Housing and Planning — [Sir Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:59 pm on 3rd March 2020.

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Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Conservative, Filton and Bradley Stoke 2:59 pm, 3rd March 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. In the time I have, I will address some broader aspects of housing policy.

The manifesto on which my party fought and won the 1951 general election stated:

“Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health and education are all undermined by overcrowded homes. Therefore a Conservative and Unionist Government will give housing a priority second only to national defence.”

Those are sentiments I completely agree with. I wonder why politicians realised that then, whereas many seem to have forgotten it today. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on his promotion, but the fact that he is the 10th Housing Minister in the past 10 years perhaps offers an interesting perspective on the order of national priorities.

Centre for Policy Studies’ analysis shows that the 2010s saw the fewest new houses built in England since the second world war, but the same could have been said for the 2000s, the 1990s and probably every decade before that for the past half century. The inability of Governments of both political persuasions in the past few decades to address the housing challenge—indeed, crisis—means that the simple laws of supply and demand push house prices even higher. The House of Commons Library suggests that the national average house price hovers around the £250,000 mark.

In a new development in my constituency, the new town of Charlton Hayes, a new three-bedroom end-terrace house now fetches more than £330,000, while a four-bedroom family home costs more than £400,000. This is simply unsustainable. My constituency is by many measures prosperous; unemployment is under 1.5% and weekly earnings substantially outstrip both the regional and national average. However, in terms of affordability, that house in Charlton Hayes costing a third of a million pounds is 10 times the average annual wage for the area.

What I call the housing crisis relates not only to the private sector but to the overall lack of housing generally, including council housing and social housing; there is a chronic shortage of homes for our people. We must consider the crucial value of social housing, which provides homes for families and for key workers, many on low incomes, who are needed if our communities are to flourish.

It is time that many of us in this House started taking responsibility for the situation that has evolved. Too many hon. Members have allowed themselves to be turned into nimbys. Even in the Minister’s Department, the Minister for Local Government and Homelessness, my hon. Friend Luke Hall, my constituency neighbour, does not seem to believe in building homes and has made a virtue of opposing all local development in his constituency. How many hon. Members have churned out election leaflet after election leaflet advocating the need for local homes that local people can afford and then opposed just about every single planning application that has come forward in order to court the support of those fortunate enough to already be on the property ladder?

In the post-war era, Britain faced a similar housing crisis, and a Conservative Government solved it. Macmillan oversaw a housebuilding programme that built 2.8 million homes in the 1950s and 3.6 million in the 1960s. That is the scale on which we have to act today. As the working-class son of immigrants, one of the many reasons I became a Conservative was because of the aspiration that our party promoted and believed in. Our party also understood the pride people took in home ownership and the benefits thereof. John Major, in his first speech to our party conference as Prime Minister in 1991, called it

“the power to choose the right to own.”

What are we offering some of our young people today? Some £50,000 of student debt and a room in a shared house if they are lucky.

I have witnessed colleagues rejoice as local housing supply plans for my local council area were consigned to the bin. We were told that the council would now have to come up with a new plan. Do they realise the time that will take and the cost of making those huge applications, and that, within the often several-year timespans involved, political control of the council may have changed, and the whole process may have to start all over again?