Communities and Local Government Questions

30th October 2017

Alok Sharma answers MPs’ questions on housing.

Assessment of Housing Need

9. What progress the Government have made on establishing a standardised assessment of housing need. [901471]

On 14 September, we published a consultation that proposes a new standard approach to assessing housing need. The proposed approach will play a crucial role in helping to meet housing ambitions, reduce complexity and costs, and increase transparency.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Understandably, more and more people want to move to Cornwall—after all, it is the best place in the UK to work, raise a family or retire—and that is putting unprecedented levels of demand on our housing stock. We currently have over 20,000 people on the housing register and young people are being priced out of ever owning their own home. Does the Minister believe that the approach he outlines will help to deliver more housing for local people in Cornwall?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The starting point has to be an honest, open and consistent approach in assessing the number of homes an area needs. That is precisely what the new approach to housing needs assessment will deliver.

My constituency is also a beautiful place to live, but homes are not being sold because they are under leasehold arrangements. Will the Minister let us know when his excellent consultation on the crackdown on unfair leasehold practices will announce its results, so our housing market can get moving again?

The hon. Lady makes a very important point. We need to ensure fairness in the system, which is precisely why we launched the consultation. A very significant number of people responded to it and we will respond to it in due course.

The housing need White Paper also covers viability assessments. Their use by developers is referred to in the consultation as gaming the system to avoid section 106 contributions, such as affordable housing. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to look at whether the assessments are appropriate for the market today, or whether they should be scrapped completely?

As my hon. Friend will know, we are consulting on proposed changes to viability assessments as part of the local housing needs assessment. The White Paper states that under our proposals we would expect assessments of affordable housing infrastructure needs to be considered at the plan-making stage, and that will ensure more certainty.

My constituents in the villages of Kidlington, Yarnton and Begbroke find themselves in a perverse situation. Cherwell District Council is proposing to build 4,400 homes in the green belt between the villages to meet Oxford city’s unmet housing need. Due to the sequencing of the plans, however, that unmet need is now down to go under the new proposed assessment. In short, the districts are putting the cart before the horse. Will the Minister agree to meet me, so I can explain the situation more fully and reassure my constituents that their grave concerns about this plan will be heard.

Of course I will meet the hon. Lady. We are committed to retaining the current green belt protections. There may be exceptional circumstances in which a local authority chooses to amend its green belt, but it has to take its local community with it.

| Hansard

Affordable Homes

12. What plans he has to increase the number of affordable homes. [901474]

The Government are investing more than £9 billion between 2016 and 2021 to deliver a wide range of affordable housing, including homes for social rent, to meet the needs of a broad range of people. We have also confirmed long-term rent certainty for social landlords, which will create a stable investment environment to support councils and housing associations.

Local housing associations such as Saxon Weald in my constituency have welcomed recent Government announcements. What are the Government doing to help them to build more affordable homes?

Part of the £9 billion I just noted is the £2 billion of additional funding that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced, and that includes the clarity on rent. Housing association leaders I have spoken with are very positive about these measures, which will allow them to build additional affordable homes as well as improve current stock.

Will the Minister read something of the history of Harold Macmillan? He was a Prime Minister who actually built houses. This Government are not building houses and certainly not building affordable houses. When will there be an imaginative plan to build houses?

Almost 1 million homes have been built since 2010. The hon. Gentleman talks about our record. I can tell him that over the past six years more affordable homes have been built than were built in the first six years and the last six years of the last Labour Government. We will take no lectures from Labour on building affordable homes.

Has the Secretary of State had any further talks with lenders? The housing in St Albans is some of the most unaffordable in the country, and trying to get mortgages or extended lending terms is very difficult for those struggling to get on the housing ladder.

As my hon. Friend will know, we have announced an extra £10 billion for the Help to Buy scheme, and there are several other schemes in the market, but ultimately this is about making sure that more homes are built. That is what will drive affordability.

The City of York consultation on the local plan closes tonight, but it has failed massively on the tenure needed in the city and is 5,800 short of statutory guidance. Will the Minister ensure that if guidance is set it is followed?

We want to make sure that the right number of homes are built in the right places, and of course the plan will be assessed by an inspector.

 

Homes: Construction

15. What plans he has to increase the number of homes constructed each year; and if he will make a statement. [901477]

Our housing White Paper “Fixing our Broken Housing Market”, published in February, sets out how we will build the homes this country needs. Broadly speaking, we want to do this by diversifying those building homes, increasing build-out rates, supporting homebuyers and releasing more land.

Some 4,500 homes have been built at Beaulieu Park in Chelmsford and another 5,000-plus are planned, but the roads are at capacity and we need a new railway station and a bypass. That is Essex’s No. 1 priority for the housing infrastructure fund. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this important infrastructure to unlock housing?

My hon. Friend is a passionate supporter of new housing for her constituents, which is very welcome. Of course I will meet her . As she knows, I am not able to comment on any particular bids, but I can tell her that there has been a great deal of interest in the £2.3 billion for the housing infrastructure fund.

18. Does the Minister agree that as we embark on a major housing programme we should be building the houses of the future, such as net zero energy bill homes, which are particularly helpful to people on low incomes because they do not have to pay gas and electricity bills? [901481]

Yes, of course we should be doing precisely that. I should add, however, that since 2010 we have strengthened the energy requirements for new homes by 30%, which has reduced energy bills by an average of £200.

Will the Minister clarify the Government’s policy in respect of building on the green belt?

I thought I had already clarified it, but let me make it clear again. We believe in protecting the green belt. There will be exceptional circumstances that local authorities can consider, but they will need to take their local communities with them.

I am sure that colleagues on both sides of the House will join me in warmly welcoming back to his place the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles).

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is good to be back.

The Government have made remarkable progress in cutting the deficit from the 10.5% of GDP that we inherited in 2010 to 2.5% now. May I therefore urge everyone to back the Secretary of State’s call for special borrowing to put in place the infrastructure that will unlock the hundreds of thousands of extra houses that we need? This is the kind of borrowing that we should all be able to support.

Of course all of us in the House support the ambition to build more homes, but my hon. Friend should wait for the Budget announcement in relation to any specifics.

Has my hon. Friend made an assessment of the need for social housing, particularly in new towns such as Harlow, and will he consider tax incentives to ensure that housing associations can build more social housing?

I can tell my hon. Friend that housing associations have hugely welcomed our announcements about rent certainty—social housing rents will rise by the consumer prices index plus 1% from 2020—and the investment of an extra £2 billion, and we are engaged in a constant dialogue with them.

| Hansard

Topical Questions

T8. Will the Secretary of State look at what can be done to lift restrictive planning conditions that are holding back long-term economic growth? [901459]

Planning conditions should, of course, only be imposed where they are necessary and meet the other requirements of national policy. What I can say more widely is that we are making changes in the planning system: planning fees are being increased, which will ensure there is more money in the planning authorities; and we are also looking at requiring an increase in build-out rates.

| Hansard

The proposed revised housing formula will add a further 8,000 homes to the current target of 30,000, which is unsustainable and undeliverable without large investment in infrastructure. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me and Medway colleagues to consider the disproportionate burden on the Medway towns?

I will of course meet my hon. Friend. I should just point out that Medway does not have an up-to-date plan at the moment, and I would encourage responses to the consultation proposals that we have set out.

| Hansard