[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Affordable Housing (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 9 September 2015.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp Conservative, Croydon South 9:30, 9 September 2015

Is it partly in Hammersmith? [Interruption.] The fact that it goes over three London boroughs shows that we need MDCs to step in and make things happen when large numbers of public bodies are involved. In my own borough, the Croydon growth zone is important; it will, I hope, bring forward 4,000 houses. The Brent Cross regeneration project is another important scheme.

Those specific projects, in which the Government, the Mayor of London and the boroughs focus together on bringing forward large numbers of houses in a particular area, are very effective. I strongly encourage the Mayor and the Minister to do even more in that way.

I also commend the Greater London Authority for its programme of disposing of its public land for housing. Over the last couple of years, the GLA has disposed of 98% of the land that it owns—that excludes Transport for London, by the way—for public housing. That includes the site of the old Cane Hill hospital in my constituency—which is directly overlooked by my house—where Barratt Homes is currently building 650 houses. That is an example that other public bodies should follow.

In that vein, I welcome the London Land Commission, which met for the first time on 15 July. Its duty is to catalogue surplus public sector land that can be brought forward for housing. TfL has 6,000 acres that could be used across 600 sites; the NHS has 1,000 acres, 15% of which is potentially surplus to requirements. There is a huge amount that can be done by bringing forward public sector land for house building.

I also strongly support the idea of using local development orders to effectively grant outline planning consent on suitable brownfield land, even if the landowner has not applied for consent. The target is to get LDOs for 90% of brownfield sites by 2020. That is a really important initiative. One housing association estimates that there are 8,000 acres of developable brownfield land in our city. It is a matter of absolute urgency that we develop that land as quickly as possible, partly to create new housing and partly to take pressure off the green belt, which it is essential to protect.

I am conscious that other Members wish to speak. In closing, I will briefly put eight specific proposals to the Minister. The first is to consider extending the office-to-residential conversion scheme that has been in operation for the last two or three years, in areas where there is no pressure on office supply. Certainly some clarification is needed about the definition of change of use. At the moment, the change of use has to have occurred by May 2016, but there is a little ambiguity about what the change of use actually is, so some clarification would help developers and investors.

Secondly—this is more a matter for the Treasury than DCLG—the regime for buy-to-let mortgages is currently a bit softer than the mortgage regime for owner-occupiers. For example, most owner-occupier mortgages are repayment, whereas most buy-to-let landlords get interest-only mortgages. In my view, that means that buy-to-let landlords are unfairly advantaged relative to potential owner-occupiers. The Bank of England and the Treasury should look at that, to create a level playing field so that owner-occupiers can purchase on an equal footing to buy-to-let landlords. That would encourage home ownership.

Thirdly, local authority planning departments are often a serious bottleneck, leading to the missing of statutory deadlines for granting planning consent. I suggest that we should consider allowing higher planning fees to be charged in exchange for a guaranteed service level. Planning fees are quite low, and I am sure that many developers—particularly larger ones with big schemes—would happily pay a great deal more money to get a quick, clear decision. That would bring planning consents forward more quickly and get us building.