[Mr James Gray in the Chair] — First-time Buyers

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:24 am on 14th March 2012.

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Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby 10:24 am, 14th March 2012

It gives me great pleasure to follow the passionate remarks of my hon. Friend Paul Maynard. I compliment my hon. Friend Steve Brine on securing the debate. Like him and many other Members present, I am prompted to contribute to it both to represent my constituents and out of concern for the ability of my children’s generation to get on to the housing ladder. I have four children aged between 13 and 26, who will wish to buy their own home and rather sooner, I suspect, than the children of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester.

The Government can support first-time buyers in two ways: through financial support to enable them to get started, and through support for the development process. We have heard accounts from many hon. Members this morning about why action is needed. There has been some dispute about the average age of first-time buyers—it varies between 33 and 37—but we know for sure that it is much older than it was for my generation and my parents’ generation.

As recently as 2005, 65% of first-time buyers were aged under 30. By 2011, that had fallen to 22%. As a consequence, young people are remaining in rented accommodation for longer, often permanently, against their will. Many remain at home with their parents, as I know from personal experience, and it is leading to a culture change among our younger people. That has happened because, in the first instance, house prices have risen beyond the reach of many people; they are outside the multiple of average earnings—significantly higher than previously. The second issue is about lenders’ deposit requirements, as lenders react to problems caused in earlier years by the granting of high loan-to-value loans. The differential in my constituency is rather smaller than the problems faced by my hon. Friend Sheryll Murray; in my constituency of Rugby, first-time buyers are looking to find sums of £25,000 as deposits. That is a significant sum for people getting started. It is ironic that the fall in house prices—something that we consider desirable from an affordability perspective—is exactly what has caused lenders to look for larger deposits, as they try to avoid making loans that exceed the value of the properties against which the loans are secured.

It is important to debate the matter because first-time buyers are drivers in the housing market. They enable others at the next stage of life to move on, and the supply of housing is in itself an important driver of economic growth.

Many colleagues have referred to Government initiatives, such as the Firstbuy initiative and the NewBuy guarantee announced only yesterday. There is also local support for first-time buyers provided by local authorities. My council in Rugby is helping first-time buyers. It announced, just a week or so ago, £1 million in its budget for 2012 as part of the local authority mortgage scheme, which will enable 50 first-time buyers in Rugby to make a start on the housing ladder.

I want to focus my remarks on the supply side. We can do whatever we like about supporting demand, but if we do not take action on supply, there will be no point. The Government’s housing strategy told us that in 2009-10, there were 115,000 new build housing completions in England. However, household projections are growing at a rate of 232,000 a year. That means that the housing that we are currently building supplies only 50% of the requirement. The cumulative position is worse, because the Chartered Institute of Housing tells us that there is a backlog of something like 1.9 million houses, or a total of 8% of all households, built up over previous years. Therefore, even if we build at the rate of existing household formation of 232,000 a year, we will not go anywhere near providing the number of houses that we need. Development therefore needs to happen quickly.

The Government can and are doing several things to make that happen. The national planning policy framework, which I understand is due to be announced on Budget day, with its presumption in favour of sustainable development, will encourage more land to be made available. We need our local authorities to be progressive and to develop plans that make land available for housing development, working with neighbourhood plans. People often say that local people do not want new housing, but in my opinion, whether existing communities accept new housing depends on the kind of question they are asked. If we ask them, “Do we want to build houses in an area that does not currently have housing on it?”, most people will say no. However, if we ask people whether they want housing that will enable young people to buy their first-time home and allow retirees to downsize, that usually gets the answer yes.

Neighbourhood planning will enable local people to have their say in achieving that. I am delighted that my authority takes a very positive attitude towards development. Work is about to start on a site with 1,300 new homes—the Gateway site by junction 1 of the M6 —and a site with 6,200 new homes in a sustainable urban extension is also being developed in my constituency. I urge Members and local councillors to encourage their councils to take as positive an attitude to new housing development as my local authority.

The Government can do other things to improve supply and they are taking action. There is the build now, pay later scheme, which will free up land for development. The Government objective is for that to deliver 100,000 new homes. Cash flow is an issue for builders, and that scheme will enable builders to buy the land out of the proceeds of a sale. The new homes bonus is a simple yet powerful incentive. It means that local authorities, such as mine, which promote and welcome growth will share in the economic benefits of development and use the funds derived from that to provide communities in which people want to live. The community infrastructure levy encourages a more positive attitude from local authorities to development, because it means that the development itself will pay for the infrastructure that goes along with it and that it will not be a burden on the local council.

A further reason why local authorities should support housing growth is that it can support existing town centres. Recently, the Portas report has dealt with the decline of many town centres. If populations remain stable, town centres will need to shrink as people spend more on the internet and go out of town. An alternative is to defend an existing town centre and allow for additional housing growth. I am delighted that my authority is taking that route.

I know that this is a debate about first-time buyers, Mr Gray, but I want to talk for a moment about people known as second-steppers, who want to move from their first home. It is crucial that those people who have started a family and want to move up from their first to their second home can do so, because if they cannot, it creates a block for first-time buyers. Lloyds Banking Group says that 61% of second-steppers want to move but have been stuck on the property ladder for 12 months. They often have the same problem as first-time buyers in that there is a limited supply on offer to them. However, crucially and often uniquely, they have to cope with the problem of negative equity as prices have fallen over the past couple of years.

In today’s market, many of those second-steppers would have bought close to the peak and, having got on the first rung of the housing ladder, they are finding it increasingly difficult to get off it. People can benefit from Firstbuy if they are moving to a new home, but there is no particular scheme to support second-steppers. I would like the Minister to consider providing some help for that group.

I welcome the Government’s initiative for first-time buyers. Schemes are being introduced that will assist people to get on to the property ladder. I commend my local council for its commitment to both the supply and demand side of support and for ensuring that land is available. I ask the Minister to consider second-steppers who want to move on.