On 14th September 2017 the Bishop of St Albans asked a question he had tabled to Government about the Government’s housing strategy. His question and follow-up are below, as are the follow up questions from other Members of the House:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to implement the recommendations contained in the Housing White Paper, Fixing our broken housing market.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Northern Ireland Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con): My Lords, housing is a priority for this Government. We are committed to ensuring radical and lasting reform to get homes built now and in future, and are delivering the changes needed to make that happen. For example, we have already launched a £2.3 billion fund, which we committed to in the White Paper, to provide essential infrastructure to support up to 100,000 new homes.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the consultation on the housing White Paper was published on 2 May and, as we know, it contained urgently needed measures to address the critical shortfall of housing here in the UK. When does the Minister expect the results of that consultation to be ready, and when can we expect a revised National Planning Policy Framework?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right about the consultation. Noble Lords will appreciate that this afternoon I will say something in relation to housing need, which of course was covered in the White Paper. Meanwhile, much in the White Paper is delivered independently of the consultation. I have referred to the infrastructure but there is also the land release fund, and increased planning fees will come on stream shortly. We are analysing the responses that came in as a result of the consultation and we will come forward in response to that in due course. I thank the right reverend Prelate for the work that his cathedral does. I was there not long ago—more than two weeks ago, I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes—taking account of what was happening there and the great work that is being done.
Lord Beecham (Lab): When will the Government recognise that each notion of affordability of houses for purchase or rent bears little relation to the circumstances of vast numbers of people who require new housing?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, the noble Lord may be aware that affordability is basically 80% of market rent. He will probably be reassured by some of the things coming forward which are to be presented in the Commons and which I will be repeating. He is obviously right that it is important that we help those people who cannot afford an affordable rent. We are doing that. We are looking at bespoke deals, for example, and we are progressing that with Leeds and the West Midlands.
Lord Geddes (Con): My Lords, what encouragement are Her Majesty’s Government giving to modular housing—common in both the United States and Scandinavia—which is both less expensive and much quicker in construction?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My noble friend is right that modular housing is more prevalent in Scandinavia, the United States and large parts of Europe. He will recall that it was referenced in the White Paper. We are keen to progress it. It can deliver housing very quickly and more reasonably and is very adaptable. He is right to draw attention to it and the department is certainly looking at it.
The Earl of Listowel (CB): My Lords, I declare my interests in property in the register of interests. Did the Minister hear this morning the survivor of the Grenfell Tower disaster, speaking three months afterwards, who is still living in a hotel with his daughter, who is going to school, still living in temporary accommodation —joining the 100,000 children in this country who are living in temporary accommodation? I welcome the Government’s work in this area but what will they do, particularly to ensure that local councils can build sufficient council housing for low-income families so that their children can thrive?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: I did not have the privilege of hearing the contribution that the noble Earl refers to but, of course, the Government very much do not want people living in emergency accommodation. However, we understand the position of many people who do not want to move from emergency accommodation into temporary accommodation and then into permanent accommodation. It is a complex issue. In response to his broader point about the need for social housing, this is again referenced in the White Paper and we are committed to working on it. He will know that our delivery of local authority housing over the past six years bears comparison with local authority housing in the previous 13 years under a Labour Government. However, there is still much to do.
Lord Shipley (LD): My Lords, I refer the House to my entry in the register of interests. Will the Minister comment on the National Audit Office report published yesterday, which finds that in 2015-16 local authorities spent more than £1.1 billion on homelessness and that more than three-quarters of this—£845 million—was spent on temporary accommodation? Is he aware that that money would have built 30,000 new affordable homes?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: I acknowledge the work done by the National Audit Office and obviously we will consider its report seriously. The noble Lord is right that we need to ensure that money is spent on housing rather on dealing with homelessness. In short, prevention is better than cure. We are aware of that and take it seriously. However, as he will know, we are committed to 1 million new homes by 2020 and another 500,000 in the two years after that. That is a considerable increase on what we have achieved as a country over the last 10, 15, even 20 years. There is much still to do but we are getting there.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, has my noble friend given further thought to the recommendations of the Economic Affairs Committee in its housing report? One of the largest costs of housing is the cost of land, so it was suggested that local authorities, health authorities and other public bodies which have land available for housing be given the incentive to sell it by being allowed to keep the proceeds of the sale. Further, what action will the Government take on the oligopoly which the large housing builders represent? They are deliberately withholding land to maintain the price of housing.
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, my noble friend is right about the importance of the release of public land. As he will know, we have increased the funding on that as a result of the White Paper, and action was taken just last month. Yes, we need to look further at the release of public land. I keep trailing what is going to be in the Statement this afternoon. I will not go into the detail, but again it has provisions for dealing with the cost of land. I agree with him about land banking, which as he will recall was covered in the White Paper. We will respond on that in due course.