Long-term Plan for Housing - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:17 pm on 11 January 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government) 2:17, 11 January 2024

My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interests as a councillor in Kirklees—where we have an up-to-date local plan—and as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, just said, there are 1.2 million households on the social housing waiting lists and the Government’s own assessment is that 300,000 new homes need to be built every year. Having somewhere to live is a basic human right and a basic requirement that all Governments should fulfil. We have a housing crisis, and the response as set out in this Statement and the newly published National Planning Policy Framework fails to address that crisis. The policies are incoherent and fail on many levels. For example, the newly published NPPF refers to social housing only once and in a single sentence. There is a desperate need for social housing to rent. Can the Minister tell the House how long the 1.2 million households on the waiting list will have to wait for a safe, affordable home at a rent that is within their means?

I could tell the Minister of a family in my ward that contacted me this week. There is the wife, husband and a four year-old boy living with the grandmother, who has serious dementia, and a baby is on the way, in a two-bed Victorian terraced house with a front door that opens on to an A-road and the back door on to a ginnel, as we call it. It is an alley, I guess; we call them ginnels in Yorkshire. There is nowhere, literally no space, for that four year-old to play, or to put the baby. They rang me to ask what chance they had for a council house or a housing association home, and I had to tell them the awful truth: that virtually all the family homes have been sold under right to buy, very few replaced, and their chances are virtually nil within the next five years. How are the Government going to address that example and many, many more like it?

Debate on this vital national policy should have taken place when we debated the levelling-up Bill in this House. Many Members across the House, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, asked for the information on the revised NPPF at that time, and it is now clear to me why the Government held back, because the National Planning Policy Framework as published fails to tackle this housing crisis by enabling local authorities to plan with confidence and with the goal of meeting their local housing need.

Housing need is defined not just by numbers of housing units required but also by type and tenure. The Government’s own figures show that 62% of the rise in households is of people over 65 living alone. Perhaps the Minister can say how the Government intend to ensure that this particular need is to be met, given the policies that they have now published. Is it possible, for instance, for local authorities to allocate a site for building with specific requirements to meet such locally determined need?

Next, the Government are relaxing housing targets by describing these as an “advisory starting point”. Can the Minister flesh out “advisory” in this context? How advisory is advisory? What advice will the Government be giving to the Planning Inspectorate on the definition of that word and what they expect it to mean?

Given that housing targets are to be determined more locally, can the Minister explain the rationale behind the requirement for 20 of the largest towns and cities to have 35% more homes than are determined by their local housing assessment? Why is it 35%, not 20% or 40%? Where does the figure come from, and what will it actually mean for those towns and cities?

One of the major holes in the Government’s planning and housing policies is that there are no penalties for developers who, having obtained planning consent, fail to start building or start a site and then delay building out. This is one of the major reasons for the crisis in housebuilding numbers: more than 1 million properties have planning consent but have not been built. Yet local authorities are to be penalised for failing to provide sites while, in those same local authorities, developers are failing to develop sites that have permission. What will the Government do about this dreadful state of affairs? What pressures will they put on developers to ensure that, once planning consent is given, the developer gets on and builds out the site?

Many residents oppose new homes because of the impact on local infrastructure, such as traffic, school places and access to health services. Many are justified in their complaints. For example, in my area of Kirklees, GP patient numbers are at 1,900 per doctor, as compared to the national average of 1,600. When residents raise the issue of more houses meaning greater numbers of patients for their local GP, where I live it is genuinely the case. There are already 20% more patients per GP where I live than the national average. What will the Government do to address the genuine complaints from residents about local infrastructure? That is just one example.

Providing the housing that we need is dependent on local authorities having up-to-date local plans, yet the majority of them do not have one. What action will the Government take to ensure that local authorities have up-to-date local plans? A local plan is the initial building block that unlocks sites for housing of a type and tenure that is so desperately needed. This Statement absolutely fails to address this. I look forward to the Minister’s replies to all the questions that have been raised; if she cannot answer them, I hope that she can give us written responses.