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[Geraint Davies in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:43 am on 30th October 2019.

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My point is that if we had investment in the north of England similar to what there has been in the south—investment in infrastructure and in business development —perhaps people would find tremendous advantages in heading north and living there, where the standard of living can be much higher and people have so much more disposable income even after they have paid their mortgage.

The problem is that this country is facing a housing crisis. There are 126,000 children without a home to call their own. Rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010. Home ownership among the under-45s has fallen by 900,000 since 2010. More than 1 million people are on council waiting lists.

Labour has made many commitments on how we will address the housing crisis. We will launch the biggest council building programme for a generation. We will build for those who need it, including the very poorest and the most vulnerable, with a big boost to new social rented homes. We will stop the sell-off of social rented homes by suspending the right to buy. We will look closely at how local authorities deal with land—how they sell land if they need to sell land. The right hon. Lady talked about that, and we will look closely at how we contain the value and the price of land. We will transform the planning system with a new duty to deliver affordable homes.

We also want to encourage greater use of brownfield sites. I mentioned the site in Stockton where someone can buy a four-bedroom house for £200,000. I visited that just last week. It was a brownfield site—a big joinery company used to be on the site. People are starting to build there, so I hope that the centre of Guildford might see a similar development in the near future.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Independent, Romsey and Southampton North

I think that you might be a little indulgent, Mr Davies, if this is quite a long intervention. Alex Cunningham has spoken about brownfield sites, and my right hon. Friend Anne Milton mentioned, on my behalf, Romsey brewery. Our big challenge there is that that is the only remaining brownfield site in the centre of Romsey, yet because the developers have started the build, there are no additional powers to force them to build it out. Would the hon. Gentleman like to expand a little on how he sees a future in which levers can be applied to developers where they have the permission and have started the build and where compulsory purchase is not possible, for a wide variety of reasons, including the fact that every time the council comes close to compulsory purchase, the developer simply starts building one more unit? Does the Labour party have any great suggestions on how we might resolve such situations?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I will develop that point later in my speech, but we believe that we could impose penalties in that situation. If developers were failing to develop the land, we could tax the land in a particular way so that they could decide either to pay the tax or to get on with the development.

A Government can take many actions to alleviate the housing crisis, but of course the real answer is to build more genuinely affordable homes. To truly address homelessness of all kinds, we need those affordable homes for people to live in. To enable more young people to buy a house, there needs to be the stock available at a price that they can afford. My researcher, Kerri Prince, lives in Greater London and is saving desperately to buy a house, but she needs £40,000 or £50,000 to put a deposit on a house, so it is almost an impossible task for her.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the problem when Government put money into the housing market—to take his example—is that they simply push the price up?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

The answer to high prices is to provide more homes and drive the prices down, and our ambition is to do that, and not just for younger people. We need to ensure that older people have adequate housing; it should be designed specifically for them so that it is suitable. We need to build more for the elderly as well.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as giving developers planning permission, as the right hon. Lady outlined. We have situations where planning permission has been given and building has begun, but residents in the locality are left with an eyesore of a building site for many months, or even years, due to the project being suspended or halted. There is no requirement for developers to finish the building and bring the project to completion, and there are no deadlines for the building to be completed. She gave lots of examples of developers failing the people they are meant to be providing for.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Independent, Romsey and Southampton North

Does the hon. Gentleman concur that the imperative, therefore, is to have deadlines by which development must not only begin, but be completed? It affects not only residents in the locality but, in many instances, residents who are already living on the site.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

I concur with that. We see this tremendous race by developers to acquire potentially lucrative land, yet they might not be equipped or ready to develop it. They might not have the resources or labour to get on with the job. They have complied with the planning permission by starting to build. As the right hon. Member for Guildford said, that could just be an access road. They know that they can simply pause the project indefinitely. This is not how our processes should work. We desperately need that housing for people to live in.

Some developers get their hands on the land and then fail to build even one house within a reasonable timescale. The developers always get what they want but, for many reasons—probably related to their projected sales, income and profit generation—they chose to go at a pace that suits them, not the need for new homes. We believe that councils should be given “use it or lose it” planning powers. They should be able to levy the tax that I mentioned on sites where planning permission has been granted but it has not been built out in a reasonable timeframe, or where the building has begun but been halted for the long term, so the homes do not get built because it is not convenient for the developer to do so.

At the planning permission stage, we could place more stringent timetables on when parts of the development should be delivered. That would result in a minimum number of homes being developed within fixed timescales and would not leave the early inhabitants living on a building site for years on end. I know that major developments can face uncertainty and setbacks, but I am under no illusion: some developers enter the process in the full knowledge that they will abandon the land for a time, depending on their own needs and processes. For me, that is not on.

Local authorities grant planning permission in good faith, to provide homes for their residents. Some developers may hold up the delivery of the houses for the sake of profit, as prices may have dropped, or they have been unable to increase them as much as they claim they need to. For too long we have tolerated profits for developers being put ahead of housing for the many. We should be much stronger on regulations and the planning system for delivering new affordable homes.

Last week, during a visit to Sheffield, the Minister spoke about a corridor of prefab house building factories across the north of England—a bold and welcome vision—yet it was a shame to hear that most of the £38 million to boost construction went to councils in the south. That seems to be the story with this Government: investment for the south while the north continues to be disregarded and discounted. I hope that the Minister will have tough new measures to announce.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

The hon. Gentleman lives in a very different part of the country from the constituency I live in and serve. He may be interested to hear that we in the south-east, particularly in Guildford, feel that all the money goes to the north of England, particularly the infrastructure money.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

That is a fascinating comment. Just look at Crossrail, investment in the Underground or investment in HS2, which is supposed to go to the north—we do not know when it will reach Leeds, never mind the real north, which is Teesside, Durham, Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed and then my homeland of Scotland. When we see Crossrail-type investment in infrastructure in the north, perhaps I will be able to come around to the right hon. Lady’s way of thinking.

I hope that the Minister will announce tough new measures that outline how she thinks we can bring these housing developments to completion within a reasonable timescale. That must include measures to support councils in getting the required level of affordable housing to ease their waiting lists; measures to be firm with developers who are sitting on developments with no completion date in sight; and measures to be tougher during the planning permission process, to give councils the assurances they need to grant the green light.

Our housing and planning systems are long overdue an overhaul. Over the past decade, this Government have failed on housing on all fronts, so it will fall to the next Labour Government, in a few weeks’ time, to deliver the change that is needed.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 9:55 am, 30th October 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship now, Mr Davies. I congratulate Anne Milton on securing this debate on building out extant planning permissions. I thank Caroline Nokes for adding her contribution to this important debate.

The right hon. Member for Guildford raised many important points: the shortage of homes, unmet need, future need, green belt protections, and the fact that we need to be building homes of all types—social, council or private, to rent or to purchase—and we, as a Government, agree with that. We are tenure-blind, because everybody will need a home at some time in their life—of course they do—whatever type of home that is at that time. We know from surveys that 87% of people would rather own than rent, so we know that people ultimately want to own a home, because they feel it gives them security and a stake in society. It is about providing all those homes, with a view to helping people on to the housing ladder.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

Before I entered politics, I worked with social housing providers in inner London for 15 years. I disagree with Alex Cunningham. I think the right to buy gives people an opportunity. I know more than one person who has been able to build a life and meet many of their dreams and aspirations, because they could buy a home. The problem is not the buying but the fact that another home must be built in its place for people who want to rent. The right to buy inherently gives people an opportunity and allows them to get on in a way that other things do not.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The right hon. Lady is spot on; people do want to be given the opportunity to buy their home. She is also correct that we need to build more homes, to continue that cycle—to enable people to get on the housing ladder at whatever stage in life it is plausible for them to do so. I say that as someone who has been in every type of tenure.

I remember only too well the opportunity afforded to people who bought their own home in the 1980s and earlier. It worked as well for local councils and the Government as it did for the individual because at that time, when council homes were not necessarily being kept in the condition that they should have been, a person living in a council home could take over the property to maintain it, and bought it at a price that worked for them and for Government; and they then had a home.

As the right hon. Lady said, we need to keep that cycle going so that there are more homes coming forward, and that is what we must continue to do. So many people have said, and continue to say, that the opportunity afford through the right to buy fundamentally changed not only their lives, but those of their children.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

The Minister will be as aware as I am of the vast number of homes sold under the right to buy that have ended up in the private rented sector because people have sold them and moved on. Many of those people have ended up back in the rental sector, so vast numbers have not really benefited from the right to buy. The important thing is to have more homes, but the Government have failed over many years to provide new homes for each one that they have sold.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

There are many life stories, and the hon. Gentleman may well be right that sometimes, for whatever reason, people might not have stayed in the home that they bought. People do not know what will happen in their life’s journey. However, for the vast bulk of people who took the opportunity, buying their home was transformational: it meant the security of having the home that they wanted and of being on the housing ladder. Opportunities are what the Government can give people, and we will continue to offer them to others because our party believes in social mobility as well as self-empowerment. That is key.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

I thank the Minister for indulging me, since we have quite a bit of time. I would just like to mention to Alex Cunningham that when I was on Reigate and Banstead Borough Council I knew a Conservative councillor whose family had been homeless. He had had an abusive father who used to beat up his mother. His mother bought her flat under the right to buy; they sold it and bought a pub, and that was the making of the family. I could tell many more stories along similar lines. It gave the family an opportunity to come from being homeless to owning their own business, running a pub and giving their children all the benefits that they wanted to. That was why he became a Conservative councillor.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The right hon. Lady is quite right. So many people have said what a support the right to buy was. That is key for the Conservative party: how do we help people to achieve what they aim for in life, whether that is a home or a business?

When we talk about the number of homes coming forward, we all agree that there have been many decades of not building enough; demand has outstripped supply for many years. In the past year, however, more than 220,000 homes have been built—more than in all but one of the past 31 years. We need to do more, and more is being done—but a significant amount has been done already. We are going in the right direction. The Government are putting another £44 billion into home building.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

It is good that more homes are being built, but does the Minister acknowledge that the Government have failed to meet their own targets almost every year?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

What I will say is that we are still on the way to our target of building up to 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s. We have been building more; as I said clearly, we built more homes this year than in all but one of the last 31 years. That is key.

We have helped people in various ways. Some 560,000 people have benefited from our Help to Buy scheme, and we are helping 310,000 first-time buyers. We have the highest number of first-time buyers in a decade, and there was an increase of 84% between 2010 and 2018, so we are helping people to get on the housing ladder. Local authority waiting lists went down by about 40% in that time. We are helping people across the board, whether they are on housing waiting lists or whether they want to buy homes, but I agree that there is more to do.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

The Minister’s statistics may sound impressive, but does she share my concerns? I live at Chelsea Bridge Wharf when I am in London, and each night I pass all the huge new developments and properties that have been built. Although they have been there for several years, most of the lights are off all night. The properties that the Government boast have been built are not occupied, but owned by overseas developers and others who just want them for their value. That does nothing to put people into properties.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I cannot agree. I am giving the hon. Gentleman figures that show that waiting lists have come down by 40%, that we have the highest number of first-time buyers in a decade, and that we are supporting people into homes, so I cannot agree with what he says.

We all want sustainable development. We want homes that are fit for the future and future-proof. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that in Sheffield I talked about the fact that the Government are setting up a centre of excellence across the north. Our vision is that the north will be the centre for engineering and modern methods of construction. We will be building homes for people to live in, so the UK can be a global leader in modern methods of construction and in safe homes, technological homes, green homes, modern homes and beautiful homes. That is our goal and ambition; if we achieve it, a mature market will be worth £40 billion a year to this country. That industry will be led from the north, as it needs to be. We selected the north because of the vision that it already has. We need to capitalise on the arc that stretches from Liverpool right across to Sheffield. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares my vision and view of the opportunities.

On sustainable developments and homes for the future, the Government are paving the way for a green revolution with eco-friendly and affordable homes. We are looking in the round at how to have homes with considerably reduced heating costs, so that they are affordable in every way, but also good for the environment. We need homes that give the people in them value for money, that are good for the environment and that reduce carbon emissions.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

Has the Minister looked—I personally have not—at whether we can do more on building regulations to ensure that we make a positive difference to the impact of housing on the environment?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

That is exactly what we are doing: looking at homes for the future and what we need to do for the future. This is coming into play now.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Independent, Romsey and Southampton North

Does the Minister agree that building eco-homes and homes fit for the future will sometimes take real imagination? It is not just about building regs; it is about looking at ways of developing really imaginative and forward-looking homes that fit into the landscape. We need to provide beautiful homes in a way that does not necessarily plaster our countryside with bricks and mortar, but that uses imaginative building materials, so that they are not only environmentally friendly and cheap to run, but sit well in our landscape.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

That is exactly what we have to do: open up the whole building sector and industry. We continue to have traditionally made homes—the latest figures from 2015 show that 90% are built in that way—but a new market is emerging. The modern methods of construction and different materials that my right hon. Friend refers to are being used in 10% of homes, or about 15,000. How do we develop and expand that industry to give people a choice of where to live?

Some of these homes can be built off-site, using modern methods, in a couple of weeks, and can then be put on-site in a couple of days. That stops the disruption for everyone living close by, which stops some of the opposition to planning permissions and building out, because it is very considerate to everybody living close by. That is key, and it is exactly what we are doing.

The companies coming forward in this area include Urban Splash, up in Manchester, which is engaging in a joint venture with a Japanese company, Sekisui, that is coming over to England. In Speke in Liverpool, there is a new, emerging company called Ideal Modular Homes, and in Yorkshire there is Ilke Homes. This new development is happening, and these new products are coming forward. The Government are getting behind that, and supporting these new and emerging industries, because that is the future of housing in this country. However, housing is all about choice, and that is what we will always push; we will not only back industry, business and creativity but ensure that houses are built and delivered to local neighbourhoods in a considerate way.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

It is great that we agree on so much across Parliament as far as housing development is concerned, particularly on the greenhousing issue. I have met developers recently, and I keep pressing them on ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps, solar and everything else, asking them why on earth are they not starting to adopt these new technologies. They tell me that it is because the market is immature, and they cannot get the quality of product that they require, and even if the quality of product was there, they could not get it in the quantity that they require. The Minister talks about encouraging the development of these industries, but what will the Government do to encourage that development, so that these industries have the supply chains that they require?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

There is an element of the developments having to be done at a scale that then brings down cost and adds to affordability. That is what we are addressing through schemes such as the home building fund, through which we are putting £2.5 billion into the sector and providing innovative ways for small and medium-sized enterprises to come forward. We are backing up what we are talking about with significant support from Government.

The right hon. Member for Guildford and my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about brownfield sites. They are key, especially when we consider that possibly 1 million homes could be built on them across the country. Once again, through the home building fund, the Government are putting more than £2 billion into supporting work on brownfield land that is coming forward, which is key.

I go on visits around the country, looking at what is happening with housing. I went to Northstowe, the biggest complete new town since the 1950s. It was built on public brownfield land. We have to make sure that there is a steady supply of brownfield land coming forward, and we must provide support to make sure that people do the remediation work on that land and build on it. They must not only start building on that land, but continue that building until completion.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

There is a site like that in Guildford; the brewery site in Romsey would be another. What will the Government do to make these developers build on them now?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

What we are doing is bringing forward an accelerated planning Green Paper. There will be not just a single solution that ensures that developers build out; there will be an array of solutions, using both carrot and stick approaches. Those methods will be set out in our new Green Paper, which is coming forward.

The right hon. Lady is correct to say that after developers receive planning permission and start building, we need to see the end point. We are working with our strategic partner, Homes England. If we are selling off public land, we will make sure that we divide the plots up, so that we can have small, medium-sized and big builders involved, and can ensure a path to completion, with companies of different sizes building properties with different types of tenure. That matters, because a lot of research we have done shows that a lot of the difficulty is not about people land banking; it is about the need for variation in the types of tenure coming forward. Obviously, we need people to want to buy properties, so we must understand the marketplace, and bring through the array of types of home wanted; that is key.

We have talked about the number of homes that will be needed in the future. The Chartered Institute of Housing has reported that we need around 340,000 new homes a year to meet unmet need, although KPMG and Shelter project that there will be future demand for a minimum of 250,000 homes per year. That is why we are looking to increase the figure to 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.

We must ensure that new homes fit in with the demands and wants of local communities. Obviously, we live in a democracy; we have to take everybody’s views into account. We have to make sure that people are happy with what is being built; that is why we brought in the national planning policy framework, and it is vital that we keep such things updated, which will help us as we work towards establishing communities that people want.

We have helped to cut red tape while making it quicker to plan and build new developments of homes that people want. That is how we have managed to increase building rates this year. Furthermore, I am delighted that in the year to June 2019, new build dwelling completions—not permissions, but completions—increased by 8% from the year to June 2018. Indeed, in the year ending June 2019, the planning system granted permission for 375,200 new homes, which is a positive step, so we have planning permissions in the pipeline for the future. That means things are going in the right direction, but we recognise that more needs to be done, and more homes need to be built out.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

I do not want the Minister to give away any surprises from the Conservative manifesto, which I am sure will be brought forward soon, but perhaps she could reassure me that it will have some highlights from the planning Green Paper. I also hope that she will address the point that in Cranleigh, which has to build 1,700 homes by 2032, some 1,600 planning permissions have been given. Perhaps she can give me some insight into what powers local authorities will be given to ensure that these properties are built, so that local authorities are not penalised when unmet need is looked at.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am glad that the right hon. Lady did not want me to reveal what is in the manifesto, particularly as I am not writing it, which would make revealing what was in it difficult. She is quite correct that housing is key going forward. How do we ensure that we get the homes we need?

Key measures will obviously include the housing delivery test: what is needed in an area, how do we work towards meeting that need, and how do we get the local plan working in the way that is needed? Also, we will look at the independent review of build-out rates. What is inhibiting development? What is stopping people building out? I have mentioned the answer: it is ensuring that the right tenures and types of homes are built, so that there is variation.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

In the meantime, permissions have been given, but the homes have not been built and the local authority is penalised. That does not seem to be quite fair, so local authorities urgently need a tool that they can use to ensure that properties for which permissions have been granted are built, or local authorities should not be penalised.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

That is where the accelerated planning Green Paper will come in, because it will provide the blueprint to overhaul the planning system to create a simpler, fairer system that works for everyone, from homeowners to small and medium-sized businesses, local communities and housing developers. It will also ensure that people who want to build for themselves have the right to do so.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

Does the Minister see an opportunity for retrospective powers to be granted to local authorities to tackle the specific problems outlined by the right hon. Member for Guildford?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I am not sure about retrospective powers. We would have to look at their impact, but we could certainly go forward with what we see we need to do.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Independent, Romsey and Southampton North

This point is absolutely crucial. I have listened with enthusiasm to the Minister’s comments about the accelerated planning Green Paper, because there is much to welcome there. However, on the retrospective point, the power going forward is pointless when it comes to the Plaza site in Guildford or the brewery site in Romsey. We want something that has been outstanding for the best part of 40 years to be tackled now.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

As we look at what is in the local plan, we will ask how we need to build it out. I mentioned that there will be carrots and sticks, but we have to make sure that it is feasible and workable going forward. I agree with my right hon. Friend. How do we build these out and prioritise the brownfield sites before we move on and do other things? What are we doing that will give the council significant strength to ensure that these are built out? Tackling unnecessary delays in planning permission and building out has to be key. She asks about the additional strengths that a council could have to ensure that land is developed and built out. All of those things will be considered in the Green Paper, because we intend to achieve those goals and get homes built. We have started off well.

The housing infrastructure fund of £5.5 billion will ensure that the correct infrastructure is in place and will unlock about 650,000 homes. Marginal viability funding will help people to unlock the land. We will probably need to understand a little more about why some of the brownfield land has not been built out and perhaps help people apply for viability funding. If it is about remediation or infrastructure, we could provide support to make sure it is built.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Independent, Romsey and Southampton North

I thank the Minister for giving way again. I want to reassure her that in sites such as the Romsey brewery and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, it is not about remediation, infrastructure or any outstanding obstacles; it is about a developer who simply finds it more economically convenient not to build than to build. I am very frustrated that what we are hearing from the Green Paper is that there will be lots of carrots and sticks for future development, but nothing that helps now.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

But if those sites have not been developed, they will be. We will speed those up. If they are not built, there can only be a future development. We will look at those sites, understand why they have not been built out, and look at what we need to do to ensure that it happens.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

I feel that we are giving the Minister a rather hard time, with only a few people speaking. However, I mentioned in my speech the housing infrastructure bids that Guildford has for the Weyside urban village. Interestingly, it has around 1,000 homes and nobody objects—it is one of the few large sites that nobody objects to. When the bid went in, officials in the Minister’s Department said that it was oven-ready—ready to go—yet Woking has got £90 million of HIF money on a scheme that is not ready, so can she perhaps write to me in the days before Parliament is dissolved to let me know whether Guildford is getting the bid and, if not, why not, because the scheme is oven-ready for around 1,000 houses?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I will take that away and look into the scheme to see where it is and I will write to my right hon. Friend with an answer. The HIF is all about unlocking developments and finding the extra funds needed for the infrastructure for a site. As she says, it will unlock 1,000 homes in her area. That is why the money was put aside. It is 1,000 homes in her area, but 650,000 across the country. So far we have not delivered on that, but we have to make sure that we get value for money and that homes are built out in a speedy and safe way. I will write to her on that matter and see where her HIF bid is.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

It looks as though the Minister is moving towards the idea that we should have retrospective powers for local authorities to ensure that the sites are actually built out. Perhaps we could find a way to compel them to work in partnership with other organisations, such as housing associations, in order to allow them to develop a site if the developers are not prepared to get on with it.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

We are supporting housing in all different ways in order to get the homes we need. As I said, we have done a considerable job so far. How do we work with people? We are not statist like the Labour party, which might tell people what to do. We understand that we have to work with the local community, local councils and developers to get the best outcomes for the local area. We do it through consensus, understanding what is needed and providing support. The Government set up the housing infrastructure fund to do just that. We ask where the pinch points are, where the difficulties in developing something out are, and then we ensure that it works successfully. But how do we build on that and analyse what works to take it further?

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

We have heard examples this morning of sites sitting totally empty for donkeys’ years with nothing happening. People have tried to work with developers in the examples that we have given, but nothing has happened. Surely, eventually, you have to remove the carrot and apply the stick.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

This Government have helped support the building of more homes in the past year than all but one of the past 30 years, so I do not want the hon. Gentleman to paint an untrue picture of what is happening across the country. If we drive across the country, we see significant home building. When I talk about the biggest ever complete new town in Northstowe, with 10,000 homes being built on brownfield public land, we can see it happening. Sites are being built out, working with the local community, and that is what we need to do. Do we need to do more? Yes, and I think we can all agree on that.

How do we make sure that brownfield sites or sites that have planning permission come to fruition and get built? We have been doing that all across the country. I have travelled to Gosport to look at a new significant size building there, partnering with Homes England. I have looked at what is happening in Cambridgeshire and Northstowe. I am looking at a new development in Manchester and bringing back into play what I call unloved land, or we are renovating old buildings. That is exactly what we are doing, but each part of the country wants, and requires, a different type and style of home. We must have solutions for all of them, to ensure that we keep to the character of different areas.

The Government also want to bring back many small and medium-sized businesses. A third were lost in the financial crash of 2007-08. How do we stimulate the marketplace and ensure that we bring those builders back into it, so that the big builders do not dominate? That is key, because we are the party of small businesses, and of innovation and aspiration. We can bring those elements back in by working with our strategic partner, Homes England, which has increased in size considerably and is stretching out across the country. We are looking at how we can subdivide land to bring in new developers, so that they too can get building. Equally, if those developers are from the local area, the local area benefits too, in terms of jobs, the survival of businesses, and understanding the character of an area.

Another key point is how to get the skills and the labour force. That involves working through the industrial strategy, and working with the Department for Education to ensure that we will have a workforce that can build the homes that are needed. We are doing significant work and putting significant funding behind that too.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

It is not quite relevant to the debate, but I am sure that the Minister will agree that the Government’s changes to the apprenticeship system have had a significant impact. I could not agree more that we need a lot more smaller builders. They can now get the apprentices they need and train up the workforce they need by using the apprenticeship levy, 25% of which can be passed on to them by those who pay it.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The right hon. Lady knows much about that, and I pay tribute to the work that she has done in that sphere, getting the apprenticeship levy and working on high-calibre apprenticeships. Construction provides a wonderful career path and wonderful opportunities in an array of areas. We have put money into construction hubs to support young people, and we have worked with the Construction Industry Training Board on traditional build—although I return to the idea of modern methods of construction and getting young people excited about going into that career. At present, we have an ageing workforce, and we must ensure that young people are coming through.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Independent, Romsey and Southampton North

The Minister is of course right that we must encourage young people into the construction industry, but that takes time. What meetings has she had with the construction industry to discuss how they will manage to fill the gap that there will be in construction when free movement ends, to ensure that the current impressive rate of build will continue?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My right hon. Friend is correct. I have meetings all the time to discuss that, as I did when I was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when I was constantly working on how to support various sectors. She will be pleased to know that the Government have got 3.5 million more people into work—a thousand more people every day since 2010. There are also millions more in apprenticeships, so we have looked at the full flow-through of how we support people.

European citizens who are here, working with us, will remain here. We support them and thank them for the work they have done. Looking forward, how can we ensure that our workforce is homegrown as well as including those we need for the time being? My right hon. Friend is correct to mention those issues, but I have not just thought about them today; I have been working on them for nine years. That is why our country has such robust employment figures. However, she is right to mention those concerns.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North

Unemployment in the north-east is up by 15,000 in the last year, which just shows the imbalance in Government investment. The Minister managed to answer a previous intervention that I had planned before I could make it, but I am interested in what she said about how much we can agree on regarding bringing small builders back into the industry. We have heard about other sites this morning. There are sites across the country that are not being built out, so surely there is an opportunity for small builders to work in partnership with larger companies. Alternatively, larger companies could release the parts of those sites that they are not prepared to develop, in order to let small builders enter the market, build homes and satisfy the housing crisis.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman knows that I will not let an unfair representation of what is happening in employment go unchecked. We are at record low unemployment in this country, and at record high employment. The Government have brought down youth unemployment by 50%—under the previous Labour Government it sky-rocketed. We are the ones who ensure that people are in employment and have the careers they want, as well as opportunities for their future, and we will continue to do so.

It has been hard work for the Government to turn around the economy and get people into employment. That is the truth, and it has to be on record. I am particularly pleased that the Government have reduced youth unemployment by 50%. When we started in 2010, meeting young people who thought that they might never get a job was shameful, yet we have turned that around, ensuring that there are opportunities for everyone in this country.

With regard to ensuring that people work together, including big companies giving work to smaller companies, people do that on site anyway, ensuring that small, local companies work on site. That needs to be pushed even further. We are working with our strategic partner, Homes England, to ensure not just that there is a single big developer, but that the land is subdivided so that small and medium-sized enterprises can come forward. I am also working closely with Homes England on ensuring that smaller sites are given to SMEs to build on first.

We agree that it is key that local people benefit from the house building that is needed, not only through places to live, but through jobs. Some 300,000 homes will have to be built every year from the mid-2020s. Look at the size of the opportunities, and at the workforce that needs to be created. They will be very good jobs with very good career prospects. That needs to be planned for, which goes back to the question my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North asked about the workforce. Significant planning needs to go into that, which has been done and continues to be done. Again, that is why we are looking at modern methods, so that we can cater for a highly skilled workforce.

I think that we are coming to the end of the debate. We have covered an array of issues. I will take various matters back and will write to the right hon. Member for Guildford, particularly on the HIF fund that she is working for. However, I want people to be reassured that we are building more homes, and we will continue to do so. We have incentives and support to ensure that people are building on brownfield sites, and where they are not, we will look at what levers we can pull to make sure that people build out those sites, whether using carrots or sticks. I will take that question back and consider it. We are also talking about how we make the planning process easier, making sure that we are working with local communities.

I will give the final word to the right hon. Member for Guildford.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford 10:40 am, 30th October 2019

I thank the Minister, who has been very patient. Having been a Minister, I know that debates are generally more difficult when there are lots of Members present, but it is also quite tricky when there are only two Back Benchers contributing.

The key point is that we want to protect our green belt, but that does not mean simply pushing housing on to the countryside beyond the green belt, which is the case in Cranleigh. It is not sustainable; it is not the right place to build homes. All these planning permissions are being given but the homes are not being built, and unless something happens soon, Waverley Borough Council will be penalised for that.

I appreciate that the Minister is going to be bringing forward a Green Paper, but I, like many members of the public, get so frustrated: “A Green Paper? Goodness gracious me, when is something actually going to happen?” It feels like a long way ahead, so I urge the Minister to look at some small things that could be done. I know that the housing market is complex, and that Governments have to be careful about where they interfere in it because that can have unintended consequences, but council tax on undeveloped planning permissions is one small thing that might alter the balance of the economics for developers, and get them building.

There is another thing I urge the Minister to do. Governments always talk about joined-up working, but they never join anything up. That is not a criticism of the Minister, but she and her colleagues in the Department for Transport need to work closely together, because in an area such as Guildford—I am sure this is the case in Romsey, too—we have to get transport and housing lined up.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I can reassure the right hon. Lady that we have set up an inter-ministerial group. She is quite right that we should not, and do not, work in silos. All of these things need to be aligned so that we are getting the transport and the infrastructure, and homes are built in the right place. We are doing that, and making sure there is a timetable and a clear path for the transport and homes needed in communities such as hers.

Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton Independent, Guildford

Turning an inter-ministerial group into actual action can be quite a frustrating business, but it is a start. I would also include the Treasury in that. The Treasury looks only at income, but it is quite important that it also takes account of the social benefits of certain things it does. If that were put into the mix, the Treasury would look at its figures in a different way, because there is a clear social benefit.

I thank you, Mr Davies, for your patience, and I thank the Minister and Alex Cunningham. I look forward to receiving the Minister’s letter about the HIF bid within the next couple of days.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered building out extant planning permissions.

Sitting suspended.