Westminster Hall Debate on Housebuilding Targets

On Tuesday I led a debate in Westminster Hall on Housebuilding targets. It was a fantastic opportunity to raise, with the Minister, a number of concerns I have with the current system. It was also a pleasure to have contributions from members on all sides of the House.

When assessing housing need, the following issues must be considered: affordability; environmental impact; infrastructure; and community benefit.

On affordability, 80% of the ​market frankly does not represent anything affordable. The problem is that the link is with the market price of the house, not the average salary. I appreciate that if we make that link, there will be a huge funding gap that will have to be met from somewhere.

We need new national and local targets for affordability, and we need to ensure that they cannot be diluted. Many developers, having said that they will develop x% in accordance with the local council’s rules and regulations, come back and say, “Oh dear, I cannot develop that number of affordable homes. They must all be executive homes”, and because the council is so needy of the community infrastructure levy and the new homes bonus, by and large, it caves in. That cannot be right.

Local authorities need to be given more flexibility and enforcement power to bring uninhabitable sites into habitable use. Although, clearly, there are powers, the challenge is that most local authorities choose not to use them, because they do not have the finances or resources for a long, drawn-out process.

We also need to look at the challenge of land banking. Local authorities need new powers to prevent that behaviour. We could do that in a number of ways, such as by looking at the rules that allow a developer to comply with the legislation enforced at the time he purchased, not the time he develops, when it is often more stringent. We could also consider some form of compulsory notice, or, in extremis, compulsory purchase, to make sure that those plots of land are brought into supply.

We need to ensure that the developer is held to account on developing the types of homes that the council needs. Whether an area needs flats or two-bedroom homes or three-bedroom homes, or whatever, will be in the council’s local plan, with more information in the neighbourhood plan. Often, the developer brings an argument that they cannot provide what is required—that they need to provide executive homes, because that is all they can afford to produce. That is not the right answer.

The council ought to have the power to ensure that, when it grants planning permission, it is to provide the houses or flats that we actually need. There might be a question about whether a developer would then continue to develop. If that were a national policy, rule or regulation, they would continue to develop, on the assumption that they want to stay in business.

On the environment, if the Government are really serious about trying to ensure that there are beneficial rather than adverse environmental impacts, they need to look at investing in and supporting investment in new technology to enable us to build new, high-quality, environmentally friendly houses and homes.

Infrastructure is not just about electricity or broadband but about having enough schools and health provision. One of the things that has continued to surprise me is that some very important consultees are not statutory consultees. One of those is health.

I believe that the community should have a right of appeal in the planning process. If we were to manage the process properly and say that only a town or parish council could appeal, and if appeals had to be made on planning grounds, it would minimise the room for manoeuvre and for nimbyism to creep in. The intention is not to take power away from district councils; it is to get a better, joined-up system that works for communities, councils, central Government and all of us who want more houses in the right places. We want communities, not just blocks of flats.

The debate can be watched here: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/605c6960-d7f2-44a7-a9ab-51af8e3f4f1a?in=16:24:11&out=17:30:31

The transcript can be found here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-06-11/debates/48A1829B-92A1-4186-808F-B4A117FF70D9/HouseBuildingTargets