meyer. We all have high hopes that this government initiative will lead to real progress in tackling the housing needs of our aging population.

I declare my interest as chairman of a series of HAPPI inquiries—Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation—initiated by the APPG on Housing and Care for Older People, which I chair jointly with Peter Aldous MP. I am also drawing on the professional input of the Retirement Housing Group, which brings together the developers and providers of most new homes being built for later living. I am grateful for this group’s input.

At the last Committee sitting, the case was made for the building of many thousands more new homes for the older generation, particularly perhaps the extra-care assisted living projects that combine independent apartments or bungalows with social and care facilities on tap when needed. Retirement housing schemes enhance health and well-being, keep people out of expensive residential care and out of hospital, and save NHS and care budgets. They also achieve two for one by releasing family homes for the next generation. However, total output of all forms of retirement housing is running at around 8,000 homes per annum, compared with national estimates of need for 30,000 to 35,000 homes. We have no chance of achieving this growth so long as we simply hope that market forces will do the job.

The housebuilding industry is dominated by an oligopoly of volume builders that concentrate on the easier market of first-time buyers and young people. Developments for older people are less profitable because sales are slower, since prospective buyers wait for the whole development to be completed and the management to be in place, because older buyers demand higher standards of space and accessibility, and because schemes have the expense of communal areas and shared gardens. These extras are the very essence of specialist developments of different sorts. They combat the epidemic of loneliness and isolation, not least in supporting couples where one is a carer—maybe with a partner who has been diagnosed with dementia—and there is help and companionship there for both. These schemes also make formal care much easier to provide in one place. However, the extra land requirements and additional capital costs are hard to recoup simply by demanding a higher price, so those building for younger people, where profits are higher, will outbid the specialist providers of retirement homes in the competition for land.

Intervention through the planning system represents the key opportunity to create a more level playing field. Central government has an important leadership role through its National Planning Policy Framework and related guidance. Already, this gives encouragement to local planning authorities to take on board the housing needs of older people. The current consultation on the NPPF indicates the Government’s desire to improve the diversity of housing options available to older people and to boost supply. However, research by Irwin Mitchell and Knight Frank in July 2022 found that just 22% of local authorities have a clear planning policy in place for older people’s housing. This amendment attempts to change that depressing statistic and ensure that planning at the local level enables and supports provision of retirement housing.

Government has more levers to pull in respect of social housing provision and could—and should—use its grant funding through Homes England and the Greater London Authority to secure a more appropriate proportion of its affordable housing programme for older people’s housing. However, this amendment uses the powers of local planning to make things happen for social and private sector providers. Most importantly, this could mean incorporating requirements for older people’s housing into local plans. As other clauses in the Bill emphasise, establishing a rigorous local plan is critical, and so is the determination and insistence of the planning authority to uphold that local plan. Including a firm requirement in the local plan for retirement housing in the mix of new homes would give the specialist private and social housing providers the impetus they need to boost production.

I will address one objection from some councils to supporting planning applications for older people’s housing. This is the spurious argument that such housing will encourage migration of people needing social care into the area. This is a complete misunderstanding of what retirement apartments and communities are achieving. Some more affluent home purchasers may be moving some distance to the retirement development from elsewhere—for example, leaving London to move to a seaside resort or a more rural locale. However, those movers will pay for their social care, and more broadly they will bring spending power that supports local economies the year round.

For the great majority of developments, surveys of residents show that most people move only a short distance when rightsizing to purpose-built new accommodation. Most residents are already living in the local authority’s area, and the more suitable accommodation will actually mean that the council can expect significant savings to its social care budget. Those savings will accrue because home care needs are likely to be reduced when people are in safer, more accessible accommodation, where support, including mutual support from fellow residents, is available, and because the greater expense of residential care is likely to be prevented or postponed. Moreover, it is far easier to deliver care to older people in one retirement development than for care workers to spend endless time travelling between their numerous visits.

The plan-makers should have no concerns that retirement housing will add a burden to social care services. As Amendment 207 spells out, plans should take on board a full assessment of the need for older people’s housing in the area and, in the highly likely event that this demonstrates unmet supply, clear requirements on housebuilders and developers can be justified in the local plan.

Housing for later living can and should be treated in the same way as planning for affordable housing, through specifying an obligatory proportion of new homes—perhaps 10%—in all developments over a certain size to be for older people. Thus larger schemes can include, for example, an extra care development, usually of between 40 and 60 apartments. This achieves an intergenerational mix within all major new housing developments. In addition, planners can earmark and allocate individual sites specifically for older people’s housing—for example in town centres, where such developments can be important community anchors and can help broader regeneration. The same treatment can go for windfall sites that emerge after preparation of the local plan. I should add that neighbourhood plans can play a key role in highlighting and supporting local requirements for retirement housing.

I will conclude with one or two statistics. The number of us who will be over 80 is set to rise from 3.3 million to 4.5 million in the coming decade and, even more striking, those over 85 will double from 1.6 million to 3.2 million. Yet we are seeing the numbers of specialist apartments and bungalows for older people decline: supply per thousand population aged 75 and over has fallen from 139 homes in 2015 to 110 in 2021, not least following the closure of older social rented stock without replacement.

It is clear that this issue is becoming more and more urgent. Amendment 207 would help create the conditions necessary to achieve that elusive tipping point in making rightsizing for one’s older age the norm and providing for the thousands more who need and want a suitable home. I hope the Minister agrees, and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 4:45, 18 April 2023

I will speak to Amendments 215 and 218, tabled by me and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. That might be helpful because there is a substantial additional issue in this group which, I have to say, even after eight and a half days of debate on the Bill, may prove to be the most significant of all our debates thus far. It is about future housing supply.

The Government assert that the planning system is broken, and the fact that only 40% of local planning authorities have an up-to-date local plan might suggest that that is true. The public anger at the approval of planning permissions as a result of the lack of a five-year housing supply has created a deep lack of confidence in the system. The Government have a target of building 300,000 homes a year; we are 200,000 homes short of that target since it was set in 2018—possibly as much as 100,000 short in the past year. Even at that rate of new build, it would take decades to bring our housing supply up to anything comparable to other western European countries.

I do not think the issue is whether the planning system is broken; the issue is whether these reforms mend it. Unfortunately, the Government’s proposals for reform over recent years have not led to any acceleration in the building of new homes or the processes leading to it. On the contrary, the rate of plan-making has slowed to half the rate before the housing White Paper was published in 2020. Since the ministerial Statement in December last year concerning changes to the NPPF, 33 local plans have been delayed. Among the changes in the draft National Planning Policy Framework were that the standard method for the assessment of housing need should become an advisory starting point. It also included the watering down of the housing delivery test and, consequently, that the limitation on the use of the presumption in favour of sustainable development would also be watered down. It proposed the removal of the test of “justified” in the examination of plans, so local planning authorities can make the plans they wish to without having to justify them. Since those changes, fewer plans are being approved, fewer planning consents are being granted, and, consequently, fewer homes will be built. This is not mending a broken system.

I see nothing in the Bill and have heard nothing in our debates so far that leads us away from the idea that there should be a plan-led system. However, as my noble friend and I made clear in a debate on his earlier amendments, it requires the preparation, publication and approval of up-to-date local plans. If those local plans are approved timeously, we will have as a consequence a basis on which more homes can be built—particularly if those plans incorporate the necessary assessment of housing need.

Amendment 215 would place a statutory requirement on local planning authorities to plan for a housing supply which “meets or exceeds” that which would be specified by the standard method and the Government’s housing target. They can deploy an alternative method, but not in order to diminish the number of homes that the Government’s target would imply for their area. Amendment 218 would require local planning authorities to have regard to the Government’s housing target and to the standard method in assessing their housing requirements.

The proposition in these amendments, in my name and that of my noble friend, is very simple. The country needs more homes to be built, and the Government’s housing target recognises and quantifies this. If the Government have a target, they should have a means of delivering it. These amendments, and those which reinforce the requirement for an up-to-date plan, are the basics which are needed to deliver on such a policy. The Government would have broad public and political backing for stating this and putting it into practice as quickly as possible.

I urge my noble friends on the Front Bench that, if they agree with the spirit of these amendments, the Government should come back on Report with their own amendments, and that they should before that date publish a revised National Planning Policy Framework, as I mentioned previously, showing that as a consequence they propose to reinstate the housing target and the standard method as the basis for local planning authorities to assess their housing requirements.

Photo of Lord Jackson of Peterborough Lord Jackson of Peterborough Conservative 5:00, 18 April 2023

My Lords, I will speak to all the amendments in this group. I support them all, with the exception of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, on which I am agnostic at the present time.

The comments made by my noble friend Lord Lansley were interesting and I completely endorse them. I was extremely disappointed by Ministers resiling from their original commitments to planning targets that arose from the ministerial Statement last December. Noble Lords might wish to look at the excellent paper that was published in January by the Centre for Policy Studies, The Case for Housebuilding, which disabuses people of the canard that housing targets, and local housing in particular, are unpopular. Qualitative and quantitative data collected in that paper by the CPS shows that this is not the case.

My noble friend Lord Lansley is absolutely right that Ministers now have the opportunity to restate their commitment to housebuilding—a commitment made in the 2019 general election manifesto. Clearly, it is imperative. There is an urgent need to reassure people, particularly people under the age of 40, that they have a Government who are committed to providing them with the options to at least think about owning their own home. It is difficult, of course, because there are competing interests. It is basic economics that, if you own capital, you do not want to diminish the value of that capital by giving capital to other people. However, the bigger issue here is one of fairness and social equity, particularly for younger people. The Government have an obligation to look again at ways they can facilitate more homes to be available through strategic planning policies, not just in cities but on brownfield sites and urban extensions in rural and suburban areas.

I commend the Home Builders Federation for its unfortunately titled Planning for Economic and Social Failure, published in March, which contains a lot of interesting data, and the Housing Today magazine’s campaign, A Fair Deal for Housing.

I want particularly to talk about the very interesting remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who brings great expertise and experience to this issue around housing for older people. He is absolutely right that the figures are pretty stark. There will be around 500,000 new over-75s within the next five years. As he said, by 2032, there will be 5 million people over the age of 80. This is not a luxury that we can dismiss with any degree of insouciance. Older people’s housing is an important issue, for a number of reasons.

If I can take noble Lords back to 2015, I was fortunate, or unfortunate, enough to attend a barbecue at No. 11 with the then Chancellor, George Osborne, as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed—well, slightly addled—Back-Bencher in the other place. He asked: “What policy do you think I should put forward in this Parliament that would really make a difference?”—this was just after the general election. I said tax breaks for extra-care facilities to help older people in need into extra care and to alleviate the cumulative impact over time on acute district hospitals, general practice and social care. Clearly, I did not make much of an impact, because successive Administrations have not necessarily followed my advice.

I think the beauty of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, is that it is a probing amendment that begins the debate. Ultimately, the debate will land at the feet of the Treasury, because in our centralised system it makes the decisions. For very narrow financial reasons, because of the demographic time bomb we face, it makes sense that we focus, look again and review housing for older people.

McCarthy Stone makes the assertion, which I am sure it can support by data, that pursuing a policy of encouraging downsizing of older people into extra-care facilities might release 2 million rooms across different tenures of housing. That accommodation would be available to families, younger people and those who are languishing on social housing waiting lists. It is something we need to look at; we desperately need new national guidance. We should require local authorities to assess local housing need and to include policies for older people in their local plans. We also need to think, potentially, about exempting older people moving into a retirement community home from paying stamp duty; that is extremely important.

This will have a wash-through into the health service and social care. It is about not only money but providing good-quality facilities for older people to support their dignity and independence, because too much of social care is about trying to solve a problem. I will finish with some statistics. If noble Lords remember the excellent report published by the Built Environment Committee in January last year, entitled Meeting Housing Demand, they will remember that by international comparison the UK is in a very poor place in the provision of housing for older people. In Australia, New Zealand and the United States, approximately 5% to 6% of over-65s have access to housing with 24/7 staffing, community facilities and bespoke care facilities. In this country, it is a pitiful 0.6%.

We can do better. I do not expect Ministers to develop policy on the hoof straightaway, but by accepting this excellent amendment by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Lord, Lord Best, we can begin the debate and discussion. I think there is a political consensus across parties that this is an issue and a problem that we cannot turn away from for very much longer.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, I like this group of amendments. We have just had a group of amendments in which we talked a lot about protecting species’ habitats. I am an enthusiast of the hedgehog as much as anyone else, but I am worried that the Bill neglects human habitats: housing. I am really glad that we are going to focus in on that.

We heard an imaginative, problem-solving amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, who brilliantly motivated homes for older citizens, something that I would like to see developed. I have added my name to Amendments 215 and 218.

I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, for focusing on housing supply. I made that the focus of my Second Reading speech and I continue to raise the issue, but it has been explained and motivated so well so far that I will confine myself to Amendment 210 in my name. However, unless there is some movement from the Government on tackling the blocks to building more homes and increasing the stultifying and sluggish housing supply, I will happily support the noble Lords and the noble Baroness if they table similar amendments on Report, because this is an issue of great urgency.

Amendment 210 is a modest amendment that deals with how homes are categorised and marketed in local plans. It would ensure that any local plans are honest and transparent about housing data and targets. Housing is usually categorised as either rented or owned, but I suggest that we need a third category that might more honestly reflect reality. If you go into an estate agent’s or look longingly in the window, you look at either rented accommodation or accommodation for sale. If you are lucky enough to buy a home, you assume that it is fully yours, but the sad reality is that the one in four so-called home owners who buy a leasehold property—nearly 5 million homes are in this category—are not home owners at all.

People should know what that means. When they go to an estate agent, we need to ensure that there is less mis-selling and that the estate agent advertises in its window “homes to lease”, rather than “homes to sell”, when it comes to leaseholders. This is important, because a lot of the Government’s rhetoric on housing and levelling up is intended to motivate an increase in the number of home owners. Arguably, leaseholders should not be counted in those figures.

I will give a few definitions and a bit of history. The reality of what the nature of leasehold really means came as rather a shock to many of us when it was exposed by the post-Grenfell building safety crisis. It has become increasingly apparent, at least to leaseholders, that we are not home owners—I declare an interest as a leaseholder. We realised that what we had purchased was a time-limited licence to occupy a concrete shell, of which the leaseholder does not own a brick, even after the mortgage has been redeemed.

In contemporary debates on this issue—of which there have been many recently, in both Houses—leasehold is often described as feudal serfdom. When I heard that, I thought it was just a bit of political hyperbole, but in fact leasehold tenure harks back to an age when land was correlated with power; and even in 2023, leasehold is indeed still firmly rooted in a sense of serfdom and manorialism. The medieval aristocracy enjoyed perpetual land ownership by allowing serfs to occupy premises on their land in return for labour and, later, in exchange for financial contributions.

As if to emphasise how much of that ancient history continued well after the end of feudalism, for many years leaseholders did not have the franchise. Why? Because the property qualification that was required in order to have the vote meant that you had to own your own property before you could choose who governed you. Because leaseholders did not count as owning their own property, they were not given the vote. When the democratic struggles succeeded in abolishing this egregious property requirement for voting, there was, unfortunately, no abolition of leasehold—but not for the want of trying. Even in 1884, Lord Randolph Churchill decried leasehold for empowering landowners to

“exercise the most despotic power over every individual who resides on his property”.

Indeed, between 1884 and 1929, there were at least 18 attempts to legislate against leasehold. It seems ridiculous that this has been going on for so long. But here we are, in 2023, with seeming cross-party unanimity, at last, on abolishing leasehold altogether.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow Levelling Up Secretary, has made Labour’s position clear. Labour will abolish leasehold, and, on this this at least, agrees with the Housing Secretary Michael Gove, and many Cross-Benchers, Bishops, Liberal Democrats and everybody in this Committee who seems to have been passionate and vociferous on the issue. So, you might think, why am I going on? Maybe this amendment is totally redundant. However, until I see it in the King’s Speech, I remain sceptical. At least, I want to ensure that we are honest before then about what leasehold means. This Bill aims to increase home ownership and says that it is an important part of levelling up. I want to ensure that leasehold properties are not counted under this category of home ownership.

I would like to welcome a new grass-roots campaign organisation, Commonhold Now, set up by the tireless leasehold activists Harry Scoffin and Karolina Zoltaniecka. It is calling for a mass shift to commonhold, a system widely used in Scotland, Canada and Australia. Interestingly, the organisation is committed what it calls “real homeownership”. It is focused on what makes ownership real: autonomy and control. People aspire to buy properties precisely so that they can have greater freedom, autonomy and control. They feel that that it will be different to being dependent on a landlord as a renter. It is very disillusioning to then discover that leasehold actually robs you of that control.

I learned that the hard way shortly after I became a first-time buyer over 20 years ago, partly to fulfil my father’s rather forlorn deathbed request that I settle down and take some responsibility. Some local footballing kids cracked my new flat’s window, so I decided to take my father’s advice and acted responsibly to replace the window. The response of my freeholder, Haringey Council, was to fine me for interfering with its property without permission.

My father, who worked in the construction business, also warned me that I should always get lots of comparative quotes from a range of contractors before getting any work done. But, as a local authority leaseholder, I have no right to do that. It is the council which enters into long-term agreements with contractors, who do not even have to tender for each project. Those of us who have to pay for the works have no right to decide on their scope, timing or even necessity. Being a leaseholder makes it almost impossible to budget, as you have no control over and or even cannot find out the extent of forthcoming costs because you do not control spending. For private sector leaseholders in the midst of the energy crisis, it is even worse. One article on this was titled:

“I am writing the cheque yet I have no control over what is being spent”.

Even legislation designed in this House to protect leaseholders by making homes safer has been turned into yet another mechanism for extracting cash and diminishing the choice and autonomy of many private leaseholders. One shocking example, in light of the fire safety legislation we passed, is a block of leaseholders who were told they would collectively be charged £500,000 to replace wooden terraces with special composite materials. Those leaseholders, at their own expense, consulted independent experts, who told them that the terraces did not need replacing; they were not a fire risk or in breach of any new legislation—and, anyway, paving stones were a lot cheaper and would do just as well. In other words, being a leaseholder means that you do not own your own home and this Bill needs to reflect that.

I of course do not want my amendment or any critique of leasehold to become an excuse for not building new homes, such as blocks of flats. As I have mentioned, the solution to the housing crisis, in terms both of rental and buying, and the solution to the affordability issue, is to focus on increasing supply with urgency. In a recent article in the Financial Times, John Burn-Murdoch made a plea for apartment living in high-density, high-rise blocks. I am all for that, but such developments are inevitably leasehold at the present time. Focusing new housebuilding and urban development on blocks of leasehold flats could lead to creating more second-class home owners, locked and entrapped in the costly and miserable limbo of leasehold. Even much of the retirement accommodation spoken of by the noble Lord, Lord Best, is at present leasehold and there are problems of exorbitant service charges.

We need to make sure that those who are desperate to get their foot on the first rung of the property ladder are not exploited by believing that leasehold means that they now own and control their homes. At the very least, any new-build homes that offer leasehold, rather than shared freehold or commonhold, must be honestly reflected and labelled in government data. They should not be counted as home ownership or cited as proof of fulfilling levelling-up targets. So, until leasehold is abolished, let us call it for what it is—and it is not home ownership.

Photo of Lord Bradley Lord Bradley Labour 5:15, 18 April 2023

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendment 219A, which has been attached, rather inelegantly, to this group. I fully support the amendment on housing for older people so eloquently moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best. I declare my interests in the register, particularly as chair of council at the University of Salford.

My amendment is straightforward, but the issue is important. However, I will be brief. The amendment seeks to add a requirement that, in the development of local plans, the housing needs of students are taken into account by fully consulting local higher education providers and housing and planning authorities in that process.

We are all aware that there is a significant undersupply of student accommodation across the country—this has been widely reported in the media throughout this academic year. It is a particularly acute problem in our cities, including Manchester, where I live—but there are also reports from Durham, Bristol, Glasgow, Brighton, Nottingham, London and many more. The student accommodation charity, Unipol, reports that UK student housing is reaching a “crisis point” as bad as in the 1970s. Just before Christmas, Property Reporter said that the student rental market is reaching “breaking point”. Furthermore, purpose-built student accommodation specialists Cushman & Wakefield report that new-build schemes are failing to keep pace with demand, at the same time as supply is being lost from the private rented sector, with many landlords switching from student accommodation to rental for professionals because of a more compelling business case, lower management requirements and more consistent demand.

As a consequence, we know that students are forced into accommodation they cannot afford; are forced to live far away from the university they are attending, with consequential higher travel costs; or are choosing unsuitable, or even unsafe, accommodation. This has a detrimental impact on the health and well-being of students, as well as significantly undermining the overall student experience. The situation has clearly been exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis.

The Government have made their position clear. In response to a Written Question in the other place, Robert Halfon, Minister of State for Education, said:

“Neither the Department for Education nor the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities have made … an assessment” of student housing. He went on:

“It is for local areas, through their Local Plans, and in response to local needs and concerns, to determine the level of student accommodation required in their area. Universities and private accommodation providers are autonomous. The department plays no direct role in the provision of student residential accommodation, whether the accommodation is managed by universities or private sector organisations.”

That is absolutely clear, and we must therefore consider local solutions to the problem.

If we look across the country, we see examples of good practice, such as in Nottingham, where the city’s student living strategy explicitly involves collaboration between the universities and the local council to ensure that Nottingham realises the many socioeconomic benefits that students bring, without putting pressure on the local housing stock. But such collaborations can be more difficult in places such as Greater Manchester, where you have many higher education providers and 10 district planning and housing authorities trying to co-ordinate the demand and supply of accommodation of many thousands of students.

The student union in Salford, ably led by its president, Festus Robert, and working closely with student unions across Greater Manchester, have been in discussions with the Mayor of Greater Manchester to try to address this problem. However, this complication could be overcome through this amendment. It will introduce a statutory requirement at the local level, with the development of local plans, to ensure the collaboration of all interested parties—principally, universities and local authorities—to take into account the housing needs of the students when they are developing their local plans.

This important issue must be tackled, and I hope that my amendment will ensure that it is. I also hope that the agnosticism of certain noble Lords will be overcome by my argument. It clearly chimes with the purpose of the Bill and, more broadly, with the devolution agenda. In that spirit, I hope that the Government will support it today.

Photo of The Earl of Lytton The Earl of Lytton Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to this group of amendments, doing so as a property professional. For very many years, the development process, housebuilding and the construction process have not been far from my daily life—at any rate until a few years ago, when I ceased to do that sort of thing on a day in, day out basis throughout the week.

I will start with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in his superb explanation of the matter. I will throw some light on that, because, whether you have targets or whether you make an allocation at local level, none of these of themselves build a single unit of residential accommodation. There is a stage in between that is occupied by a commercial cohort of developers and housebuilders. I have worked for a few—although not recently—so I have no intrinsic bias against developers and housebuilders. They are, after all, the delivery system whereby the government targets will be met and, ultimately, one assumes, the affordability and availability of housing for those who need it and wish to occupy it will be delivered. However, they control the build-out rate—the more so if they control large strategic sites.

So far as I have a current interest, it is one that occupies an area within a local authority within which I reside and involves sites that are not many miles from where I live. To give one example, there is a site 6.5 miles from where I live, next to a major town, with consent for 2,700 homes. The consent was granted some years ago. Material commencement within the normal three-year period was made to construct the access. So far, the school—which I am told is fully occupied —and about two dozen houses have been built, but not much else. So, although it may fall short of what I might call the Letwin definition of land banking, it is an expandable pipeline of balance sheet assets that is not about delivery as such, but rather about managing profit and income streams.

It is very easy to make that material start and preserve your consent more or less in perpetuity. There has been some recent case law where that has wobbled a bit, but I will not go into that.

The societal need to build out is effectively farmed out to the private developer sector. There seems no way in which this can be accelerated—we are stuck—and therefore, there is more pressure to create more allocations that then do not get built out. I asked CPRE for an update not long ago—I am not a member of CPRE, but it seems to have a very good handle on this—and it tells me that according to its calculations there are 1.1 million consented plots up and down the country that are, as yet, unbuilt. At a 300 dwellings per annum buildout rate, we can do the maths as to how many years’ land supply that amounts to.

It gives one pause for thought, because this feeds into a high level of resistance. It has occurred locally to me and is something I should say my wife has been acutely involved with. A local neighbourhood plan, that had gone through all its stages and had got to the stage of being a made neighbourhood plan and was therefore a material part of the local plan, is in effect capable of being overridden because the local plan itself is out of date. Yet we have this candid demonstration of local desire and acceptance that more development is needed, and it is at risk of being overridden. Needless to say, the local likely lad developers who are already in the local village have stuck in a speculative application for another 1,500 homes, thank you very much.

I accept that the part of Sussex I live in has long been regarded as a development area. It is not that far from Gatwick Airport; it is quite close to the borough of Crawley, which has very important commercial infrastructure in terms of its industrial area and its manufacturing. It is not that far from the main motorway system. Crawley sits on the London to Brighton railway line. So there are good links and I understand that, but if we are to have a situation where the targets are somehow set according to a metric produced by central government without regard to capacity—and I am thinking particularly about infrastructure—then it is not very surprising if local people feel pretty hard done by, even as if their local neighbourhood plan, which was no doubt done on the back of a lot of people’s effort and with no small amount of public money involved, has been summarily trashed. That is not good enough.

I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Best. He has been a doughty campaigner for the housing needs of the elderly. I see that as being where the development process meets the infrastructure requirement—it is that interface—except the infrastructure required is a piece of social infrastructure rather than a piece of hard infrastructure like all the other stuff. However, it has been overlooked along with all the other things: roads, water, electricity, health, education, provision for age, transport—you name it, they have all been overlooked. Far too often, they are not in place sufficiently early on to avoid causing an overload.

In my part of west Sussex, we run into a particular problem referred to as water neutrality. It is not something that was created by dint of Ofwat or anybody like that—indeed, I think Ofwat and the water utility company would be happy to continue pumping for as long as there was stuff in the ground to do it. No, it was Natural England that said, “You’re depleting the water supply underneath an important wetland area and you’ve got to stop doing it”. That was the trigger that caused it. My fear about water neutrality is that we will end up with a fudge and it will become just another form of tariff that gets paid for, without anybody addressing the problem that the abstraction is too great. The rest of us, connected as we are to what you might call old-tech taps, baths, showers and that sort of thing, are not reducing our consumption. Indeed, we are using expensively treated water to water the garden or the lawn, or to wash the car or the dog. It is really not acceptable to have got to this stage. Who knows how long it will take before some other pipeline, into another catchment area, can bring water in, or another reservoir is constructed, in order to enable all this to happen? Meanwhile, one supposes, the multiplier effect of housing need will build up until it reaches some sort of breaking point.

I think I have explained to your Lordships what I see as one of the fundamental problems of where we are. I do not have a ready-made solution, but I see people looking at bits of this process at local and community level, at government level, and in various utilities and strategic bodies, and I fail to see how they are knitting together and getting us to where we need to be. I do not have the answer to it, but I can see that there is a significant problem.

I turn now to something different, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. I am acutely aware as a chartered surveyor that leasehold ownership has not been the flavour of the month for a very long time, but I would counsel caution. I am not an advocate for any particular form of tenure. I am an agnostic as far as that is concerned; if it works, let us have it. Leasehold is not specifically a feudal overhang based on medieval principles and, even worse, medieval practices between the participants. It is a means whereby someone has a form of ownership in part of a larger building, the fabric of which provides the common envelope for many similar units. One cannot get away from the fact that, philosophically, that is what it is. Whatever form of occupation rights one might devise, the essential friction between the ownership and occupation of a unit and the ownership and control of the block will always be apparent, especially if the owners, or one or two of the owners, of the units fall on difficult times and find themselves in difficulty about paying the ground rent, service charge or whatever it is and therefore come under pressure from managing agents—they are a breed, I have to say, I am not terrible in favour of; I once managed a block myself and never again. Thankfully, I am past the age where I need to be worried about that, but we fail to understand the friction between these various things. There are other forms of tenure, such as commonhold, but that does not necessarily get rid of the issue. Of itself, it may be fine, but if you introduce that, and the mortgage lenders and insurers put their ears back, there is then a lot of suspicion—a two-tier operation in the marketplace if you are not careful—and you end up damaging what you already have.

In my professional career, I have known leaseholder-owned blocks where a small cohort of those who sat on the committee that controlled the freehold and management ran the thing as their own personal fief and not, as far as I could see, in the best interests of the collective of all the people they were ruling the roost over. This is to do with attitudes. There is something anthropomorphic in why this is happening, which is one thing that does not go away whatever tenure you have; this exploitative approach by the few against the many, if I can put it that way, is not easily overridden. But if one wants to start looking at that, maybe there are things that can be done and duties that can be imposed on people that make it unproductive or actually dangerous to enter into these exploitative situations.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, because it is very valuable that she raises these points—but I suggest that we need to look beyond tenure alone and start to look at behaviour. That is the common thread between the developer middlemen and the leasehold management, which I would commend the Committee to look at as something outside the framework of some of what we have been discussing.

Photo of The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Bishop 5:30, 18 April 2023

I shall speak very briefly in support of the group of amendments, on none of which would I dare wish to claim to be an agnostic. I particularly support Amendment 207 proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Best, to which my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has added her name. The amendment addresses the important role of local authorities to consider older groups’ housing needs when developing local plans. Together with Amendment 221 from the noble Lord, Lord Best, these changes to the Bill would deliver a more effective response to the shortfall in appropriate housing for older people at all levels of government.

The Mayhew review for future-proofing retirement needs recommended

“closer working between planning and social care departments to ensure the need for retirement housing with access to care is factored into local authority plans”.

This amendment would be a step towards making that kind of joined-up thinking and development a reality.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I was going to make the shortest speech in this debate, but the right reverend Prelate has set such a high bar that I do not think that I can clear it.

I have added my name to Amendment 207 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best, and Amendments 215 and 218 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. The reason why I can be brief is not because the amendments are not important—I think that Amendments 215 and 218 are the most important amendments to the whole Bill—but because we touched on both subjects in earlier debates, in what the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to as a dress rehearsal. In those earlier debates, I set out as best I could the cases for doing more for older people and building more homes.

In the debate on my Amendment 221 on older people, I was very critical of the delay from the Government in setting up the taskforce for older people, which was actually trailed two years ago, but nothing happened until last month. A week after I raised this with the noble Lord, Lord Best, a chairman was appointed, and I hope that there will be a similar positive response to all the other speeches that I am going to make on the Bill.

In a nutshell, the problem that the noble Lord, Lord Best, outlined is quite simple. The pace of demographic change in this country and the growth of more smaller older households has resulted in a huge imbalance in the housing stock that we have, which has been built up over many decades. To get a better balance, which is the thrust of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Best, we need to do more than we have done so far—and we have heard a wide variety of suggestions. He suggested that a percentage of new homes should be focused on the needs of older people, or specific sites should be earmarked for older people, or there should be a separate use class for specialist housing for older people. My noble friend Lord Jackson suggested a stamp duty exemption; others have suggested an infrastructure levy exemption for older people’s housing. Without repeating the speech that I made last time, I hope that the Government will accept that we need to do a bit more than we are doing at the moment if we are to get a better balance between the needs of the population and the housing stock that we have. We need to promote mobility so people can move into the new homes built for older people.

On Amendments 215 and 218, we are all agreed that we need more houses. As my noble friend Lord Lansley explained, we are way behind target. But the problem is that all the good things in the Bill to promote more housing are totally overshadowed by the announcement before Christmas when the Government climbed down in the face of a rebellion in the other place and watered down the commitment to build more homes. The sheer starkness of the Government’s climbdown was revealed in an article in the House magazine by Theresa Villiers, who led the rebellion. She said that her amendment was

“backed by 60 MPs, and in response, the secretary of state brought forward significant concessions to rebalance the planning system to give local communities greater control over what is built in their neighbourhood. That includes confirming that centrally determined housing targets are advisory not mandatory. They are a starting point, not an inevitable outcome. Changes have been promised to make it easier for councils to set a lower target”.

You cannot rely on the good will of local authorities to deliver the homes that the country needs. There is a central government mandate, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Jackson, referring to

“our progress towards our target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s”.

What a local MP may regard as an arbitrary target imposed from on top by Whitehall is actually a goal that a democratic Government are trying to deliver. My own view is that the votes that an individual MP may lose if an unpopular development goes ahead will be massively outweighed if the country as a whole does not believe that the Government are taking housing seriously. As my noble friend Lord Lansley said, the impact of that document is already being felt. Since it was published, 47 local plans have been delayed with the clear intent of delivering lower numbers; he said 33, but the figure I have is 47.

My noble friend also mentioned other concessions in the document, but the main concession was in the chapter headed “Introducing new flexibilities to meet housing needs”. I think we can all crack the code as to what that means. The document states that local authorities do not need to meet housing needs—then it sets out the circumstances.

I very much hope that between now and Report the Government will recognise that there is a strong feeling in this House and out there in the country that we need to do more. We need to revert to what the Government originally planned before the climbdown before Christmas and give the other place time to think again and reflect on what happened in December, then revert to the Government’s original policy, which was a manifesto commitment, enabling the country to build the 300,000 homes each year that we need.

Photo of Lord Stunell Lord Stunell Liberal Democrat 5:45, 18 April 2023

My Lords, this is an extremely important debate with a large number of amendments of great importance. Having recently been recruited to the rapidly increasing cohort of the over-80s, I am entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Best, and his amendment. Certainly the Liberal Democrats support the case that has been made.

I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, had to say in relation to his amendment about making an assessment for student accommodation. As a resident of Greater Manchester, I understand the issue very clearly. I am sure that the Minister will want to tell us about how it is possible to have such a requirement applied in a proportionate way, bearing in mind that for a neighbouring planning authority such as High Peak it may be a very small consideration, whereas for an authority such as Manchester or Salford it is very significant.

I wonder if I might impersonate the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in respect of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and ask where the leasehold reform Bill is, of which the Government have spoken so much and delivered so little. I shall leave my remarks there. I think we need to hear from the Minister not simply that she does not particularly like the amendment that the noble Baroness has tabled but that there is actually a positive plan by the Government to tackle the issues the noble Baroness has identified.

I want to focus my remarks on Amendment 219 and Amendment 218, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. Amendment 219 would require local planning authorities to have a local plan that reaches or exceeds the requirement for housing prescribed by the Secretary of State. Amendment 218 would nail this down further by requiring strict conformity with the Secretary of State’s targets, using a method of calculation specified by the Secretary of State. We should be clear that, taken together, these amendments would mean that local land allocations for housing would essentially be taken away from local planning authorities and placed back in the hands of the Secretary of State. This would be a reversion to the statutory situation that obtained at some very distant time in the past—some 12 months and three Prime Ministers ago. It is a policy position that was denounced by the previous Prime Minister as Stalinist, and was this week repudiated by the current Prime Minister when speaking on the BBC. He said he saw an urgent need for change to the existing policy, assisted materially by conversations he had had last summer with Conservative councillors all over the country, who spelled out to him its consequences and the damaging impacts it was having locally.

A close reading of the two amendments suggests that, actually, they may seek to go slightly further back, to something that is even more Stalinist than the preceding Prime Minister was suggesting. The drafting of Amendment 218 appears to say not only that falling below the target would not be permitted but neither would exceeding it, because it has to be in strict conformity with the targets that have been set by the Secretary of State—not a house more, not a house less.

Noble Lords who are proposing this pair of amendments are certainly quite right to point out that the current situation suits nobody, least of all the tens of thousands of families on council waiting lists or the many others for whom a house purchase is hopelessly beyond their means and for whom renting can only ever be an inadequate, insecure and expensive option, given the current size and nature of the housing stock. They are also right to point out that the current policy uncertainty has paralysed local plan decision-making, slowed site allocations, and infuriated the development and housing industries.

We need more homes urgently. Specifically, we need many more social homes for rent. If money was switched from the Help to Buy programme to investing in those homes, as we on this side have often advocated, that would make a start, but the supporters of these two amendments need to explain in more detail how going back to the status quo ante will deliver the outcome that they desire. Not once did the system to which they are now encouraging us to go back deliver 300,000 net new homes a year, or even near it. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, drew that to our attention. The old system was not delivering, so reinstating it seems unlikely to work miracles. Indeed, I shall quote the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in respect of another matter he spoke about: repeating something that you know does not work is verging on madness.

There are even more Stalinist options available, and maybe these two amendments point the Government in that way. There is no doubt that a centrally imposed national five-year plan for housing construction could deliver such numbers, but only provided there was state funding for anything over the 150,000 or so homes that would be funded by the private sector—and with the proviso that the party in government that put this policy in place was ready to forego its local democratic representation on the shrivelled local planning authorities that would be left.

There is an alternative—one that has proven to work in practice over the last 10 years, one that produces more land allocated for housing than the local plans have previously done for that area, and one that has popular consent, validated by a public vote locally. It is an alternative that meets local housing needs, has local popular consent and routinely exceeds government housing targets. You might think that that was a far better policy option than resurrecting a system of failed top-down targets that will not meet local housing needs anytime soon, raises huge opposition, and is constantly gamed and warped by developers, politicians and local interests, while Ministers in Whitehall can only stand around, flummoxed and frustrated at the failure of the plan to deliver. I am referring to neighbourhood plans, and here I need to redeclare my interest as a member of a neighbourhood planning forum. Now that neighbourhood plans are seen as a success—this was debated to some extent earlier in our proceedings—everybody claims to have invented them. I say only that it was quite lonely at the Dispatch Box in 2010, steering them through in the Localism Act.

There is a later group of amendments in which I shall have more to say about neighbourhood plans—I am sure noble Lords will be delighted by that news—and the impacts of some of the clumsy proposals in the Bill, which I think will damage and hinder their prospects. However, for this debate, I look forward to hearing the Minister set out what the Government’s plan for reaching 300,000 new homes will actually be. If it is not going to be Amendments 215 and 218 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, or spending absolute shedloads of money on a massive state investment programme, or facilitating a much-expanded neighbourhood planning programme, what on earth is it going to be?

Leaving the Bill as it is, as the Government would obviously prefer, may well be seen as their best expedient short-term fix for the forthcoming local elections. They may even hope that it might be a middle-term fix for the general election next year. I do not think it will achieve either of those things, but one thing is certain: it will definitely not be a long-term fix for the homes that are vitally needed in this country. Leaving the Bill as it is will provide no help at all for those stuck on endless housing waiting lists, for those desperately saving for a deposit at a time of rising interest rates, or for those stuck in overpriced short-term lets with no hope of rescue. It really is time for the Government to set out their plans. I look forward very much to hearing a constructive reply from the Minister.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this group of amendments exposes the conundrum at the heart of planning for housing. At this point, I repeat my interests, as in the register, as being a councillor in Kirklees, with its up-to-date local plan, and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. My noble friend Lord Stunell is of course right to say that the simple statement of a number of new house builds per year has failed and will continue to fail: top-down diktats are the last resort of a failed policy. As the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, helpfully reminded us, there are more than 1 million unbuilt homes with current planning consents. That seems to me to indicate that a top-down planning policy is failing to produce the number of new home builds that the country needs and wants.

Amendment 207 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, points to a challenge in housing development that is considered far too rarely: housing and planning policy should have a focus on fulfilling need. There is ample evidence of which housing units are needed, such as those for older people. As my noble friend Lord Stunell has said, we know that there is a desperate need for housing at a social rent. There are current applications from over 1 million people for social housing. Their chances of success are very limited indeed, as successive Governments have continued with the right-to-buy policy while ignoring the need to build replacements. The challenge of supplying housing that meets expressed need is not being addressed by the changes to planning policy in this Bill.

Councils already have to make an assessment of their housing requirements, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, and every council has to prepare a strategic housing market assessment to assess the full housing needs. We have that bit. Every local authority, before it draws up its local plan, has to do a strategic housing market assessment, which should identify the scale and mix of housing and the range of tenures that the local population is likely to need over the planning period. The local plan must then reflect that assessment in the housing site allocations, so that bit is already there in planning policy. The assessment and planning stage to meet housing needs exists.

Where it all fails, which is what I hope we can begin to discuss and debate in this Chamber, is in the delivery of the housing types, sizes and tenures, as well as numbers. Local councils and local planning authorities can use only the limited levers they have to encourage developers to build to meet need rather than to maximise profit—which is, of course, their purpose. That is precisely the explanation that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, gave at the very start of his contribution. We can have fine and worthy policies, which have been expressed across the Chamber today, to meet various housing needs, but if there are no levers to ensure that they happen, they are fine words that are never going to be implemented.

I will give some examples in relation to housing numbers. Sites in local plans have a potential housing number attached to them. They all have to be assessed: how many houses can we get on to this site? For example, a site in my locality allocated 413 units in the local plan. Of course, it never works out quite like that; from theory to practice, it is going to be different. In the end, the planning consent was for 291 houses, which is a significant 25% difference. The units developed will not reflect the stated assessment of local and subregional need for two and three-bedroom properties. The majority of the development will be of four and five-bedroom properties. So local need is not being met, and more families in my locality will be in inadequate housing, with the consequent long-term impact on their lives.

That, to me, is the conundrum at the heart of housing and planning policy: how do the Government provide local authorities with the levers they need to match housing need to the housing developed? Currently, there is only influence. For example, let us take affordable homes. My council has a policy of 20% affordable homes on sites. But along come the developers; they will do a viability assessment, which ensures that the 20% goes down to 10% or less. It will be the same if there is an allocation of, say, 15% to housing specifically designed for older people. They will argue that this cannot be done because of the need for this, that and the other expense; hence, we end up with maybe one unit or something.

This is where the failure is. Everybody is saying where we want to be in order to meet need, so how do we get high-volume house developers, which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to, to do it? If they will not do it, the Government have to provide the levers to match one with the other. I feel quite strongly about this, because otherwise we have loads of warm words and worthy policies but nothing will happen.

I would like the Minister to tell the Committee how we are going to address the challenges set out by the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Lansley, and others and how we are going to meet the needs of older people, families who need social housing, those who need supported accommodation and families who need smaller units and can only afford a small unit within their budget. How are we going to get that? Local plans and the social housing market assessment will say that but, when it comes to the crunch, developers get their own way. Something has to change if we are to achieve what we want to achieve, which is appropriate, high-quality, high-standard housing for people in this country.

It could be something to do with land allocation to enable housing numbers; then there has to be a change in the way that sites are developed out—or not developed at all. Another thing that happens is that there are several sites in a locality, and housing developers wait—they have a little arrangement and wait until one is developed out, so that not too many come on to the market at the same time, which of course would reduce the price and reduce their profits.

There are big challenges here for the Government if their stated aim is to be achieved. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers to those challenges.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 6:00, 18 April 2023

My Lords, this group of amendments—and the subsequent group on social housing, which we will probably get to on Thursday—goes right to the heart of the role of housing in levelling up. I should, of course, draw attention to my interests here. I am a serving councillor on both a county council and a district council and, as a former council leader, I am a battle-scarred warrior of the broken planning system. That is not an interest, just a fact. It is a painful process.

We would certainly support the provisions set out in Amendments 207 and 219A from the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Bradley to incorporate the housing needs of older people, and the student population where applicable, in the plan-making process. My only caveat to that is the issue I mentioned in your Lordships’ House during a previous debate on the Bill, which is that supported housing is a much wider category than just older people, as it can also include housing for adults with disabilities and those with learning disabilities, which would also benefit from specific attention within the planning process.

Some local authorities will use small-site development to make up for deficiencies in all types of supported housing, but our view is that it would be preferable to consider this as a strategic requirement and build it into the consideration of housing at the plan-making stage. This will also allow due consideration to be given to the importance of the location of those sites, with appropriate infrastructure requirements such as health, transport, social facilities and access to green space.

It was a great honour to take part in a debate on 30 March, as did many other noble Lords here today, on supported housing, where the excellent work of Imogen Blood & Associates and the University of York for the National Housing Federation was widely quoted. During that debate, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, made very encouraging remarks:

“Our planning rules, which will be strengthened through the LUR Bill, mean that, in councils’ local plans, they must consider the needs of these people, which is perhaps an important change in attitude.”—[Official Report, 30/3/23; col. GC 105.]

In response to an earlier question from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, the Minister indicated that the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is the place to make this change, so perhaps I can afford to be a bit more optimistic than the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in hoping that these amendments may be accepted.

In his characteristically powerful and knowledgeable speech, the noble Lord, Lord Best, referred to the older people’s housing taskforce. We look forward to that, but I hope that to some extent we can pre-empt the obvious conclusion that local authorities must plan for older residents and those who need supported housing. I was grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his timely reminder of the Mayhew review and its powerful recommendations. I hope we will consider them as we go forward with this Bill.

On Amendment 210 from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, my noble friend Lord Kennedy has campaigned tirelessly for many years for the abolition of the feudal leasehold system. I am afraid that I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Lytton; I think it is a feudal system, although I bow to his greater knowledge of the subject. It seems from recent comments by the Secretary of State that he too is now persuaded, so perhaps the Minister can persuade her Secretary of State to put the abolition of leasehold into this Bill rather than wait for another one.

On Amendment 219A from my noble friend Lord Bradley, his role with Manchester University gives him great expertise on this subject and he eloquently described the increasing challenges in student accommodation. Listening to his speech, I think we would all be concerned that they are connected with issues of student welfare that we have heard so much about in recent times. As with other areas of specialist housing, he gave examples of very good practice, and we heard many other examples of good practice in the debate on 30 March. However, good planning would not leave this to chance or deliberately allow disparities between areas with good practice and those without it. Areas with large numbers of students should absolutely plan for their accommodation in safe, affordable and sustainable housing.

Amendment 215, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Young, my noble friend Lady Hayman and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, requires a local plan to meet or exceed the housing need for a local authority’s area. I appreciate that housing numbers have proved notoriously controversial in many areas, which is partly why fewer than 50% of local authorities currently have a local plan in place. However, housing is key infrastructure, so it is vital that the Government work with local government to develop policy and practice to determine what housing numbers should be. We heard in the debate that the Government’s stated target is 300,000 homes a year—the National Housing Federation says that 340,000 a year are necessary—but we are nowhere near that number being either built or planned for. I agree that reference to meeting housing need for the area should be in the Bill. To avoid repetition, I will comment on this further on the next group, but I share the disappointment of the noble Lord, Lord Young, about the huge government U-turn on the subject at Christmas.

Noble Lords referred earlier today to the fact that achieving net zero must be a key priority of this Bill, which I agree with, but so should meeting the needs of the housing emergency. Some of us would have preferred a separate planning Bill so that due attention could have been given to the many issues, such as those in this group, that certainly merit a stand-alone Bill. However, we are where we are with a Christmas tree Bill such as this, so we must do our best with amendments to tackle the issues of net zero and housing and the many others that this Bill attempts to deal with.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 6:15, 18 April 2023

My Lords, as we have heard, these amendments relate to housing need and the homebuying process.

I will address Amendments 207 and 219A together. Amendment 207 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, seeks to enable the Secretary of State to include older people’s housing needs assessments in documentation related to local plans and require that local authorities consider the needs for housing for older people when preparing such plans. Amendment 219A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, seeks to enable the Secretary of State to require local planning authorities to have regard to the housing requirements of the student population, developed in conjunction with local higher education providers, when preparing their local plans. I recognise the noble Lord’s personal knowledge of this subject.

I entirely understand the sentiment behind both amendments and offer words for the comfort of both noble Lords. I believe I can first do so by highlighting that national policy already sets strong expectations in these precise areas. The existing National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that the size, type and tenure of housing needed for different groups in the community, including older people and students, should be assessed and reflected in planning policies. In 2019, we also published guidance to help local authorities implement the policies that can deliver on this expectation. Therefore, as regards student housing, we already have a clear policy in place, backed up by guidance, to deliver solutions designed locally. Any proposals to amend this would be considered as part of our review of the National Planning Policy Framework once this Bill receives Royal Assent.

I listened with a great care and respect to all that the noble Lord, Lord Best, said to draw attention to the housing needs of older people. The Government are absolutely on his wavelength in that regard. He was right to point out that there should be a variety and diversity of housing options for older people, as underscored by my noble friend Lord Jackson of Peterborough. To further improve the diversity of housing options available to older people and boost the supply of specialist elderly accommodation, we recently consulted on proposals to strengthen the existing policy by adding a specific expectation that, when ensuring that the needs of older people are met, particular regard is given to retirement housing, housing with care and care homes. We know that those are important typologies of housing that can help support our ageing population.

Furthermore, it would be remiss of me not to point out that there is already a provision in the Bill setting out that the Secretary of State must issue guidance for local planning authorities on how their local plan and any supplementary plans, taken as a whole, should address housing needs that result from old age or disability. This is a key statutory provision.

So, again, we already have a clear policy in place on this issue, and we are proposing, as I have explained, to strengthen it to further support the supply of older people’s housing. I hope that this provides the noble Lord, Lord Best, with the assurances that he needs to withdraw his Amendment 207 at this stage.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Minister for his explanation of what is already in the policy and how it is going to be strengthened, and the national planning policy guidance. However, so far that has not brought forth anything like the numbers that are needed, so perhaps the Minister will be able to explain how that policy—which is very worthy and which I support—can be put into practice?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

I say to the noble Baroness that I will try to do so as I go along. First, though, I will address Amendment 210, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, which would require local authorities to adopt policies to ensure that the marketing of housing accurately describes the nature of the tenure. I listened to all that she said about the need to review, or indeed do away with, leasehold tenure, and I hope she will forgive me if I do not repeat what I said on that subject in one of our earlier Committee debates. We shall also be debating Amendment 504GJG in the name of my noble friend Lord Moylan on leasehold reform later on in Committee.

Buying a home is the largest investment that many of us will make in our lifetime, and we all want to be sure of what we are buying before we commit to purchase, so I absolutely understand the motivation behind the amendment. However, we do not believe that local plans have the legal remit to specify how property agents can market property in a local area. Even if they could, such an approach would create a complicated patchwork of requirements which would vary between one local planning authority area and another. That would be very difficult for property agents operating on a regional or national basis to navigate, and it would be confusing for buyers as well.

That is not to dismiss the concern that the noble Baroness has expressed—in the levelling up White Paper, the Government committed to working with industry to make sure that buyers have the critical information they need to know, including tenure type, lease length and service charges. The Government have also signalled our intention to legislate if this is required. We are currently considering options which will set a common approach to all property listings across England and Wales, providing certainty for buyers, sellers and estate agents, and we will set out further information in due course.

I turn next to Amendments 215 and 218, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lansley. These amendments both relate to local authority housing need, and this is where I hope I can answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. Amendment 215 seeks to require a local plan to secure a sufficient supply of housing to meet or exceed the authority’s area requirement for housing over the plan period. The amendment also sets out that an area’s housing requirement must be derived from the housing targets and standard method prescribed in guidance by the Secretary of State. Amendment 218 seeks to set out in legislation that local authorities must have regard to any housing targets and the Government’s standard method for calculating housing need when preparing their local plan.

While I entirely understand the sentiment behind these amendments, the proposals would impose unnecessary constraints by seeking to put into primary legislation matters that are already addressed effectively, I contend, through national policy and guidance. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham made the point, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that national planning policy already sets out that local authorities should make sufficient provision for housing, including affordable housing, and that they must take this into account when preparing their local plans.

Additionally, again in response to the noble Baroness, policy and guidance set out how local authorities should establish their housing requirements, and they make it clear that the standard method for assessing local housing need should be the starting point for establishing housing requirements in the plan-making process, in all but exceptional circumstances. That is not a straitjacket and nor is it laissez-faire; our planning policies already allow authorities to choose to plan for more homes than required to meet need, and we have consulted on proposed changes to national policy designed to empower local authorities to go further where that is right for their area.

It is right, however, that local communities can respond to local circumstances. To introduce more flexibility to take account of local circumstances, we are proposing some changes through our consultation on reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework. These are expressly designed to support local authorities to set local housing requirements that respond to demographic and affordability pressures while at the same time being realistic, given local constraints.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that we will be talking about neighbourhood plans later this evening if we get there—I hope we do, otherwise on Thursday—and we can return to the issues that he has raised on that topic. But I would just like to make a general point about housing targets: local housing need is not a housing target. The standard method for assessing local housing need is used by councils to inform the preparation of their local plans. Local areas are then free to take into account constraints and opportunities when determining their actual housing targets such as green belts, AONBs, and so on, that prevent them allocating enough sites to meet need. There are some councils that choose to plan for more homes than their local housing need number; nor does the local housing need method dictate where homes should go. It is up to councils to decide what sorts of homes can be built where.

Photo of Baroness Thornhill Baroness Thornhill Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Housing)

Can I put the question the other way around? The noble Lord used phrases like “councils can choose” and “in conjunction with their local authority”. Can I ask about councils that choose not to provide supportive housing for people in need, that choose not to provide places for ex-offenders, and that rely on councils with a conscience to do those things? It seems to me that councils can choose to do very little if they want, including building homes, and certainly to not provide for the other groups that we have heard about—that is what worries me. We need more compulsion across all councils to provide for all of the population.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

In those circumstances, local plans can be checked against the assessment of need and can be shown to be defective where that is deemed to be the case—so it is not as if there is no oversight of what local authorities are doing. What we do not want to do—and I hope the noble Baroness agrees—is to get perilously close to a one-size-fits-all, top-down target mode of acting. We are trying to strike a balance between showing local authorities how to do the job that they are there to do and have been elected to do, while at the same time not being guilty of dictating or second-guessing local circumstances.

We do already have a clear policy in place on these issues, and we are proposing to clarify and strengthen this further. I hope my noble friend will feel comfortable in not moving his amendments when they are reached.

Before I finish, I will respond briefly to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, on his points about buildout. In large part, he was anticipating the debate we look set to have in a later group, which begins with Amendment 261 to Clause 104, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage. However, I just say that the Bill already contains provisions to tackle slow buildout by developers. Clause 105 gives local planning authorities powers to determine planning applications made by a person connected to an earlier permission on that same land which was not begun or has been carried out unreasonably slowly. Developers should know that planning authorities expect new residential developments to come forward at a reasonable rate.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 6:30, 18 April 2023

I have two points on what the Minister said in his response. First, I am not sure that the Planning Inspectorate has entirely got the message about local choice in the planning system, particularly on housing numbers, otherwise it is hard to see why 50% of plans are still not confirmed by the Planning Inspectorate. That is still an issue, and we need to consider it further and whether anything can be done about it as we go through the Bill. It is right that local people should have a say in what happens, but that is not always upheld by the Planning Inspectorate when it comes in.

I think we have mentioned my second point already this afternoon, but it bears repeating. We are constantly told that the things which are not in this Bill will be in the National Planning Policy Framework, but as I understand it we are not going to see the framework before the Bill is completed. It is very difficult for those of us who are trying to make sure that, somewhere, these very important issues—such as supported housing, student accommodation, housing numbers and so on—are covered properly in one of those places or the other if we have not seen one of those documents. Can I urge again that the Minister and his colleagues on the Government Front Bench consider that and what we might do about it so that we have an idea of how these issues are going to be dealt with in the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework?

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

I want to clarify just one thing. I understand the balancing act between not wanting to impose on local communities and, as the Minister has indicated, the one-size-fits-all approach. However, what is confusing about the issue of targets versus localism is that the national housing targets were set by the Government, who then backed off in the other place. At one point, they thought it worth having national housing targets, so it cannot always have been some sort of communist plot to impose a national plan. The Government thought that this was a good idea and then backed off.

There is a second important point that people have made. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, used a quotation I had also wanted to use—he used it the other evening as well—from Theresa Villiers MP, when she boasted that the success of the amendments in the other place was leading to less housing being built locally. We have seen recent figures on the front page of the Times indicating that fewer homes are being built—that there is a hold-up. What do the Government suggest one does in a situation where local councils, for whatever reason, are not building the homes and there are no targets to hold them to account? These amendments at least try to rectify that situation.

Photo of Lord Best Lord Best Crossbench

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for joining in and for nearly everyone commending the amendments that would lead to more housing for older people. I am extremely grateful for all those contributions. This has been twinned with a separate, and in some ways rather bigger, debate on the whole question of whether we should have national targets for the number of homes that we build, or whether that should be left to local authorities to determine. That huge question of the balance between those two things will run and run, and there will be more to follow.

I want to pick up one or two of the points which relate more to the needs of older people. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, championed that cause too, and I liked his statistic that there will be another 500,000 more people aged over 75 in the next five years. It is an extraordinary phenomenon that we are getting older in such numbers. He advocated tax breaks to stimulate the production of new homes to meet this need. My all-party parliamentary group has advocated stamp duty relief for those who downsize because of the impact in terms of those homes that are left behind and then occupied by families. In fact, although the Treasury has resisted any attempts to reduce stamp duty—one can understand that—the net figure for the Treasury would rise, because once an older person has moved out of their home, a chain reaction follows. Two and a half or just under three sales would flow from that, from which the Treasury picks up stamp duty, so this would be a very sensible contribution to the national coffers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, raised one or two points. In relation to housing for older people, she made the point that there are cases where those managing these properties are not behaving well—for example, service charges are being abused in some way. I am afraid that I have had to repeat this many a time, but this is where we need the regulation of property agents, estate agents, letting agents and managing agents of leasehold property. The report on RoPA—the regulation of property agents—was delivered to the Government in 2019 and acclaimed as the way forward, but we are yet to see progress. We may see some progress in either the renters’ reform Bill or the leasehold reform Bill; I certainly hope so.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, mentioned the problems facing students. In a way, you can list almost every category of need and discover that the overall shortages we are suffering from as a country are hurting the people in that category, and students are no exception. They need to be taken fully into account.

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, talked about slow buildout. I am a great fan of Oliver Letwin’s report, which addressed a lot of those issues. I think the noble Earl knows this, but water neutrality, nutrient neutrality and biodiversity net gain—all these issues which are affecting the housebuilders’ willingness to build—are being explored at present by the Built Environment Committee of your Lordships’ House. The committee is having a good look at the impact of this accumulation of different environmental requirements and how best we can handle that, so your Lordships should watch that space.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich reminded us of Professor Mayhew’s recent review of housing for older people. Professor Mayhew got to a figure of 50,000 homes being required every year, which is further than others have taken this. That was a seminal and very important report, and he made the fundamental point—which is in my original amendment that started this debate—that the local plan needs to incorporate a requirement for a proportion of housing for older people.

The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, really got us going on the government retreat from the requirement on local authorities to deliver the 300,000 homes that the Government still stand by, quite properly, as a national target. He also reiterated his support for housing for older people, which I much appreciated.

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, raised an issue which he has raised before—and rightly so—that we can boost housing supply in various ways, one of which would be to give a lot more money to housing associations and social housing providers in grants. However, another would be to have more emphasis on neighbourhood plans, because when people get around and talk about these things, some of the resistance we have been hearing about evaporates. I must admit that I am one of the people who have been surprised by this, but neighbourhood plans are producing more homes for development, not fewer, in the end, when they have decided what is needed for their neighbourhood.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, made the point—and reiterated it—that these were all wise and helpful words, but the developers will find a way—they have done so far—to evade responsibilities and plead feasibility and other excuses for not doing the things that everyone knows that they should. This means having a very clear requirement in a local plan, sticking by it and ensuring that there is no retreat from what is in it on those various spurious grounds.

I was delighted that the Minister was able to say soothing words that the NPPF will take further the Government’s commitment to achieving more diversity of provision for older people, and indeed will be about boosting supply. I hope the taskforce that the Government have now established will help promote that and put some flesh on the bones of it, and that guidance—which will be statutory—will be helpful in pressing the case. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 207 withdrawn.