I beg to move,
That this House
has considered house building targets.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to have been granted this important debate. I do not think anyone in the Chamber will disagree that we need more houses; I suspect that there will be violent agreement that we need homes and communities, not just blocks, because that will have an impact on how society develops, and we are aware of the close link between the provision of homes and the mental health of those who live in them. Given that, there is clearly a role for targets to ensure that we build more such homes, but they need to be the right targets followed by the right incentives and disincentives to ensure that we get the right behaviour.
The main house building target with which we are all familiar is the numbers target set by central Government. The National Audit Office has looked at that number and it is not entirely clear that it is valid. I am sure that the Minister will respond with exactly why that figure has been picked and whether he agrees with the NAO’s conclusions.
There is a similar challenge with the local government number, which is generally based on each 10-year census, the last of which was in 2014. There is room for some flexibility around affordability, but that is about it. In the same way, then, those local government targets also need to be properly validated, and we need evidence, so it would be appropriate for local authorities to be required to collect more information about that housing need and to look at brownfield sites and empty properties that are not being used.
Local authorities also need to be given more flexibility and enforcement power to bring uninhabitable sites into habitable use. Although, clearly, there are powers, the challenge is that most local authorities choose not to use them, because they do not have the finances or resources for a long, drawn-out process. That is not the right approach, however, and we need to consider how to make it simpler and easier for local authorities to use their powers. The real need has to be established, not just estimated.
If we are to look at the totality of the housing we need, we must also consider the challenge of land banking. Local authorities need new powers to prevent that behaviour. We could do that in a number of ways, such as by looking at the rules that allow a developer to comply with the legislation enforced at the time he purchased, not the time he develops, when it is often more stringent. One small thing would be to say, “You must comply with the rules as they are today.” We could also consider some form of compulsory notice, or, in extremis, compulsory purchase, to make sure that those plots of land are brought into supply.
The targets based largely on numbers are not enough. There are probably four areas that we need to look at, for which there are some targets and plans that are, however, not strong enough. Those four areas are affordability, environmental impact, infrastructure and community benefit. On affordability, I do not think that any hon. Member present disagrees that 80% of the market frankly does not represent anything affordable. The problem is that the link is with the market price of the house, not the average salary. I appreciate that if we make that link, there will be a huge funding gap that will have to be met from somewhere; I will come on to how I might do that in a minute.
We need new national and local targets for affordability, and we need to ensure that they cannot be diluted. Many developers, having said that they will develop x% in accordance with the local council’s rules and regulations, come back and say, “Oh dear, I cannot develop that number of affordable homes. They must all be executive homes”, and because the council is so needy of the community infrastructure levy and the new homes bonus, by and large, it caves in. That cannot be right.
The hon. Lady is making a very interesting speech. On the point about whether a developer can develop the proportion of social housing units, does she agree that developers should be required to publicly produce their affordability assessments in order that we can all have a look at those figures?
That sounds to me like an excellent proposition—I agree.
With absolutely the best interests at heart, the Government have introduced very good schemes, such as Help to Buy and so on, and I believe there are more on the way, but the challenge we have is that if a local authority complies and creates enough housing stock as part of those schemes, that squeezes the amount that can be available for truly affordable housing. Where I am in Devon, that has been a huge challenge for Teignbridge District Council. Once the percentages of affordable homes are agreed, they should be pretty much immovable, except in extremis. It should not be in the gift of the developer to change that.
How are we going to pay for all of this? I think we all accept that the fundamental link between salaries and the cost of a property has been broken and needs to be fixed. We need to look at how to share more fairly the benefit and the burden of the windfall that comes, first, as a chunk taken by the owner and, secondly, as a chunk taken by the developer. How might we do that?
Owners already pay a tax, so they do have to make some contribution. In addition, they should be required to set aside a fund for infrastructure provision, which is one of the biggest challenges for any housing development. That would be important. That money should be provided up front.
At the moment, the owner getting paid generally depends on the developer getting planning permission. It should be conditional not just on that but on the delivery of the infrastructure and, potentially, the affordable housing. There has to be some way of tying the owner to a greater responsibility for delivering the homes.
What can we do with regard to the developer? The developer is generally already required to make a contribution to the infrastructure, but, by and large, it is not an up-front contribution. We need to make changes so that it is. We need to look at putting infrastructure in place before we build even one house. There will be some occasions when, for practical reasons, the houses have to be built before the roads are, but the principle is important.
We then need to ensure that the developer is held to account on developing the types of homes that the council needs. Whether an area needs flats or two-bedroom homes or three-bedroom homes, or whatever, will be in the council’s local plan, with more information in the neighbourhood plan. Often, the developer brings an argument that they cannot provide what is required—that they need to provide executive homes, because that is all they can afford to produce. That is not the right answer. The council ought to have the power to ensure that, when it grants planning permission, it is to provide the houses or flats that we actually need. There might be a question about whether a developer would then continue to develop. If that were a national policy, rule or regulation, they would continue to develop, on the assumption that they want to stay in business.
What about the council? In this whole process, they do not have the relevant power or resource. By and large, they cannot say to a developer, “No, you are not providing the sort of houses we need.” They need the CIL money, they need the new homes bonus and they know that if they lose an appeal brought by a developer, they will have to pay the costs. That rule needs to be changed. Councils need to be free not to give planning permission where they feel it appropriate, without having over their heads the real burden of paying fees if they are then proved wrong.
On brownfield sites and empty properties, councils need to be given the power to enforce. That means ensuring that they are properly funded to do so and that the legislation has the teeth to make that happen. Without that, those who own brownfield sites or have vacant properties will not be willing to do much about them.
I want to touch on the environmental impact. This is a huge issue; it has had a significant impact in my constituency. There is a much fought-over development in Newton Abbot, called NA3. It is currently being reviewed by the Government, because the local authority did not make a decision in sufficient time. The developer has effectively said that they want it to be looked at in more detail, and that process is ongoing as we speak. I will not refer to the details exactly, as the matter is currently in train, but the way the system works means that no account has been taken of the real number of houses we need, nor of the real value of that particular piece of land, which offers much in environmental support and opportunity for the area as a whole.
Another example is Kingsteignton, one of the smallest towns in the country. It started out as a very small village and just got developed and developed. The character of that village has largely been destroyed and it has become a small commuter town—a dormitory suburb of Exeter. It was never developed to be a town, so there is no physical centre such as a cluster of shops that people can go to, to give a heart to that community.
There are a number of things that might be done to address these issues. I start with carbon impact, which is slightly dislocated from my previous point. There used to be carbon impact targets. As I understand it—the Minister may correct me—they were abolished in 2014 or 2015. It seems to me that everyone feels very strongly, and rightly so, that if we are to do our bit, we need to ensure that new housing is developed with the lowest carbon impact possible. That is not the case at the moment. Many constituents say to me, “Why are solar panels not mandated nowadays on new developments?” Not to mandate them on industrial developments certainly seems to me to be madness. That needs to be re-examined, and I hope that with the new focus on environmental matters, the Government will do that.
If the Government are really serious about trying to ensure that there are beneficial rather than adverse environmental impacts, they need to look at investing in and supporting investment in new technology to enable us to build new, high-quality, environmentally friendly houses and homes.
My other concern is about the green lungs. In communities that have been further built out, we have tried to retain small areas of parkland and so on, so that people feel the area is a home, and they have somewhere they can take their children and their dogs and so on. In a large conurbation like London, that is difficult, and we are where we are, but there needs to be a greater focus in planning on retaining the green lungs going forwards. I am concerned that we now seem to be continually reducing the footprint that a property has, and reducing the amount of land/garden. Mental health is also a big issue today, and greenness and space are very important to mental health. The link between planning, housing and mental health does not need me to prove it. It is already there for all to see.
The Government should be looking at a new strategy. Alongside looking to develop new towns—I know there are some already—they should be looking at new villages. I appreciate the appeal of new towns with their greater population, but our villages are one of the beautiful things about our green England, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Why is it that we cannot have a new villages strategy? They might be the template for environmental pilots. If the Minister in any way accepts any of that, the national policy planning framework will need to be reviewed and fundamentally overhauled.
Let me now look at the issue of infrastructure. I have talked a bit about the funding and when the money comes forward, but I am still amazed that, although there is an obligation to put in a telephone line and connect to water and electricity, there is no obligation—unless the Minister says it has changed—to put in broadband. It seems to me that planning should not be given unless the developer makes a commitment to put in broadband, by which I mean a broadband connection to BT—not because I love BT, but because it provides the physical infrastructure. In some areas where in theory there has been a commitment to provide broadband, it has been access to Virgin or one of the other suppliers. As they do not have control over the physical network and infrastructure, the reality is that the community cannot get broadband. I am hopeful that the Minister is looking at some of the challenges.
Infrastructure is not just about electricity or broadband but about having enough schools and health provision. One of the things that has continued to surprise me is that some very important consultees are not statutory consultees. One of those is health. Although the Minister’s predecessor would say to me, “But they can be consulted, and usually they are,” my response has always been, “Well, that’s true, Minister, but the reality is that if there is no statutory obligation to do it thoroughly and properly, you will probably not do it to the degree that it needs to be done.” I am certainly aware that there are many areas in my part of Devon where we do not have adequate provision for health services, which is a real issue.
Part of the infrastructure is normally funded through the council. One of the things that has been a barrier to councils is their inability to borrow against future receipts of CIL moneys or the new homes bonus. If we could change that—at one point, one of the Minister’s predecessors started looking at it—it would make a significant difference. Although the CIL and NHB moneys go to the council, there is no obligation for them to use that money in the local area where the development takes place. I appreciate that where there is a neighbourhood plan—I am certainly a great fan of them—it is a win-win for that neighbourhood, because they get an element of the money to use in their own area. Although that is a good start, I do not believe that it is adequate.
Let me now turn to the final area where I think we should have different thinking, new targets and a new approach: the community. How does the community benefit from all this? Looking back in history, the concept of planning and planning approval was introduced because it was believed that landowners had too much power to build anywhere—rightly so, because they own the land—and it was therefore thought more appropriate for there to be some control, hence the planning process.
It seems that there is a stakeholder missing from this agenda: the community. I have talked about providing homes and ensure that we have stable and mentally healthy communities, but we will not do that unless the community is involved. I know that there is a requirement in the NPPF to look at environmental and community issues, but there are no real teeth to it. It seems that the concept of community interest is very limited and needs to be reviewed. At the moment, we generally look at the impact of any plan put forward on productivity—rightly so—but we do not look at the impact of that development on the community’s quality of life, which is important. If we are so focused on the need for healthy communities and on reducing our mental health issues, that is critical. If we are to achieve this, the NPPF will need to be changed.
In trying to put the community at the heart of all this, we need to look at a viable villages initiative. I have referred to the issue before. One of the challenges is that most of the large developers will not develop small villages. The small developers find it more expensive because they do not have economies of scale, and many have gone out of business. Without support from the Government, we will not change that. Unless we look specifically at how we will ensure that existing villages remain viable, so that there are still enough children to attend the schools and enough people to go and drink in the pubs, we will find that our villages die. Wherever they are in the country, that will be a loss. We need to look at how we do that, be it through simplifying the planning permission or through Government grants and support for small builders. I am sure that the Minister is better placed than I am to address that.
I have an old chestnut: engagement with the community. I have raised this with just about every Minister who preceded the current Minister, whom I shall also ask to consider it. For all the reasons I have expressed, I believe that the community should have a right of appeal in the planning process. The Minister’s predecessors have always said to me, “You can’t, because you’ll create a nimby world where anybody who doesn’t like something simply puts up their hand.” I would say no. Indeed, a piece by the National Federation of Builders that was based on an article I wrote said, “You can’t do this.” I am sure its concern was that, should we get the community involved in nimbyism, it would simply block development.
If we were to manage the process properly and say that only a town or parish council could appeal, and if appeals had to be made on planning grounds, it would minimise the room for manoeuvre and for nimbyism to creep in. I recommend to the Minister that he look at this again. The intention is not to take power away from district councils; it is to get a better, joined-up system that works for communities, councils, central Government and all of us who want more houses in the right places. We want communities, not just blocks of flats.
I thank the Minister for his patience. Owing to the actions of a number of Governments over the years, our planning system is now broken. Although I commend the Minister’s predecessors for working hard to change that—much of what went into the NPPF and the new plans was good—it remains broken. It cannot just be a numbers game, which is what we focus on now. The system must take into account some of the other issues that have been raised. We have to look at how we will link house prices to wages, and I have made some proposals on how we do that. We absolutely need to address this key issue, so that people on average wages in Devon can actually afford to buy a house in a sensible timeframe, rather than having to rely on the bank of mum and dad and/or wait until they are 40. As Maslow said in his hierarchy of needs, a home is the most important thing for human survival.
It seems to me that the community must and should have a voice. I hope that the Minister will take my suggestions, and that he will look at them and digest them. I very much hope that he will stand up and say that many of these are good ideas. Indeed, it would be even better if the Minister were able to tell me that the present Government were already looking at them. I shall now sit down and look forward to hearing the Minister’s and other contributors’ thoughts on this very thorny issue.
Order. The debate can last until 5.30 pm. I am obliged to call the Front Benchers no later than 5.7 pm. The guideline limits are five minutes for the SNP, five minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, and then Anne Marie Morris gets two or three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. Four Back Benchers are seeking to contribute, so I am afraid that there will have to be a time limit of four and a half minutes, to make sure that everybody gets in.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I want to focus my remarks on land banking. Hull is a growing, successful city that is attracting significant investment and undergoing positive change. The council has already granted numerous housing, commercial, industrial and educational permissions, the majority of which have been implemented.
In my hon. Friend’s constituency, Goodwin Community Housing is a great example of brownfield sites being used to build modern, modular, low-carbon housing. Does she agree that we need to see that model of housing develop if we are to meet our housing targets using brownfield sites?
I completely agree, and I look forward to going to see those properties on Friday.
We have a problem with landlords not implementing their permissions in full, and with one landowner in particular. The problem is not just that sites are not being developed, but that landlords are failing to manage their responsibilities for them. There are patches of land across the city—I will talk about the details in a moment—that are being left to go to ruin, and landlords are not taking full responsibly for health and safety.
The Lord Line building is a site of personal significance to the people of Hull, as it is one of the last buildings relating to Hull’s fishing heritage. It is the site of the dock where the fishing boats used to come in and out of when we were the capital city of the UK for the fishing trade, but it has been left to go to ruin. Youths go in there for reasons that I do not want to elaborate on here. We can see from the discarded needles, the bricks thrown from the top of the building, and the fire engines that attend the site regularly that it is not being properly safeguarded or protected. There will end up being a tragedy there, because people keep going to that building and it is not being looked after.
The owner of that land also owned the former Rank Hovis Clarence Mill on St Peter Street. They pledged to clear the building and promised a Radisson Blu hotel in its place. The demolition and clearing work still had not started by 2015, and in 2017 the permission expired and was not renewed. They bought the Heaven & Hell nightclub in March 2011. They said that they were going to put a £15 million development called Manor Cube on the site, and stated that the building work on the hotel would be completed by July 2013, but by that time no work had been completed.
The Lord Line building has been left to go to rack and ruin, causing great upset in the fishing community in Hull. The company—Manor Properties—seems to have a habit of promising pie-in-the-sky, wonderful, big dreams to the people of Hull, while letting the areas go to ruin.
There are a few points where I feel the Minister can tighten up the existing legislation to prevent this from happening again. We could have enhanced compulsory purchase orders where a site is allocated and consent is not implemented in full. Those powers could enable the local authority to acquire the site at 50% of its market value, provided that it commences development within 12 months of acquisition and at least 50% of the development is completed within three years. I know that the council would develop that land, but it does not have the power to purchase it. If a section 15 notice has to be served due to a lack of maintenance and dereliction on a site, allowing it to be acquired at 40% of its market value could also help the development.
The Minister should also focus public sector funding on unlocking those sites by providing additional grants and loans. The rules are set up to prevent the council from being able to compulsorily purchase the sites, but when people come into my city on the A63, they see this abandoned building on the way in. That is not the advertisement that I want for my city. People walking around the centre see patches of land that have been left or underdeveloped. The Minister could change that by just tightening up a few bits of legislation.
Removing VAT for any conversion works undertaken to properties’ heritage action zones would also help us. The Minister should change the rules about what constitutes a material start, to prevent landowners from undertaking minor works.
When I first came to the House in 2008, I began work on a paper called “Open Source Planning”, which set out an important distinction and led to the abolition of the top-down targets that had existed under the Labour Government. It took a little while to get rid of them, but we have not replaced them. The Chancellor’s target of 300,000 houses is an aspirational or soft target, because it cannot be achieved on its own without consequential changes to the planning system. We have already made a large number of changes, and there are more on the way.
The main target that we should be aiming for is one based on housing need. Under previous Administrations, it was left to individual councils to come up with the figure for housing need and methodology to calculate it. That was incredibly expensive for councils and led to an enormous number of court cases, as developers challenged them. I was very pleased when the Government asked me to sit on the Local Plans Expert Group and come up with a new methodology. We were the first to introduce a methodology based on Office for National Statistics figures. Although there are some problems with it, which I am sure the Minister is aware of, it is a very useful starting point.
Unfortunately, many other deals—for example, growth deals—have subsequently come into play and overridden those figures. The councils concerned have come up with other figures to replace the need figure that is based on, for example, strategic housing market assessment surveys that are quite old. We and councils must have an overriding desire to go back and take those figures out to the public to discuss what is being done and ensure that there is public buy-in.
My hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris mentioned the NPPF. I am very pleased to have been involved in the original version of it. All we tried to do with it was to boil it down from thousands of pages to 50 to make it accessible to everyone.
The best targets are those in neighbourhood plans. They have been developed by the community, and the figures from the district council that they have been built on are merely the minimum figures. The community can add to them whenever it wishes. Neighbourhood plans are very good at protecting the open and green spaces that the community wishes to include. There is a great need to protect the people who spend a couple of years producing a neighbourhood plan, which is why I introduced a private Member’s Bill to take away the right of appeal if a developer has definitely gone against a neighbourhood plan.
I do not think the system is broken. We have gone out of our way to try to fix it. I would point to the fact that the viability calculations that developers have to produce are public. They are available and have to be discussed, and local councils should have access to them. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about carbon impact, but I believe—
Thank you, Mr Hollobone; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship. I congratulate Anne Marie Morris on securing this particularly important debate.
Since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s. Rough sleeping has risen every year, rents have shot up faster than incomes, there are almost 200,000 fewer homeowners and new affordable housebuilding is at a 24-year low. Meanwhile, average house prices are at a record high of almost eight times the average income, yet we wonder why home ownership is at its lowest level in Britain since 1985.
In reality, although 1.2 million people are on housing waiting lists across our country, this Government delivered just 6,464 social homes in 2017-18. That is simply diabolical when compared with the 150,000 social homes delivered every year in the mid-1960s. The evidence is clear: it has been done before and can be done again.
The housing crisis is about the reality behind those statistics. I am tired of the endless reports, countless debates, fruitless words and lack of action. The Government have a house building target of 300,000 new homes per year, but they simply cannot keep willing the completion of more homes without finding the means to provide them. Here are some of those means.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.
First, it is time to burst the myth that the green belt is green and start using the non-green sites for the homes that our children so desperately need in London alone. There are garage sites, waste plants and deserted scrublands all posing as green-belt land. Would we rather use them for homes that our young people can afford to buy, or are we happy for scrappy plots of land and non-green-belt land to remain wrongly designated as green belt just because of the potential furore that de-designation may cause?
Secondly, the Government should introduce planning policy guidance so that all new building on public sector sites is considered for social housing in the first instance. Thirdly, is it not time to end the taboo and encourage the building of modular homes? They are cheap, efficient, quick to build and can last for up to 120 years.
Fourthly, why are the Government not introducing more punitive action for the 200,000 homes currently lying empty across our country? Fifthly, how about increasing the surcharge for the 10% of people who own a second property before so many even own their first? Sixthly, the Government should introduce punitive or preventive action for land bankers. After all, if the Government started unlocking their own land bank, the private sector would rush to follow.
Seventhly, what about reducing the proportion needed to buy into shared ownership, from 25% to 5%? Eighthly, could the Government not incentivise more building of specialised accommodation for the elderly, thereby releasing some of the current housing stock? Ninthly, it is time to prioritise locally, especially in the capital. Londoners should have first option on local properties before they are sold off internationally and likely to remain empty.
Finally, how about directing pension funds into residential investment? As my hon. Friend Sarah Jones will know, Legal & General bought 167 homes in Croydon and leased them back to the local council over 40 years, for homeless families. Those are just some suggestions. In the name of all the families who we see every week at our advice surgeries, let’s get building!
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank Anne Marie Morris for introducing the debate. The Minister will no doubt know what I am going to talk about because we have talked about it privately, but I will put it on the public record. He has been very helpful in his response, but I hope that he will be a little more helpful.
Stroud District Council wants to build more affordable houses and is prepared to accept a bigger housing number overall. It is particularly proud of its reputation for social housing. The problem is that, as it currently stands, the methodology makes it difficult for us to meet the numbers that we are now required to meet, which are well above the numbers in the plan that we negotiated a few years ago.
The current methodology starts with the average level of household growth projected over 10 years, which it then adjusts based on a relative balance between median house prices and earnings, with a larger adjustment for areas with higher ratios. It then caps the level of adjustment to 40% above the housing requirements adopted in the post- national planning policy framework local plans. That sounds a bit like gobbledegook, but it basically means that, in the case of Stroud in Gloucestershire, we now face an increase on our local plan from 448 a year up to 635 a year, which is a 39.3% increase. Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean also face large increases but, quite bizarrely, Gloucester and Cheltenham face a decrease. They have always been somewhat in parallel with Stroud, so it seems bizarre that we have come up with a methodology that affects us in that way.
One thing that the Minister could look at is the five-year migration flow, which seems to make a dramatic difference. We accept the uplift in terms of the household projections because we have a larger population, but the affordability ratio has taken us from 503 to 635 a year, and that matters, because that makes things more difficult, rather than easier. The numbers mean bigger sites. Some of our good, smaller sites are not being brought forward.
There is also the issue—as the Minister knows well—of the viability assessment. I went to a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for housing and planning. I was pleased to hear the Minister’s officials say that they are looking carefully at that and intend to make it much more transparent, including publishing section 106s, which would be a very good thing, because we have always had our suspicions about what happens to those behind the scenes.
The additional problem is that we are still included within the same rent allowance area as Gloucester, which means that, because rents are higher in Stroud, people are faced with a top-up. I know that the Minister will not have the chance in this short debate, but I would appreciate it if he looked carefully at disaggregating rent level areas again, because otherwise it makes it punitive for those who want to rent in Stroud but cannot afford to pay the top-up.
In conclusion, we need to produce more housing. Everyone is pushing the Minister towards more housing. The Government have the laudable aim of building between 270,000 and 300,000 new homes. We will do our part in Stroud, but we cannot rely just on the larger sites. We have two bids in for the garden communities—I do not know if the Minister will address where those bids have got to—but I suspect that we do not have the capability or the capacity to deliver one of them, let alone both, because of the numbers required.
My plea to the Minister is to look at how the calculation has been arrived at, to give us more realism, so that we can play our part but do not end up with a huge shortfall, which will end up being hammered at the next local plan stage. That would seem unfair, given that we have tended to meet our level of housing in the past and would like to do so in future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am grateful to Anne Marie Morris for introducing this debate. She covered a range of issues and challenges, including mental health, the environment and local infrastructure.
We also heard from Emma Hardy, who covered the issue of land banking. John Howell covered housing need and a change to a methodology based on ONS figures. Siobhain McDonagh covered a range of issues, including the cost of housing and average wages, and a whole range of ideas for how we can build more houses. Her key message was “Let’s get building”, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Dr Drew also raised issues with the current methodology and the need to provide more housing. I think we can all agree, no matter where we are in the country, that we need more houses.
Ensuring that everyone has a safe, warm and affordable home is central to a fairer and more prosperous society. People want to live in the communities to which they are affiliated or that offer employment, which often means that they might not want to live in a nearby town a few miles down the road.
Housing and planning are both devolved to Scotland. Sometimes in these debates, I feel like an international observer, but today so much is in common that there is a lot there and perhaps a few things that we can all learn from one another. In Scotland, the SNP is on track to deliver an ambitious target of 50,000 affordable homes in the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament—which will expire in 2021—backed by a £3.3 billion investment. It is incredible to remember that when the SNP came to power in Scotland, the previous Administration had built just six council houses across the entire country.
By contrast, under the SNP, 20,255 new build homes had been completed across all sectors in the year ending in December 2018, which is an increase of 15%, or 2,669 homes, on the previous year. In the year to the end of March 2019—these figures only came out today, so I had to rewrite my script rapidly this morning at short notice—there were 1,413 council house completions. The total number of social sector completions, including housing associations, was 5,582, which is a 22% increase on the previous year. We need to build far more, but we are going in the right direction and a lot of lessons can be learned from that. The latest statistics show that the Scottish Government have now delivered almost 90,000 affordable homes since 2007. In the year to the end of March 2019, affordable housing supply completions totalled 9,535, up 12%, with 11,130 affordable housing approvals over the same period. We are going the right way.
The Scottish Government are providing more than £756 million for affordable housing this year, and that will increase by £70 million next year. Councils have been given long-term planning assumptions to March 2021. The Scottish Government will continue to lead the way on affordable housing supply in Scotland. In the four years to 2018, 50% more affordable housing units per head of population have been delivered than in England. That is something that we can be proud of, although we still need to build far more houses.
The Scottish Government are taking a range of other actions to bring empty properties back into use. This is an important area. I was shocked to read about the number of long-term empty homes in England, which is now estimated to be more than 216,000. Estimates put the figure in Scotland at about 37,000, but those figures are from different sources so I cannot compare them directly. The SNP supports the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership and a network of dedicated empty homes officers across Scotland. Since 2010, the partnership has been instrumental in bringing more than 2,800 empty homes back into use. There is obviously far more we can do and we are committed to that programme, so we will double support for the partnership from £212,500 in 2018 to more than £400,000 in 2021. We can all learn a lot from one another’s practice in housing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I welcome the debate and congratulate Anne Marie Morris on securing it and on saying a lot of sensible things on which a lot of us can agree. I would like to say a big thank you to John Howell for managing to reduce the quantity of reading on the NPPF that the rest of us have to do. Even though the Opposition think that we can beef it up, we certainly want fewer pages and less red tape. I congratulate my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh on her barnstorming 10-point plan for housing, which would provide the homes we need and was powerful to hear.
There is much agreement in the Chamber. We are not building enough homes, those that we do build are not often affordable, the right infrastructure is not necessarily in place and no single policy can solve that. We have big structural problems with our housing system, caused by years of Government neglect and market failure.
As my hon. Friend said, we have to remember what we are doing this for. Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010, 120,000 children are in temporary accommodation, home ownership is down, with 1 million fewer young home-owning households than in 2010, and we have an insecure private rented sector. In the private rented sector, homes are often in poor condition and 1.3 million children live in poverty. About a quarter of those children would not be in poverty if they had access to social housing. The cost of private rents is driving families into poverty.
The record on house building since 2010 has contributed to the crisis. House building is still well below the levels needed, and it has not recovered to where it was before the global financial crisis. Half of local authorities are set to miss their targets for new homes, while developers get away with paying less for infrastructure. House prices and developer profits have been inflated artificially by Help to Buy, while the supply of genuinely affordable homes has plummeted. The past two years have seen the lowest levels of homes for social rent built since the second world war—as my hon. Friend said, about 6,500 socially rented homes.
There have been flaws in how the Government have managed house building targets and in their approach to planning more broadly. As the hon. Member for Newton Abbot said, the methodology for calculating local house building targets is flawed, and the National Audit Office confirmed that the system is not working well. The NAO also noted that reducing the target for certain regions could hamper local authority plans to regenerate and to stimulate economic growth.
Too often, councils are losing their grip over planning policy. Too many are still without the up-to-date local plan and five-year land supply that they need to avoid developers overruling them and building the wrong types of homes. The gap between homes granted planning permission and homes built is at its widest on record and, as my hon. Friend Emma Hardy said, land banking is a huge problem that we need to tackle. After years of cuts to local authority funding, many councils simply do not have the capacity and the expertise to negotiate effectively with developers to deliver the homes we need. Local authority spending on planning and development has halved since 2010, and the NAO has questioned whether councils have the necessary commercial skills.
Labour’s approach to house building is fundamentally different. We believe we should be more ambitious, not less. We need more homes, which need to be genuinely affordable. As the hon. Member for Newton Abbot said, we need to define in some way what we mean by “affordable”. Labour would redefine in legislation what “affordable” is, linking it to earnings as well as house prices. Our green paper on affordable housing, “Housing for the Many”, sets out our plans to build 1 million genuinely affordable homes over 10 years, including the biggest council house building programme in nearly 40 years. We must return councils to their rightful place as major builders of homes, and we have been clear that we would restore the national grant investment to the £4 billion a year it was at the end of the last Labour Government.
Our campaigning has had some wins. We are glad that the Government agreed to lift the housing revenue account cap and to close the viability loophole, which gave developers a get-out clause on affordable housing. However, the decision to back Labour and lift the cap on council borrowing to build council homes means little if Ministers will not suspend the right to buy, support the half of councils without a housing revenue account to set one up, or provide much more central Government funding to councils.
I look forward to the Minister’s response to the debate. Will he push for a major building programme of affordable housing as part of the next spending review, set new affordable housing targets and respond to Labour’s call for new powers to end land banking through housing delivery contracts?
It is a great pleasure, as always, to appear under your accurate and well controlled chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. A number of Members have raised myriad issues, literally two or three dozen different, particular and technical ones, which my team will attempt to respond to in writing. I will cover some of the major ones.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Anne Marie Morris on securing this important debate. House building is at the heart of so much of Government priority at the moment and has been a big part of my life over the past 12 months or so. We will see how much longer that lasts. A number of specific situations have been raised by Members, but I hope that they appreciate my position in the planning system and the quasi-judicial position of the Secretary of State. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on particular issues and local plans, such as Teignbridge, but I can talk more broadly about some of the issues.
Before I do that, I will say that I have found over the past 12 months a slightly debilitating attitude in some of our debates, which speaks of the problems we have in the housing market—there are certainly ones that need to be addressed—as if they suddenly arrived in 2010 and there had not been a general failure of Governments over a number of decades to build the houses that we need. Under the last Labour Government, the peak in house building was 223,000 a year. We hit broadly the same figure last year, after 10 years of recovery in a housing market that had been decimated in the financial crash. An inability and unwillingness to acknowledge that does a disservice to the general public. Presenting a series of silver bullet solutions to a very complicated and difficult problem does not illustrate to the public that all parties across the House are joined shoulder to shoulder to build the homes that the next generation needs.
I am pleased that there is general cross-party agreement that a target of 300,000 homes or thereabouts—1 million homes over 10 years, which is about 100,000—
Affordable homes as well. That is critical. It would be helpful if, from time to time, Sarah Jones acknowledged, as she did in the latter part of her speech, some of the things that the Government have done to get us towards 222,000 homes and to move beyond that in the months to come.
On the major subject of the debate, local housing need, we introduced a standardised approach to assessing housing need locally, as my hon. Friend John Howell mentioned. We published that in July last year in the national planning policy framework, after extensive consultation to speed up and reduce the cost of plan making, to make that process more transparent and accessible.
In practice, all councils should make a realistic assessment of the number of homes that their communities need and they should use the standard method as the starting point, not the end point in the process. That starting point is used to identify the minimum number of homes needed every year. What the standard method does not do, however, is provide a maximum number of homes needed, nor does it provide a target that must be planned for. Development should not progress at any cost, and local circumstances should be taken into account. We need to make sure that constraints are considered and that we find the right places for homes, having regard to those constraints.
We need to ensure that the right infrastructure is in place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot said, and that we underpin all development with good design principles. Local authorities are best placed to do that; through the production of development plans they should set out how to meet the needs of their communities. It is vital that local authorities plan sustainable communities, as my hon. Friend also mentioned, delivering homes that people want to live in. As part of that, we need the right types of infrastructure ready to support the delivery of new homes. Identifying the infrastructure needed to support growth will be an important aspect of local plan making. It is only by identifying what is required that it can be planned for and delivered.
To support that delivery, we are providing grants to local areas. Through the £5.5 billion housing infrastructure fund, we will help to deliver the infrastructure that is needed. I am pleased that Teignbridge District Council will benefit from the fund, having successfully bid for £4.9 million of marginal viability funding, to unlock 315 homes by investing in the Dawlish link bridge. I am also delighted that in the wider Devon area, the successful south-west Exeter bid for forward funding will provide over £55 million to unlock 2,500 new homes, delivering road improvements, suitable alternative natural green space, GP surgery facilities and strengthened utilities provision. That money is going towards ensuring that planned new development is supported by the infrastructure that the community needs.
The planning system should be genuinely plan-led, with up-to-date plans providing a framework for addressing environmental, social and economic priorities for an area. Local plans are prepared in consultation with communities and play a key role in delivering necessary development and infrastructure in the right places. Community participation is vital in that. The best plans are those in which communities have been effectively engaged throughout the process. Having an up-to-date plan in place is essential to plan for housing, providing clarity to communities and developers about where homes and supporting development should be built and where not, so that development is planned for rather than being the result of speculative planning applications.
Through the revised national planning policy framework, we have made significant reforms to make it easier and quicker to get a plan in place. We have introduced flexibility in plan making, with a new, more flexible plan-making framework and an expectation that plans are kept up to date through review at least every five years. That ensures that local people have the opportunity to engage with the local plan process regularly, and that a plan stays relevant to the community it is prepared for. In addition, neighbourhood planning gives communities direct power to develop a shared vision for the future of their area, and to shape development and growth. I am very pleased to have a neighbourhood planning champion in the debate—my hon. Friend the Member for Henley.
Communities can decide the location of new homes, employment, shops and services, protect local green spaces and heritage and set policies on the design of new buildings. Producing a neighbourhood plan can bring the wider community together in the creation of that shared vision, through the consultation and engagement process. Over 2,600 groups have started the neighbourhood planning process since 2012, in areas that cover 14 million people. I welcome the fact that four neighbourhood plans have been made in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot, and I acknowledge the contribution that those plans make to community involvement in the process.
My hon. Friend went through a list—I think I wrote down 11 specific points—of issues that she wanted to raise. I want to address one or two of them, but I will respond to the rest in writing. There were a number of misapprehensions, if I may say so—that may be my fault because I have not communicated to her some of the things we are doing. She talked about the requirement for new villages. Could we plan for new garden villages? We do have a garden villages programmes and are supporting 23 garden villages. We put a prospectus out for more in December last year, expecting to get back a few dozen, but we got 100 applications back. There is a lot of hunger and ambition in local authorities to do exactly that.
On broadband, I agree with my hon. Friend that we want it to spread across the community. It is certainly part of planning guidance that those kinds of facilities should be provided. While not mandatory, local authorities can, through their local plan, encourage developers to put that kind of facility in place. A number of hon. Members mentioned viability, section 106 and transparency; we are moving to make sure that section 106 agreements are published, not only so we can see what our local authority is producing for a local community but to compare the performance of our local authority to its neighbours. Some local authorities do well on section 106 negotiation and others not so well, so to be able to see across the piece is key. Viabilities should be open, transparent and publically available, so that local people can see what is being done in their name.
My hon. Friend mentioned support for small developers; she is right that in the crash of 2007-08, about 50% of small developers were wiped out. They used to produce over half of new homes in this country; obviously, that number has fallen significantly. Part of the challenge of getting up to that 300,000 number will be stimulating a whole new generation of developers—both new ones and expanded existing ones. We are putting significant funding and assistance behind helping them to do so. We have a large fund of £1 billion with Barclays, seed funded by Government and with Barclays putting in the rest, specifically to support small developers.
There was a lot of emphasis on our increasing capacity by using modern technology and construction methods. Modular homes are the way to go. Again, we are putting significant amounts of money behind stimulating that market and the adoption of new building techniques. I have challenged large and small developers not to be the Kodak of house building and to ignore technology at their peril, such that they might be rendered obsolete. It is coming: we reckon there are something like 30 factories across the UK that produce modular homes. There is much more that we can do and we are keen to stimulate that.
Siobhain McDonagh raised a number of points, many of which we are actually taking up. We have made second home owning more expensive, we are attracting institutional funding into housing and, as she knows, we have given local authorities the ability to change green belt boundaries if they wish, subject to a high bar.
I want to finish by thanking everybody for participating in what has been a detailed debate for just an hour. While we will respond to the points raised, I urge hon. Members please to refrain from imagining that there is some simple solution to the housing crisis in this country. It is a complicated landscape, but we are applying as much energy and industry as we can to building the hundreds of thousands, nay millions of houses that the next generation needs.
I thank all the contributors to this debate; there are some things on which we are in violent agreement. I thank the Minister for his reply, particularly the further reply that we are all expecting to the points that we made. However, the question of validating numbers is still unanswered. I ask the Minister to look at how they can be validated because—as other hon. Members have said—sometimes, local authorities are asked to do the impossible. We all want to provide the houses, but we do not have the means to do it. I would like the Minister to focus on giving local authorities more power to do what he says they are authorised to do. Without the money, they cannot enforce and deliver the things that the Minister would like.
We still have not addressed the link between house prices and wages; I would like the Minister to look at that as a matter of urgency. He did not have a chance to respond on the environmental issues; I am pleased to hear about the new villages programme, but we need to look at need. It is not just a bottom-up issue, of “this is what we need;” it is also a top-down issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Henley pointed out. Some communities will simply not be able to absorb that need. The Government need an overall strategy to put that together. I thank the Minister for taking that on board and I thank all Members for their contributions.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (