I congratulate Neil O’Brien on securing this debate. I have two specific and brief questions for the Minister. The first concerns the first homes scheme. The Government’s consultation document on the scheme, released last month, includes an extraordinary sentence. It states:
“We are mindful of the trade-off between the level of ambition for First Homes, funded through developer contributions, and the supply of other affordable housing tenures.”
Yet, astonishingly, the consultation mandates that section 106 must be used to deliver first homes, rather than asking whether that is appropriate in the first place. We should not use section 106 contributions for this, especially at the late stage when many local plans have just been concluded or are in contention, and without any ameliorative action to preserve local councils’ abilities to facilitate council and other social housing.
I note that my own local authority has already been prevented by the Government’s planning inspectorate from requiring developer contributions to social homes from smaller sites. There are already problems, which will be massively exacerbated if the first homes scheme is ruled out in such a way. Will the Minister commit to conduct a proper impact assessment on the impact of the first homes proposal on the provision of new social homes? Secondly, on the Oxford-Cambridge arc, some contest the need to have any additional housing along the arc. I am not one of them, and I very much concurred with some of the words spoken by Jack Lopresti when it comes to the need for additional housing and looking at the issue in a manner that is not hypocritical.
As for the arc, I am astonished that the Government have not provided even a signal or an expectation on two critical issues: first, the proportion of new homes, which should be available for social rent and genuinely affordable; and secondly, the energy efficiency and broader environmental performance of those new homes. It is not good enough to suggest that local authorities will deal with all the issues. The Oxford-Cambridge arc is a central Government programme, staffed with dozens of central Government civil servants, and central Government have the power, should they wish to use it, to ensure that the new homes are genuinely affordable, that they include many social homes, and that they are sustainable.
Finally, will the Minister please commit to determining two targets or standards, or even just expectations, for the arc for the percentage of new homes that should be affordable, including social homes, and for the expected environmental performance of the homes?