Local Housing Allowance and Homelessness — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:44 am on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire 9:44 am, 24th July 2019

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey, in this really important debate. Mr Sharma is absolutely right: this is a very key issue. Unless we get housing right, it will not be possible to deal with so many of the other issues that concern us, in the context of eradicating poverty, improving life chances, improving education and dealing with poor health. Housing is the absolute foundation of the decent, civilised society that all of us in the Chamber want to see.

What have we seen over the last few years? We are starting to see a rise in home ownership in the younger generation—35 to 44-year-olds; that is starting to inch up. Last year, we managed to build more homes than were built in all but one of the last 31 years. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing says, we need to build more and better-quality homes and we need to do that much more quickly than we have managed so far.

We also want to see longer-term tenancies. I am pleased with the moves that the Government are making in that direction. It is absolutely right that we also crack down on rogue landlords, because they should have no place in a decent society.

It is very welcome that the Government accepted the calls from the Local Government Association and others to scrap the housing borrowing cap. The Local Government Association advises that that will lead to the building of up to 10,000 new homes a year. That is a significant contribution towards the estimated 100,000 new social homes a year that are desperately needed.

I support councils in wanting to encourage home ownership, but we must do that without a corresponding decline in the number of social rented homes. That is why it is so important that councils be able to keep 100% of the receipts from right-to-buy sales to invest in new affordable housing.

I am sure that all of us in the Chamber have frustrations about the planning system and the way in which we build houses in this country. I understand that in April the Local Government Association advised that there were 423,000 homes for which permission had been given to build but which still had not been built. The issue of slow build-out rates has gone on far too long. In my own constituency, up to about 13,000 homes in total are being built to the north of Houghton Regis and part of Luton. The end date for that development—for the final houses—will not be until some point in the early 2030s. That is simply too long—and unacceptable, given that there is desperate housing need now.

I wonder whether we need to be more imaginative about what we do on the big sites for which planning permission has been given, to which houses have been allocated—the houses are going to come—but which are left empty for years and years, even though there is desperate housing need. When I have taken my family away on summer holidays, we have stayed in a luxury-type chalet caravan park on various weeks away. Would it be possible to look at having that type of housing, on a temporary basis, on those huge sites where there are no houses but houses are planned? As the permanent houses were built, we could move those units off to other sites where we were waiting to build. That is not a long-term solution, but this is a really urgent issue—it is an “Action this day” issue. We need new, fresh, more imaginative thinking about how we meet the very urgent housing need that the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall set out very clearly and vividly for all of us in his speech.

If we build zero-energy-bill homes, the people who need these new homes will have more money for food, clothes and the household budget in general. It is possible to build houses that have no net gas and electricity bills; they are no more expensive to build than conventional homes. British architects such as Bill Dunster are building such homes now. I hope to have some in my constituency shortly. We are all asking why all new homes are not zero-energy-bill homes. That would help us to meet our net zero target and help poorer people to live within their means: if they do not have to pay gas and electricity bills, they will have more money for food and clothes, and to take their children on a family holiday.

We can do this; we just need to get on with it. To see how we can do it, hon. Members can visit the Building Research Establishment in Watford. We pay £23.5 billion a year on local housing allowance. The real answer is to build more. If we build more, we can solve a whole range of problems that concern us all.