Affordable Housing: Planning Reform — [Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:27 am on 7th December 2021.

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[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton 2:30 pm, 7th December 2021

Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear a face covering when not speaking in the debate, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I also remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming onto the Estate; those can be obtained from Portcullis House or taken at home, as preferred. Please also use your judgment—everyone here is very intelligent—and give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the Chamber.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered access to affordable housing and planning reform.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to take the lead in today’s debate. I would like to declare a registered financial interest in that I have a part-share in a property used for long-term rent. I am glad to have secured this debate, as the severity of the housing situation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which I represent, requires urgent intervention. It is not a new situation; I recall having a meeting with the current Health Secretary when he was the Housing Secretary, some years ago now, asking him to intervene in the housing situation on Scilly by allowing the council to have powers to address the rate of second home ownership on the islands.

Likewise, in relation to housing in Cornwall, my Cornish colleagues and I have regularly raised the difficulty faced by residents to acquire affordable housing since we were elected. More recently, we have raised this directly with the Prime Minister in meeting of Cornish MPs. I secured a debate in 2018 asking the Government to address the difficulties that second home ownership and the holiday let industry place on families who need affordable homes so that they can both work and raise their families locally.

Various measures have been introduced, predominantly in support of first-time buyers, which is welcome, as having a home of one’s own brings security and a commitment to the local community that is rarely matched by any other intervention. However, recent developments in relation to the pandemic and a clumsy approach to housing by some council officers, until recently, have starved ordinary working families of appropriate and affordable secure housing. Therefore, while access to affordable housing for working families is not a new difficulty, it has become a whole lot more difficult over the past two years.

In the first quarter of 2021, searches for homes to buy in Cornwall topped 15 million, and 1.1 million people searched for homes to rent. Our total population is just half a million, and many of them are finding that the house that they rent and believed was secure is being taken back by the landlord to capitalise on the boom in Cornwall as a holiday destination. I feel slightly guilty because I have promoted Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as holiday destinations for many years; I might need to tone that down a bit, because although it has had the desired effect, it has also put enormous pressure on our housing supply.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

If my hon. Friend is going to stop promoting people coming to Cornwall, he is very welcome to promote them coming to Devon. However, he makes a serious point about the fact that the impact of visitors and tourists is driving up prices. Does my hon. Friend think that there are ways in which we can act by closing the business rate loophole, for instance?

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

I would not want a tabloid paper to misinterpret what I said about coming to Cornwall; please do still come. I am going to Devon as well, so let us not argue about jam and cream. Absolutely, the topic of the debate I had in 2018 was that very thing: how to ensure that properties that should pay council tax do so, because that helps to deliver services that we all need, including for those who own a second home.

If a person is lucky enough to get anywhere near a rental property, then they will pay approximately £100 a week for one bedroom in a shared house; £200 a week for a two-bedroom house with no garden; and £400-plus a week for a three-bedroom house. That may not surprise people living in London, but it marks an enormous inflation in rent in Cornwall, particularly given that the average wage in my constituency is £25,000 a year. It can quickly be seen that such rent is not an affordable housing solution.

As it happens, there is almost no chance of securing a property. A search for houses to rent in my constituency last night returned a total of three three-bedroom houses across the whole constituency. A letting agent has advised me that 100 families compete for each three-bedroom property that is advertised. Those families include key public sector workers who have accepted jobs as teachers, police officers, NHS workers and, ironically, according to our own planning department, planning officers themselves. On the Isles of Scilly, people with jobs that are critical to the islands’ day-to-day existence face the prospect of leaving Scilly in the spring if they cannot find a home to rent. Properties for sale are equally few, and are out of reach for the majority of those needing homes in Cornwall and on Scilly. House prices have risen by 15% in the last year.

I do not want to dwell on the severity of the situation much more, other than to thank a number of town and parish councils in my constituency. They share my concern and have taken time to discuss the issue and write to me, pressing and calling for action. They include Penzance Council, Ludgvan Parish Council, St Just Town Council, St Erth Parish Council, Sancreed Parish Council and a representative of Madron Parish Council, to name just a few.

I am pleased to say that there has been a dramatic gear change at Cornwall Council since May this year. A new Conservative administration, council leaders and MPs are tackling the housing shortage. The council’s strategy, now under consultation, includes commitments to improve availability and access to homes for local residents by working with public and private sector partners to bring forward sites, and to provide modular private rented homes for key workers and local people in towns. After years of pressure from me, there is a renewed emphasis on bringing more long-term empty homes back into use. It is unbelievable that there are thousands of empty homes in Cornwall. They are not second homes or holiday lets; they are just empty—not used at all—despite the pressure on housing that we have had for such a long time.

The council plans to increase the rate of affordable housing provision on exception sites—increasing the minimum number of affordable housing units, I hope to 100%—through the use of grants. It will work with housing associations to develop a pipeline of sites to increase affordable housing, including by releasing council sites, which is a new and novel idea. Critically, the council wants to re-engage with small and medium-sized developers to find and develop land, and to step up work with local councils, parishes, towns and communities to identify suitable and stalled sites.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

In my constituency of Twickenham, housing is extremely expensive. For anyone who grows up in the area and for key workers, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is almost impossible to get on the housing ladder. The social housing waiting list is enormous, and I see people every week who are struggling to get rehoused. He spoke about finding sites. We have very few sites in south-west London. Does he agree that, where there are public sector-owned sites, for instance police stations—Teddington police station, to be exact, in my constituency—there is national legislation that forces the owner to get the best value, so they have to sell to the highest bidder? I know that there are local housing associations—and, indeed, a GP surgery—that would be keen to redevelop that police station for affordable and social housing, but they are going to be outbid by luxury developers, who will build more luxury housing that we do not need.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. That is a theme with which we are familiar in Cornwall. In fact, in 2015 we signed a devolution deal that talked about one public estate. The idea was that all publicly owned land would be used for the benefit of the local community, including for housing. It would be fair to say that that has not materialised, for various reasons. When we talked to the NHS, it said what the hon. Lady said: that it must get the maximum return. The police station in St Ives, where the housing shortage is most critical, has been sold, even though there was a local attempt to try to secure it for housing. There is a real challenge, and maybe the Minister will look at that. Network Rail owns land, and all sorts of land that could be built on seems to be locked up. That would be a great thing to address, and I am sure that it will be addressed in the White Paper.

Another bugbear of mine has been the sheer number of planning proposals that have approval but are yet to be built. I understand that, in Cornwall alone, there are 19 units that are approved and not yet built. The council intends to work with Homes England to develop a partnership to unlock developments that have planning permission, so that they can become homes for local people. Other ideas include a pilot to explore the conversion of vacant buildings in town centres, which the towns fund is seeking to do in Penzance and St Ives.

I am also hopeful that the council recognises that it is not solely responsible for bringing family homes into existence. For example, despite several attempts by me and other colleagues in Cornwall, the council has repeatedly blocked opportunities to build family homes using models such as rent to buy, because it has an apparent dislike of local people freely owning their own homes. This is a missed opportunity, as I know that rent-to-buy companies have had ambitions to build thousands of homes on sites without using any public money, which would have helped to address many of the pressures that we see. I am hopeful that we will see a change of heart at the council.

The timing of this debate is not an accident. I have been trying to secure it for some time but was particularly keen to get it now, because I am aware that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities plans to bring forward revised proposals to address the problems faced by hundreds of thousands of people who need housing across the country. Munira Wilson referred to the waiting list for social housing in her constituency. In Cornwall, there are 14,000 homes needed by people on the list. There is no better way to level up than to ensure that people have a secure home of their own.

Secure homes mean secure communities which, in turn, mean secure rural schools, secure services such as post offices, GP practices and bus routes, and the survival of pubs and churches. The Government’s plan must speed up the delivery of homes that are genuinely secure and affordable. Cash that goes to councils for housing must be spent on housing, not on endless meetings and draft proposals. A recent council-owned scheme that I visited took seven years to deliver 55 houses for shared ownership and affordable rent.

Support must be given to small builders, which are best placed to build quality homes in rural areas, and there needs to be a massive effort to attract people into the trade with high-quality training opportunities. The building trade can be seen—I know this from my experience in school, because I went on to become a Cornish mason, which involves slate, stone and different types of plastering—as a negative career, but I can testify that some of our most skilled people work in the construction trade, and we need an awful lot more of them.

As I have just discussed, land belonging to the public sector must be secured in order to build homes that are affordable, and this must be done quickly. I am fully in favour of building homes, but we must ensure that they are built in the right place for the right people, and at the right price. If we do not, which is the greatest fear of people in Cornwall, house building in areas such as Cornwall will never match the demand of an open market, prices will always be out of reach, and green fields will continue to be lost. In the current climate, we cannot leave the situation to the mercy of market forces. Although I would ordinarily support that, intervention is needed in Cornwall, on Scilly and in many parts of the United Kingdom.

Novel ideas must be considered to ensure that people can access the homes they need. With your permission, Dr Huq, I will suggest a few novel ideas to the Minister that would help to address the situation in Cornwall and elsewhere where it is a real issue for local people. First, we could speed up and increase the supply of housing by using Homes England money to pay on results, such as rewarding social landlords and developers big and small on the completion of homes that people can afford. At the moment, it takes an age to even get anywhere near the site by using Homes England money. It would be far better to create the incentive that the money follows the completion of homes.

Secondly, the Government should consider offering local authorities the opportunity to introduce a blanket requirement for all new building to be restricted to primary residence only. This policy idea is reassuring to communities who find that they are quickly becoming ghost towns in the winter months. When I go and talk to my parish and town councils about the housing that is needed, they have no confidence that the houses will meet a local need. To have a blanket restriction—as a tool and opportunity for local councils—that all new housing must be for primary residence only would really help to reassure communities who, at the moment, often oppose such developments.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

I am sorry to interrupt and have two bites of the cherry, but my hon. Friend is making a really important point. I understand that somewhere else in Cornwall has introduced such primary residence restrictions, and I wonder whether he might add any weight to the implications of doing so and whether it has been deemed a success.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

It is a great subject, because it actually happens to be in St Ives, which is part of my constituency, so I know a little bit about that. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A neighbourhood plan introduced the policy of primary residence only, so all new housing has to be for primary residence. They did it—this is years ago now, so it is not a new problem—because purchased properties were often pulled down and others built in their place, which devastated the local community. We have seen villages such as Mousehole, Porthleven, Coverack and others where, in winter, the lights are pretty much switched off.

St Ives has done it and we have not seen a particular impact. In the summer I went to see quite a large site developed by bunnyhomes, where every single home for primary residence was sold without a problem. It definitely can be done and it would make it easier if it applied across the whole authority, rather than in one particular town area. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.

The Government should re-emphasise to councils our commitment to home ownership and make it more difficult for councils, such as Cornwall council, to restrict other housing delivery models, such as rent to buy. I fully understand the pressure on houses to urgently respond to the situation today, but I cannot stress enough how positive it is for a family to own a home and put roots down in that community, support the local school and feel that they have a stake in how that community goes forward. Home ownership is a significant part of the mix and must be protected.

The Government should consider an incentive to landlords to sell to their tenants by enabling capital gains tax to be used to give the tenant help with the deposit and purchase price. We remember that a previous Chancellor introduced rules that made the financial incentives for being a long-let landlord much more difficult. Many landlords in my constituency are looking to sell their properties to their tenants, but that is surprisingly difficult to do. One idea came to me from a landlord who is keen to do this. His alternative is to switch it—avoid the tax implications and switch the property to a holiday let, which he does not want to do. We are seeing other landlords do that, but he wants to have the opportunity to sell his property to the tenant, but the tenant needs help to get the deposit together. There may be a way to use capital gains to support that transfer. Otherwise, we will continue to see long lets lost to holiday lets or sold to the highest bidder. These homes are often snapped up by those who can afford a second home to retreat to in coastal areas and other attractive parts of the British Isles. That issue must be addressed.

The Government should consider introducing a licence scheme, so that properties currently lived in require a specific licence before they can become a holiday let or bolthole. This policy idea favours permanent residents. In the past couple of years, because of the need for staycation and inability and sometimes reluctance to fly abroad for holidays, we have seen people flooding into tourist attraction areas and driving up a holiday let market that has seen large numbers of families evicted from their homes, which they have sometimes rented for many years, and these homes transferred a holiday lets. We would therefore like the Government to intervene and require a licence to be given to allow that house to move from a permanent residence to a holiday let or some other use. That is novel, I know, but we are in such a time where families cannot hold down the jobs or get the jobs we need them to have because of the lack of housing.

Councils should consider applying council tax to all homes, irrespective of their use. At the moment, the police, the parish and town councils do not get their share of the council tax if that property is switched to a holiday let or business, as we discussed a few moments ago. Such a policy of council tax across all properties built for living in would also save the UK taxpayer, who at the moment pays the Treasury to refund councils which lose that council tax income. That is a fair idea that recognises and values houses built to be lived in.

The Government have encouraged the possibility of creating new locally led development corporations to encourage local areas to come forward with ideas for new towns to deliver jobs, homes and economic growth. There is an appetite in Cornwall to identify village garden sites. This seems entirely sensible, but the challenge facing this innovation is the immediate escalation of land value when an area is identified for development. That absorbs the very money that would otherwise be used to create the infrastructure to serve a new community.

The increase in land value, which the locally led corporation then has to find, undermines the viability of the scheme and the ability to deliver the infrastructure needed. The Secretary of State and the Minister here, my right hon. Friend Christopher Pincher, should consider allowing these locally led development corporations to be established much earlier in the process, to secure the sites before the value rockets. This policy idea enables the development of these garden villages, which reduces the incredible pressure placed on existing towns and villages to meet the entire housing demand.

I would like to quickly move on to the thorny issue of enforcement, because as we consider planning reform, enforcement should not be ignored. Currently, we have something of a gold rush in Cornwall, with people and businesses buying any land they can get hold of. Small farms are being sold because they are no longer commercially viable and are often snapped up by individuals who have no intention of farming but would quite like a piece of Cornwall’s real estate. They get hold of this land and carry out all sorts of development and destruction, knowing that the council’s enforcement team is overwhelmed, under-resourced and seemingly lacks power, or at least fears legal challenges at every turn. It is a huge problem across Cornwall, and I am sure it is a problem elsewhere in the country.

It is a complex issue, but I would like to take this opportunity to suggest a simple adjustment. The Government could, and should, introduce a fixed penalty system where councils can apply a significant and proportionate fine to both the owner and contractor. An owner or developer may feel that a breach of planning and possible enforcement is worth the risk, as the financial gain may outweigh any enforcement action. However, such people rely heavily on contractors who will be less inclined to breach planning law if the penalty applied to them. As a former tradesman, I know that I would check to ensure the task I am charged with has the necessary planning consent if there were a potential fine and a blot on my copybook. A fines system would fund enforcement and ensure councils have the capacity to do a good job.

When it comes to housing, this is the time to be bold. It is time to apply some clear, blue-sky thinking and demonstrate that the Government are on the side of those who, in the past, we have described as “just about managing.” Right now, in Cornwall and on Scilly, these families are not managing.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

I aim to take the Front-Bench spokespeople from 3.38 pm, so please could the Back-Bench speakers stick to six minutes? We kept changing it, as we did not know how long Derek Thomas was going to speak for, but if everyone sticks to six minutes, then everyone will get in.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:52 pm, 7th December 2021

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Dr Huq. I thank Derek Thomas for opening the debate. I want to reinforce much of what he said, because the challenges that we have in York seem to replicate those in Cornwall and elsewhere across the country.

We have a housing market that is out of control and heating up at pace, year after year. When I bought my first house, the housing affordability ratio was 3. In 2019, in York, it was 8.3. Right now it is 11.7. So, just in the period of the pandemic, it has already risen significantly and is increasing even today. In York it is growing faster than anywhere else in the north, or indeed, I understand, in the country, at 14% in the last year. York is a very desirable place to live and, with new ways of working, people now realise they can live in York and still have a base in London.

People’s patterns are changing, but the housing crisis is just escalating for us. We cannot recruit skilled workers, the tourism and hospitality sectors are struggling to function and, while social care has not been able to recruit for some time, we are now seeing graduate professions, such as working in the NHS, coming under significant strain. People cannot afford to live in York, but we need their skills. Therefore, the impact of the housing crisis is showing itself in the economy.

As the luxury and investment markets increase, the housing market is heating up further. I understand that estate agents can, and do, now name their price and that investors see opportunity. Why are we in this situation? There are so many questions to be asked, including why we see housing as at asset at all, when we know it should be a human right. York’s social housing numbers have also been falling, but at the same time, the waiting lists have increased threefold since I have been an MP. Affordability is completely unaffordable in York. In post-industrial cities such as York, like in many areas of the north, there is an economic dependence on low-wage and insecure work. Housing poverty is a reality for vast swathes of my constituents. In the private rental sector, behind Bath, Brighton and Oxford, York is the fourth least-affordable place to rent outside of London—and the least affordable in the north. When 61% of renters have no savings, a future of home ownership is completely unrealistic. This traps more people in housing poverty.

Over the past decade, the City of York Council has only built an average of 36 affordable homes a year, and has seen a net loss of its social housing stock. Over 200 of these units lie empty, awaiting repairs, but the council is struggling to recruit the necessary skills to bring them back into use because traders cannot afford to live in York. That means that we have a skills shortage preventing us from bringing those properties into use. That is a problem right across the industry; it shows how investment is needed to get control of the housing market—to then get control of the economy.

Of those who are lucky enough to rent, many are living in box bedrooms—I am talking about whole families—or damp, mouldy homes. That is completely unacceptable. As in Cornwall, York is being absolutely overrun by Airbnb’s, holiday lets and second homes. Over a quarter of the housing stock is owned by private landlords, who can literally name their price. In addition to the measures laid out by the hon. Member for St Ives, we need to collect proper data, both on what domestic residential properties are being used for and on Airbnb’s and holiday lets. We also need to ensure that we have a mechanism or lever to secure homes for primary occupation, as opposed to other use.

York’s local plan is with the inspectors; this is an issue that runs sore in our city, so we want to see that come forward as fast as possible. However, the local plan process was designed for a different era; I put it to the Minister that we need to refresh and overhaul that process, so it is not just about numbers but about looking closely at tenure and what is needed to join up the housing and economic needs of an area. We need to look at longer-term development, and ensure that it is hardwired into what we are doing. As the Minister knows, we have a massive site in York Central that is owned by Homes England and Network Rail, which are public sector organisations, and yet the demand on Network Rail is to release that land as a capital receipt, in order to see investment over 60 or 70 years that will enable housing to be built to meet local needs in the right forms of tenure.

There are so many things that I could speak about today, but I will end by saying that the issue of land banking must be addressed. Developers’ ability to sit on land without having to pay the price, needs to be brought into focus. Today housing is a driver of inequality, and housing is too important to be used in such a way. We need to make sure that we build homes that people can afford to live in, and end this racket in the housing market.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 2:59 pm, 7th December 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I congratulate my hon. Friend Derek Thomas, because this is a long overdue debate on a subject that many of us across the south-west feel extraordinarily passionate about, and extremely concerned. Each week, issues relating to available housing affordability can be found in my inbox—by post or email. It is becoming distinctly more alarming over the course of covid.

I just want to add a bit more of a Devon perspective. First, in my constituency of Totnes and south Devon, there are 5,000 second homes in South Hams; 27% of all second homes are found in the south-west. To put that in context, 57% of the properties in Salcombe are second homes; in Hope Cove that goes up to 80%; and in Thurlestone Sands it is 95%. That has had the undeniable impact of pushing up rental and property purchase rates. Anybody who wants to work or live in the local area on a full-time basis simply cannot find a property to live in, so of course they look around to see where they can find appropriate housing—and it is often many miles away. I think about the lifeboat service in Salcombe. I think about the teachers in Salcombe. I think about the doctors and nurses who live in and around Kingsbridge and Totnes, who do not have adequate properties to live in to enable them to work and provide the very necessary public service that we expect in our rural community.

The second part of this is the way in which we calculate what is “affordable”. According to the Devon County Council website, “affordable” is not based on the reality of what people are actually earning on the ground, so I ask the Minister to be considerate and to look into how we might find a better formula. When we have a lot of people with second homes working outside the area, it pumps the number up so that it is not indicative of what local wages really are.

From my perspective, the purpose of this debate, and the purpose of the discussion that we are having around affordability and available housing, is to make sure that those that do have second homes pay their fair share, and that there is support for those who want to live and work in the area. I do not want to take up much time because I know that lots of people will make many of the same points, but since I arrived in Westminster I have made it a bit of a mission to work on closing the loophole around business rates for second home owners.

For those that do not know, lots of people got away with not paying council tax by claiming business rates, and therefore were eligible for business rates relief. When covid came along, they were then eligible for the covid grants, and there were two of those. So actually, out of the 13,593 properties in Devon alone, the vast majority claimed the covid grants. I have no doubt that some of them absolutely are legitimate businesses, and we should welcome their taking that money to support their businesses so that they can continue to thrive, but I personally know of many examples where lots of people were claiming for that money because they were just putting their second home on to the business rates so that they could escape paying council tax and then, in the circumstances of covid, benefited. That is totally unacceptable and morally, I have to say, completely dubious and unacceptable. I hope there will be a review to look into those who were claiming to be eligible to pay business rates but were not actually running businesses. That is important.

That brings me to what I think we can do. The Chancellor has been good by mentioning that he wants to close that loophole, but can we do it sooner rather than later, and not in the expectation that more grants will be paid out? We need to announce where we are going with this. I might add that there should be a minimum requirement of actual days let in order to be eligible for business rates, and the Minister should make it as high as possible because legitimate businesses would have nothing to fear—so 180 days, 200 days, 210 days, or whatever he thinks is proportionate. That would at least start us on the process to getting this right and closing that loophole.

I have been very privileged to work with Councillor Judy Pearce, the leader of South Hams District Council. Rachael Maskell, in a fantastic speech, made a very important point about data. In South Hams we are running a review of all second home properties and Airbnb, and we are happy to share best practice with any other hon. Member. We need to be able to point to the data so that we can make the argument somewhat better. So my first ask is to push on with the business rates.

My second ask is around Airbnb. It is great that people want to come to south Devon and spend their holiday in the south-west, but I do not understand the taxation policy around Airbnb. I believe that all too often the money does not stay in the local area, unlike with local letting agencies. We need to consider what Edinburgh and London are doing, and now, as I think I saw in The Guardian—it might surprise people that I occasionally read The Guardian—the island of Tiree has just introduced an alternative to Airbnb. Those are models that we should definitely look at.

My third and fourth points are on local government. Where possible there should be, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives said, a new planning requirement to have one’s house as a second home. Local government and local authorities should have the power to raise council tax above and beyond the statutory level that they have now. Again, it is about the stresses and strains that are put on our resources and our communities, so we have to make sure that we get that right.

It is great that we now have the planning Bill. The Minister has been extremely diligent in listening and working with many of us. Two weeks ago, we debated the Planning (Enforcement) Bill. If we insert measures in that Bill into the planning Bill, we might use the fines put on all the developers that break their enforcement orders to build social and affordable housing. Frankly, we need to toughen up on developers and ensure that we are leading by example.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport 3:05 pm, 7th December 2021

It is a pleasure to see Derek Thomas, who has called such an important debate, especially for the south-west. The holiday industry is important to us, but so is our housing market. Our housing market in the south-west is broken, and needs fixing.

The pandemic has turbocharged our housing crisis. We not only have a housing crisis; we have a homes crisis. In many cases, there are enough houses but not enough homes for people to live in. Too many tenants have been turfed out to make way for holiday lets and second homes, which can sit empty for much of the year.

The low-wage economy means that many people cannot afford to live in the communities where they work. The sell-off of council homes means that there is no longer that safety net for far too many local families, and that is not good enough. We need to see proper action, and nowhere is that more important than in the south-west, where more than a quarter of England’s second homes are, according to 2019 data. Our rural and coastal villages are being hollowed out, and local people are priced out of moving or buying within the community where they grew up. In cities such as Plymouth, homes are being flipped to become Airbnb properties, damaging our local hotel trade and robbing local people of a home of their own.

I want to see more people come to the south-west—it is a great place to be—but housing policy should put local people first. We need a focus on first homes, not second homes. That is why I have worked with Councillor Jayne Kirkham, leader of the Labour group on Cornwall County Council, and Councillor Tudor Evans, leader of the opposition on Plymouth City Council, to develop our “First Homes not Second Homes” approach. That is a very simple, five-point radical plan, designed to tackle the housing crisis that is facing so many rural and coastal communities because of the surging number of second homes and holiday and Airbnb lets in the south-west, especially since the pandemic hit. The region most affected by second homes is rightly where the solution to fix the problem should be first applied. Our “First Homes not Second Homes” approach is a simple one, which I hope that the Minister and my hon. Friend Matthew Pennycook will be able to support.

First, let us give councils the power to quadruple council tax on holiday lets and empty second homes. We need an economic disincentive against keeping houses empty, denying local people homes.

Secondly, let us introduce a licensing scheme for second homes, holiday homes and Airbnb lets, to understand the full extent and to set a minimum floor on the number of homes in any community that must be for local people and not for second homes, holiday homes or Airbnb lets. The minimum floor should be 51%, meaning that no community can be dominated by folks who do not live there. Then let us give councils the power to adjust that threshold upwards, to suit local circumstances—60%, 75% or 90%—because it is time that we called time on the takeover of the south-west by absent landlords.

Thirdly, let us create a “last shop in the village” fund, so that councils gain the power to introduce an affordable community infrastructure levy on empty and underused second homes, to support the last shop in the village, the last pharmacy, the last post office, the last pub and the last bus. Hollowed-out communities do not sustain essential community infrastructure and services. We need to find a new way to keep them in business.

Because people should not need to move away from where they grew up to get a decent job and a home they can afford, I want us to focus, fourthly, on an effort to build first homes, not second homes. That means building more genuinely affordable zero-carbon homes to buy or rent and for social rent, with a preference and priority for local people. In particular, that should focus on the key workers who keep our communities alive—the nurses, the shop workers, the teachers, the care workers, the farm workers who are now being priced out of our communities.

Finally, we need to introduce a discount lock for future renters and purchasers of those properties, to ensure that affordable first homes are not lost in the market blizzard of second home and holiday let purchases after that first family moves on, staircasing the benefits, not losing them. That is why we need a focus on first homes, not second homes.

We need to be bold, because our communities are being dominated by a second-homes approach. If we do not act soon, the south-west’s amazing attractiveness will be lost. Shops will not have anyone to work in them. Care homes will not have anyone to support the people inside. We will lose the essential spirit of the west country. That is why we need a focus on first homes, not second homes. I hope the Minister will respond to those points. We need to put first homes first and second homes second.

Photo of Mark Fletcher Mark Fletcher Conservative, Bolsover 3:10 pm, 7th December 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I congratulate my hon. Friend Derek Thomas on securing, as he called it, a timely debate that is at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. I question the Cornwall and Devon bias to my right; Derbyshire is where people should be going for their holidays.

Like many former coal communities, the Bolsover constituency is fairly rural. Small pit villages, such as Glapwell and Shuttlewood, and small towns are its backbone. Anyone who has driven through the constituency recently will have seen the number of new dwellings popping up—439 since 2019. I have had the pleasure of visiting many of them, and many are affordable. It is a step in the right direction. It is great to hear how welcome those new residents are, many of whom are moving from outside the constituency and, indeed, from the south-east because they realise the benefits of living in Derbyshire.

In my relatively short time as the Member for Bolsover, my mission has always been focused on four things: infrastructure, skilled jobs, education and housing, which are all tied together. An area needs those things to thrive. They cannot be looked at in isolation. There is no point having housing without jobs and infrastructure, and there is no point building it all without equipping people with the skills they need to take advantage of those opportunities. Places in my constituency such as Shirebrook have suffered cycles of stagnation and deprivation that are difficult to disrupt. Nothing has ever really replaced the jobs and pride that the mines brought to many of my local communities. Honest people can work hard their entire lives, but because of the social and economic facts of the area, it is hard to grow the standard of living.

It is crucial that the Government continue to make bold decisions to promote the sustainable building of new homes in parts of the world like Shirebrook, which the Minister visited recently. On top of the tremendous benefits to the construction sector, new affordable housing is an important part of our offer to young people in our community. For too long, it has been accepted that, to find a good job and start a good life, people have to move away from places like Bolsover, where there are limited services and opportunities. Building affordable homes gives young people an incentive to stay local and invest their energy and creativity in the place they grew up. It can keep families together; staying local allows young people to maintain their most powerful support networks during a mental health crisis, takes pressure off the social care system and breaks down the worrying trend of loneliness in old age.

That is why I particularly welcome the Government’s decision to launch the First Homes scheme in Shirebrook. It allows local people and key workers the opportunity to buy their first home at a 30% discount. I was grateful to host the then Secretary of State for Housing, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, who I think appreciated the unique challenges associated with regeneration in my constituency. Actively building new homes allows us to plan and grow our public services sustainably. Why do we build a few more houses in a village, with a salami-slice approach, rather than building a proper new estate with a school and GP practice, which can benefit the whole community? Building sustainably means a stronger local market for public services, which means better services for residents. When residents are against developments, it is almost certainly because they are unsustainable.

That is also why I am supporting and working with a number of local stakeholders on a project that has been known by many names, but which we will refer to as the Shirebrook growth corridor. We are looking to bring together infrastructure, housing, education and employment opportunities, which can help to break the cycle of stagnation that places such as Shirebrook have seen and unleash our potential.

I am sure the Minister will agree that now is the best time to embrace developing sustainably. We need to look at how we can use green technologies, such as mine water heating, electric vehicle charging points and heat pumps to reduce energy bills, reduce emissions and make the journey to net zero much more achievable. That is precisely what we are doing with the Shirebrook growth corridor.

All of that is not without its challenges, however. During the summer, I did a series of village hall meetings across my constituency and was slightly amazed that the most raised topic was not anything on the national agenda; it was parking in rural villages. Many of those areas were built at a time when most families did not have a car and if they did, they had one. Now, it is perfectly common for families to have two or three. That puts a huge burden on the villages in question and people do not like the traffic that builds up. I therefore encourage the Minister to get his officials to give some serious thought as to how we can solve the great parking issue in rural areas, particularly in areas such as Pinxton.

I would also raise section 106 moneys, because unfortunately, we hear time and again that although section 106 moneys have been agreed, they do not appear. Serious efforts are needed to ensure that residents are not being undersold by developers.

In closing, Dr Huq, as I can see that you are giving me that look, affordable housing is a vital cog in the system, but we need to see it in line with all the other elements that make sustainable communities. I am grateful for the way the Department has engaged with me so far, but I look forward to further conversations on the Shirebrook growth corridor, among many other things.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:16 pm, 7th December 2021

I congratulate Derek Thomas on bringing this matter to Westminster Hall today. It will be no surprise to right hon. and hon. Members that I am here to give a Northern Ireland perspective. It is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I want to replicate the viewpoints put forward by others.

I am reminded that the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a policy and a strategy to ensure that people who wanted to buy their homes could do so. That introduced many people to the opportunity of having their own home. I have supported that over the years. I bought my own home and my mother and father’s farm. The opportunity was there to do so and the opportunity to reduce the price was also helpful for me.

While I am aware of the differences between the planning system in Northern Ireland and that in mainland UK, the similarities in need are outstanding. In my constituency of Strangford, families are in need of suitable homes, as are young people, and our elderly and disabled are in need of affordable homes. We have currently not found the right way to provide that. Co-ownership is one option I suggest to the Minister and we have schemes of that kind in Northern Ireland. My second son Ian and his wife Ashley bought a co-ownership home, where they bought half and the other half was controlled by the firm that built the homes. That meant people were able to have access to homes at an early stage in life. Is that a policy that the Government, and the Minister in particular, are looking at for the mainland? People can access half the price of co-ownership homes, thereby providing the possibility of home ownership. It has to be set up by the firms, but it can happen.

To give a snapshot of the needs at home, the population of Ards and North Down is projected to rise by some 1.5% from 2019 to 2029, along with the percentage of older people who are 65-plus. As other hon. Members have said, we have areas where people want to go and live—it is good that that is the case—thereby the demand for houses has risen dramatically. I know that those from the 65-plus vintage buy a lot of the houses down on the Ards peninsula, where I live. However, it also means that the social stock is under pressure. Some 25% of buildings in the years 2019 to 2029 will need to be specifically for people who are elderly or disabled, or will need to be age-friendly. The housing growth indicator shows that there will be a new dwelling requirement of 5,500 in Ards and North Down for the 14-year period starting in 2016. In that year, there were more than 70,000 households in Ards and North Down, of which 72% were owner-occupied, 16% were privately rented, and 12% were socially rented.

The reason I list those stats is that they show a rising demand for social housing. Even if we built 5,500 houses over that 14-year period, the demand for social housing in Ards and North Down at this moment is over 3,000, so that tells us what the need is. The public and private sectors are simply not meeting the need that is there. My constituency has much to offer—others have said this as well, so I will say the same thing—including a quick commute to Belfast just up the road. There is the joy of great high street shopping, salons and solicitors. Everything is there to make homes much more attractive if appropriate housing were available.

I have outlined the housing sector report that was presented to Ards and North Down council in an attempt to explain why there must be changes in planning zones and policy, in order to allow affordable, economic, environmentally friendly housing to meet the need that it perceives. The right housing in the right place at the right price can empower people to put roots down and to feel that where they live is where they want to be. The upshot is that weighted consideration must be given to new building applications, taking in the need in the area. I need to impress on Members that when I talk about housing stress, it is not a matter of numbers on a page: it is a matter of people’s lives. It is about the pensioners who are unable to heat their old four-bedroom draughty houses; the young families who are unable to pay £850 per month for a two-bed terraced house in the private sector housing market; the young person who is unable to leave their parents’ home and live their own life; or the abused partner who is unable to leave their home, as there is nowhere they can afford to go. Those are the realities in my constituency, and they are realities in everybody else’s constituency.

I fully support what the hon. Member for St Ives has said. I very much look forward to the Minister’s response: I know it will not be about what he can do to help us in Strangford, but he will be able to help us look at the bigger picture. We need changes in the system that lead to changes on the ground, and that work needs to begin now, so I urge the Minister to work co-operatively with the devolved Administrations—that is where there is contact between the Minister and my representation of the constituency of Strangford—to swap and enlarge ideas and strategies to allow UK-wide changes that will enable affordable housing to be built, thereby enabling our need to be met.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East 3:23 pm, 7th December 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq. I thank Derek Thomas for securing this important debate on planning reform and affordable housing, and also for his work as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on brain tumours, of which I happen to be a member.

The two issues we are debating today are of great importance to people across the whole country, including in my constituency of Bolton South East. Access to affordable, good-quality housing is the single biggest issue that fills my mailbox every week, and I am sure it fills other Members’ mailboxes as well. The importance of housing has been highlighted by the covid pandemic, and specifically by the effect it had on those parts of the country where there is a lot of overcrowding due to multi-generational households or because many people cannot afford a home of their own and are living in rented accommodation—perhaps renting a room in a house. The pandemic threw up this big problem that we have in our country and, to be fair, it is not a party political issue. Over the past 40 or 50 years, there seems to have been a failure to build more affordable, decent homes in our country across the piece.

Obviously, most Members are not able to help when our constituents write to us about such issues, irrespective of how much effort we make, because the housing stock is just not there. In Bolton alone, there are 9,000 people on the waiting list for a council property. I pay tribute to the work of Bolton at Home, whose representative I met this summer at one of its new developments. Jon Lord, the chief executive officer, told me that a single three-bedroom home for social rent, which had just been finished, had received 400 applications from families—400 people applying for one home. How is Bolton at Home meant to choose which of those 400 families, who are all equally needy, is deemed worthy of that property?

When it comes to owning a home, an affordable home is classed as costing no more than 30% of the average monthly household income. Although the median income in Bolton is around £26,000, which equates to a house price of around £80,000, the average house price in my area is £125,000. How does that add up? That builds on the point made by my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell about the cost of housing in relation to salaries.

Some 14,000 of my constituents are on universal credit, the majority of whom are working people on low incomes. We are living through a massive housing crisis, and that is compounded by the fact that mine is the 37th most deprived constituency in the United Kingdom, with almost 9% unemployment and 40% of children living in poverty. The route out of the crisis is clear: we need to build more homes.

On planning reform, I want to briefly discuss an issue that is important to my constituents. I am concerned that the Government will implicitly force local councils like mine to turn greenfield sites into housing developments, rather than existing brownfield sites. In Bolton, historically an industry-based town, we are blessed with more than 100 existing brownfield sites, predominantly in the form of ex-factories. However, the lack of available funding and the costs of converting those premises means councils are often forced to give planning permission to build on green spaces. Often, if planning permission is denied, companies appeal to the Secretary of State and, because of the rules, most of the time they are successful, so our green space is taken.

I would like to see a legislative and financial framework to assist housing developers, private developers, local authorities and social housing companies to convert existing brownfield sites into affordable housing, which could alleviate much of our housing crisis. That is a possible solution that could lead to affordable housing. We do not have to have this crisis. It is not just in Bolton—across the country, there are brownfield sites that are eyesores, blotting the landscapes of our towns and cities.

We should do something practical to see how we can use brownfield sites rather than greenfield sites. We know that because of the particular buildings that are there, the preparation needed to make it possible to build on that land will cost money. I ask the Government to work nationally, through a special body, with local authorities or even with private developers to give out grants to make the land usable, and then it can be built on. The houses could then be sold with a 5% or 10% profit on each property, or it could also be done through a housing association. There are ways that we can deal with the issue.

Again, it is not a party political issue. Brownfield sites have not been utilised by any Government for so long, and they are pieces of land that could be used for building good homes. I really hope that the Minister will go back and talk to the relevant people. I am sure that they can work out a suitable, fair formula that helps everyone to convert brownfield sites and thereby provide homes. I know that if the brownfield sites in my area were converted, my constituency would not have a housing problem.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Labour/Co-operative, Vauxhall 3:30 pm, 7th December 2021

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, and I pay tribute to Derek Thomas for securing this really important debate. I associate myself with the remarks that many Members have made about planning reform, but I want to focus on why we desperately need a clear solution to affordable housing.

My constituency of Vauxhall lies in the centre of London, just over the river from this House. As such, it faces the brunt of the affordable housing crisis in this country. As an MP, I get constituents contacting my office every day with problems that are exacerbated by the lack of affordable housing in Vauxhall. Many of those who contact me have horror stories of poor housing, urgent maintenance issues and severe overcrowding, which are making their lives a misery.

One of my constituents lives with four other family members in a one-bedroom flat, and they are forced to share bunk beds because there just is not enough room for individual beds. Would this be tolerable to any of us? My constituent also told me that right above the bed, there is a massive crack on the ceiling that lets in cold air, and that the flat is damp and has rodent problems. My constituent’s grandmother has dementia and has to adhere to strict guidance, meaning that the rest of the family are confined to the bedroom.

Another constituent explained to me that she lives with her three children, two of whom have been diagnosed with autism. They, too, share a one-bedroom flat, with no room for the children to develop. They also highlighted safety concerns; one child nearly fell from the third floor before a neighbour intervened. I defy anyone in this House to say that we should not expect such cases in Britain today. We are the fifth-richest economy in the world, but the truth is that unacceptable housing standards, poor housing and overcrowding are far too often the norm—not just in Vauxhall and London, but across the country.

The pandemic highlighted the devastating impact of overcrowded housing on households and families. In the past one and a half years, those in overcrowded housing have been at more risk of contracting covid, and such households also suffered the most from measures to combat covid. Our local councils play a vital role in housing supply and council reform, and research by the Local Government Association highlights that investment in new social housing could generate £330 billion for the country over 50 years. In turn, that would generate work in the construction sector, with over 89,000 jobs. More importantly, however, it would offer a clear route out of unaffordable housing and insecure private rental.

A survey commissioned by the National Housing Federation found that nearly 20% of respondents had experienced mental or physical health problems because of the lack of space in their homes during lockdown. We cannot fail to see the link between inequality and the social injustices that plague our society, so I ask the Minister to look at how we can increase the supply of genuinely affordable housing and social housing—like the home I grew up in, in Vauxhall—at the heart of housing policy. Only a publicly funded programme of council house building, supported by Government grants, will help the Government to meet their target of 300,000 new homes.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:34 pm, 7th December 2021

It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq, just as it is to respond to what has been an extremely thoughtful and well-informed discussion. I congratulate Derek Thomas on securing this important debate, and on the considered way in which he opened it. He spoke with great clarity and persuasiveness about the severe housing pressures in his corner of England—pressures that, as he made clear, have been exacerbated by the pandemic—and he set out a number of interesting proposals to address them, many of which warrant further consideration.

When it comes to second and holiday home ownership in particular, we very much agree that more needs to be done to ensure that local first-time buyers get priority access to new homes for market sale, and that local people who are not in a position to buy or to secure social housing can access affordable private rentals, rather than those homes being used by landlords exclusively as short or holiday lets.

As an aside, I very much welcome the fact that there is an energetic all-party group on the short lets sector, because the regulatory balance in this area is delicate and needs to be approached sensibly, without party political controversy. If the Minister has time, I hope that he might outline whether the Government have any plans to better regulate the short-term platforms spoken about by many in this debate.

I strongly commend the detailed “First Homes not Second Homes” proposals set out today by my hon. Friend Luke Pollard. I know the painstaking work he has been doing, as have Councillor Jayne Kirkham, Councillor Kate Ewert and others, to ensure that local people in Devon and Cornwall are not priced out of their local communities. I hope that the Minister will give those proposals serious consideration.

More generally, the hon. Member for St Ives was absolutely right to have used this debate to make the case, on behalf of his constituents, for focusing on delivering the right quantity of new housing in the right places at prices that local people can afford. It was implicit in his remarks that that should be done in a way that secures buy-in from existing local communities. I think those sentiments were shared widely by Members on both sides of the Chamber. Where he and I differ is in the belief that the means of achieving that vision are the flawed proposals outlined in the Government’s August 2020 White Paper for reform of the planning system—assuming that those proposals eventually emerge in some recognisable form from the review initiated by the Secretary of State following his appointment in September.

I will use what remains of my time to pick up on the two main themes of the debate—availability and affordability of housing—but also to draw out the third element, which is what the public’s role in the planning process should be. When it comes to the availability of housing, all Members who have spoken today have made it clear that there is widespread agreement on the need to accelerate the delivery of new housing across the country.

While the Opposition do not deny that the existing planning framework has its problems and there is an obvious case for reform, there is scant evidence that it is the primary cause of supply constraints. Even with all the caveats that must be considered, the statistics make it clear that the total number of units granted planning consent each year has consistently outstripped the rate of construction over the past decade, and the number of un-built permissions is highest in the regions with highest demand. Amazingly, London, of all places, where housing pressures are acute—I know this from my constituency caseload, which mirrors the situation set out by my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi—has the largest volume of unused consents. A report by the consultancy BuiltPlace suggests that our capital has as much as 8.1 years of supply approved, and yet unused.

Instead of obsessing about supply side reform, the Government would do well to focus, in the first instance, on cracking down on land banking and speculative planning, and consider what might be done to incentivise or compel developers—a point made by my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell—to build out the permissions they have acquired.

When it comes to housing affordability, we really must get away from the over-simplistic notion that ramping up the supply of new housing will fully resolve the affordability crisis affecting many parts of the country. That is a theme that has re-emerged time and time again. Even if the Government’s target of 300,000 new houses a year were to be met—that is a very big if, given that completions in 2020-21 stood at just over 216,000—the impact on prices would be relatively small, and it would be felt only in the medium term.

Prior to the pandemic, there were a million more houses in England than there were households; that surplus has increased over recent decades and continues to grow, at the same time as prices continue to rise. Put simply, increasing home ownership—and boosting home ownership rates among the young, in particular—is as much about the affordability criteria and who can buy any new housing that becomes available as it is about overall deficiencies in supply. Instead of obsessing about supply side reform, the Government should look at how lending can be better targeted towards first-time buyers, so that they, and not just those who already have large amounts of equity, can purchase new homes to live in. As my hon. Friends the Members for York Central, for Vauxhall, for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) have said, we need better support for those who simply cannot buy, such as greater protection for private renters and action to reverse the sharp decline in social housing provision over recent years.

A key point, which has been implicit in today’s contributions but not brought expressly to the surface, is the role of local people and their priorities in the planning process. It is not disputed that there is an issue that needs to be confronted in terms of England’s discretionary planning system, but the solution to the problems of housing availability and affordability is not to silence communities and hand control of planning to development boards appointed by Ministers in Whitehall. As much as some rather offensively like to brand them in this way, most people in England are not die-hard nimbys, and that is why nine in 10 planning applications are approved.

What local people want, and what they should retain, is a say over how their areas are developed and a right to challenge inappropriate or harmful proposals that they do not believe will help to sustain balanced communities or, as Mark Fletcher remarked, provide the necessary infrastructure and amenity to thrive. Instead of attempting to reduce the public’s involvement or remove them from the planning process entirely, the Government should concentrate on how the system can be reformed to ensure that more developers bring forward proposals that significantly enhance local areas for existing communities, as well as for newcomers. That will incentivise local people to say yes with greater frequency.

As things stand, we have no idea whether proposals to reform the planning system will re-emerge from the review that the Secretary of State commissioned and, if they do, what form they will take. If a Bill is introduced next year, we hope that it will be the product of genuine reflection on the criticisms levelled at the White Paper by Members from all parts of the House. We hope that rather than approaching the planning system as so much red tape that needs to be swept aside, the Government will seek to make the current system more reflective, rational, transparent and democratic, and better resourced, putting communities at the heart of good place making that delivers high-quality, zero-carbon affordable new homes in the places where they are so desperately needed. As Jim Shannon said powerfully, the housing crisis is, at the end of the day, not about numbers or units; it is about how we build the homes that people and families need so that they can flourish.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:42 pm, 7th December 2021

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dr Huq, and to wind up this Westminster Hall debate. It has been thoughtful and considered, with detailed and useful contributions from Members from across the House. I hope that I will be able to pick up on the points made by Members, and occasionally I may refer to the excellent speech that has been provided to me by my officials.

I congratulate Matthew Pennycook on his appointment to the shadow housing portfolio—a very important role indeed. I look forward to working with him as he attempts to keep us true, and to helping to persuade him of the righteousness of our approach, and I wish him well. I congratulate my hon. Friend Derek Thomas on securing this important debate and making such a thoughtful contribution. I am sure that he will not stop promoting Cornwall or, for that matter, Devon. We want him to promote them, but we also want to ensure that his constituents have good quality, decent and affordable homes to live in.

I remind everybody of the importance of building more homes. The hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich spoke about other reasons and methods to ensure that we provide affordable homes, but fundamentally we have to build more homes if we are going to supply good quality homes in the places that people want. That is why over the last 10 years we have had programmes such as the affordable homes programme, under which hundreds of thousands of new properties have been built across our country. That is why we are using programmes such as Help to Buy, which has only recently provided its 300,000th instance of help to buy for Sam Legg and his partner, Megan, who bought a home in Asfordby in Leicestershire. Sam said that without the Help to Buy programme, he would not have been able to afford to get on to the property ladder. That is a dream that more than 80% of people, particularly those in the social and private rented sectors, say they want to achieve—the right to own, the right to buy and the right to acquire. They want to get themselves on to the property ladder.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives and several other colleagues—including my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall and Luke Pollard—mentioned the importance of primary residences. I recognise the challenge that has been put to us, and it is one of the reasons why we have reformed stamp duty and increased the costs to foreign and international purchasers of British property. To the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, it is why we will introduce a threshold for the business rate loophole tie-up, to ensure that only proper letters are letting their properties and making use of the business rate regime.

I am conscious that other Members have made points about council tax and the importance of local authorities having discretion over it. We have allowed local authorities to increase the council tax to 100% for second homes, but I will consider carefully the points that Members have made about local authorities having further discretion over their council tax regime.

Mark Fletcher spoke about First Homes, which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport mentioned in a slightly different context. I was pleased to visit Bolsover a couple of weeks ago to give Nicky Bembridge, an NHS worker, the keys to his first home. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the First Homes regime is provided by developer contributions and it does not cost the taxpayer a penny. It means that local homes are available to local people at a discount of at least 30% off the market rate. Local authorities have the discretion to determine which residents will be eligible—it could be people who live locally, or people with skills that are missing from the area and are needed.

The First Homes product allows people to get on the property ladder, while covenanting the discount into the future so that future generations of local people or skilled workers, defined by the local authority, will be able to get on to the property ladder. I rather hope that if some First Homes are built in Plymouth, they can be built on the site of the former registry office, which I think is being demolished—thanks partly to £250,000 of brownfield funding that the Government are providing to Plymouth City Council to ensure that that work is done.

Yasmin Qureshi mentioned brownfield sites. We are absolutely committed to further development on brownfield land, and that is one of the reasons why we have introduced further funding for that purpose. In the recent Budget, £1.8 billion was made available for brownfield remediation, £300 million of which will be given to mayoral combined authorities. Greater Manchester has already benefited to the tune of more than £90 million of public money for brownfield remediation, and we look forward to going further in the future.

Rachael Maskell raised an important point about the time it takes to make local plans. She is perhaps more aware of that than most, because York has not had a local plan since 1956, when the present planning regime was barely eight years old.

We are very conscious of that challenge. If we are to get more developers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, to build different types of property on different land packets to different tenures, we need a planning system that is far more transparent, predictable and speedy. I take on board the points made about the planning system by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich, but I think we all recognise that it is far too slow. It can take seven years for a local plan to be produced, and a further five years for planning permissions to be granted and spades to go into the ground. That is far too long for SME developers that are living, quite literally, hand to mouth. We need a system that is far more predictable and speedy, and that will be the effect of our planning reforms, which I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House we will introduce.

We also want to make the planning system far more engaging. It is very important that more people get involved in our planning system. It really is not very democratic that literally 1% of local people on average get involved in local plan making—that is more or less local planning officers and their blood relations. The percentage rises to a massive 2% or 3% of people getting involved in individual planning applications—still not enough. We need a system that is far more engaging, three-dimensional and digitised. That is what our planning reforms will provide.

By providing a digital planning system, we will free up local planning officers, giving them much more bandwidth to do the sort of strategic planning that they trained to do, that we want them to do and that communities need them to do, rather than focusing on the administration of agreeing that a dormer window can be put in a particular building. We will ensure that we have a faster and more accessible planning system. We have also committed ourselves to a review of the resourcing of local planning authorities to make sure that—quite apart from digitisation, which should increase their bandwidth—they have the wherewithal to do the work that we want them to do.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives raised the importance of skills and apprenticeships in our construction supply chain, a point also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. The Department for Education has made available some £2.7 billion for the purposes of apprenticeships, and innovative partnerships between the National House Building Council and developers such as Redrow have allowed for the development of bricklayer academies. One has opened in my constituency —I am sure it is just coincidence that they chose Tamworth.

The academies mean that the time it takes to train a bricklayer is cut in half. They also allow young people to see that there is a career in construction beyond bricklaying. They may be 19 and learning how to lay bricks, but they also learn that, by the time they are 30 or 35, they can do other things in the construction sector and they do not have to lay bricks for the rest of their working life. That encourages more people, and also more women, into the construction sector—a very important thing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover raised the importance of infrastructure. That point was also made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport. We recognise that, if we are to get more people to support our planning regime, they must have the infrastructure to support the homes that are built around or near them—the GP clinic, school, roundabout or kids’ play area. We know that the present system of section 106 agreements is loaded in favour of the developers, and that the bigger developers tend to have the bigger lawyers, with the bigger guns, who can drive down the will of local authorities to resist.

That system means that proposed infrastructure is often negotiated away, or does not arrive on time. We are going to introduce an infrastructure levy, and I hear the point made by many contributors that that ought to be as localised as possible. That levy will allow infrastructure to be built up front, when people want it and in a way that they expect. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover rightly said, if the infrastructure can be put in place, that will carry with it the hearts and minds of local communities, who will see that they will get some bang for their buck.

Members raised the issue of empty homes. There are sometimes good reasons that homes are empty—for example, if they cannot be repaired, if they are in the wrong place to meet demand or if they are not the right size for the people who most need them. However, I hear what colleagues have said. As I have already pointed out in my remarks about council tax and the consideration of further discretions, I will go away and ponder the points that have been raised by a significant number of Members.

I will make one final point, Dr Huq, before I make some concluding remarks.

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Before I make those remarks, I will allow the hon. Lady rapidly to intervene.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

The hon. Lady will have to be quick.

Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I want to pick up the point I made in my intervention, about the statutory duty placed on police forces to sell to the highest bidder police stations that are being closed, which therefore considers financial rather than social value. This is a problem not just for Teddington police station, but across London, where we have a real dearth of sites. Will the Minister look at changing national legislation so police forces can consider affordable housing bids?

Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The hon. Lady makes an important point. I remind her that developer contributions can contribute to affordable homes being built in her locality, and that it is a Government obligation carefully to consider how public money is spent so as to ensure we get best value for it. I will certainly go away and consider the point she has raised.

I will say one quick thing about net zero, which a number of Members raised. The future homes standard, which we are to introduce in 2025, will mean that homes are built with materials and heating systems that make them at least 75% more carbon efficient than homes built to present standards. As a down payment on the 2025 date that we have set the sector, next year we will introduce an uplift in building regulations to ensure that homes are at least 31% more carbon efficient than homes built at present.

This has been an important debate, and I have been pleased to hear the contributions made by colleagues from across the Chamber. I hope I have given reassurances to Members as to the importance that the Government place on building good-quality, affordable homes around our country, where they are needed. Be they for ownership, shared ownership, affordable rent or social rent, we need more good-quality homes. That is one of the building blocks of levelling up. It is a mission that the Government have set me and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and one that we shall deliver.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 3:58 pm, 7th December 2021

I am grateful to the Minister for his response and to all the Members who took part in the debate. What was really clear from the debate, and something I hope will follow through to the White Paper, is that at the centre of the issue are families and people across the country who need housing. They need houses they can afford and that give them security in their local communities. If we can get that message across and if it is in the White Paper, I feel that we have done our job.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered access to affordable housing and planning reform.