It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Brine on securing this important debate, and I am very happy to echo all the views that he has ably expressed this morning.
I will make a few comments in particular about the Government’s Firstbuy and NewBuy schemes, as they are of special importance to my Milton Keynes constituency and, indeed, to the whole of Milton Keynes. For Members who do not know, Milton Keynes is a new town that is still very much growing; we have not yet reached our desired size. Indeed, we may become a new city in the fullness of time. We are awaiting the announcement of the diamond jubilee city with bated breath.
As I say, Milton Keynes is continuing to grow rapidly. We have more than 20,000 housing permissions already in place, and that is before we look at potential additional expansion areas. Figures from the National House Building Council show that monthly new starts in Milton Keynes run at a rate that is three to four times the national average. Despite the fact that there is certainly a good supply of new housing stock in Milton Keynes, there are still difficulties for people who want to get on to the housing ladder. As well as growing in housing numbers, the town’s economy continues to grow, so there is substantial inward migration to Milton Keynes, which of course puts additional pressure on the housing stock. For example, the new Network Rail national centre will open in Milton Keynes later this year. That is generating 3,000 jobs, about 1,000 of which will be generated locally, but about 2,000 people will come in from elsewhere in the country. That pushes up the demand for housing.
Also, there are issues from a demographic perspective. The first main expansion of Milton Keynes took place in the 1970s and 1980s, when, by and large, young families came to settle in the town. Now the children of those families are at an age when they want to get on to the housing ladder. So these two measures—the Firstbuy scheme and the NewBuy scheme—will have particular resonance in Milton Keynes, as they will help people on to the first rung of the housing ladder.
My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester referred to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, which has published a statistic that is very relevant to this debate: 85% of people aspire to own their own home. It is engrained into our national psyche that owning a home is desirable and, indeed, the right thing to do. Owning a home gives us a sense of stability and community. So it is absolutely right that the Government are taking all these steps to make owning a home as easy as possible, without—as my hon. Friend said—getting into the dangerous territory of unaffordable mortgages, which helped us to get into the financial mess that we are in. As I say, I will not repeat the very sound points that he made; I will just echo them.
I will also make some additional points about how these policies tie in to our localism agenda and our wish to develop sustainable communities. There has been a trend whereby we have had new housing developments, particularly flats, and a large percentage of the new properties have been bought up by people making buy-to-let investments. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that—it is a perfectly valid investment option—and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the private rented sector, which fulfils an invaluable role in the mix of housing stock that we have in our country. However, I have certainly noticed in Milton Keynes—it may be prevalent elsewhere, too—that so many of the properties, particularly the flats, in those new build estates are buy-to-let investments that there is a huge turnover of occupants. That makes it more difficult for a new community to build a sense of well-being and for the roots of community to be established. That is not impossible, but it is more difficult when there is a constant turnover of tenants. It is a question of balance.
I should like policies to assist a greater proportion of new estates, particularly new flats, to be owner-occupied, so that the bonds of community can more easily develop. That is a feature that characterised Milton Keynes when it first grew. It is often falsely characterised as a soulless place with identikit housing estates. The reality is different. There is a rich sense of community, generated by the people who came to the new areas of Milton Keynes at the outset and who wanted to build a new place together. Although the housing stock was new— 20 years before, the area was just open fields—a rich community quickly developed.