Communities and Local Government Questions

4th December 2017

Alok Sharma answers questions from MPs on his housing portfolio.

Unauthorised Traveller Encampments

7. What steps his Department is taking to tackle unauthorised Traveller encampments. [902698]

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are concerned about unauthorised encampments and the effect they can have on settled communities. That is why we will be issuing a call for evidence on the effectiveness of enforcement against unauthorised developments and encampments. I will publish that call for evidence shortly.

On a daily basis, Central Bedfordshire Council is dealing with completely unacceptable numbers of unauthorised Traveller encampments. Many of those Travellers own land elsewhere, and many of their children are not in school, so when will the Government’s consultation lead to appropriate powers being made available to all local authorities, including my own?

I know that my hon. Friend has expressed views on this several times in the House. My Department is working closely with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to prepare the call for evidence. Once it is published, he and all Members with an interest will have an opportunity to set out their views.

Last month, the all-party group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, which I chair, met to discuss unauthorised encampments and possible positive solutions. We heard from a representative of the National Police Chiefs Council that the police do have adequate powers, and that unlawful trespass is not the answer and had not worked in Ireland. Will the Minister meet the all-party group and representatives of the community to talk about some of the positive solutions that could help to address this issue?

Of course I will meet the all-party group, but the whole point of a call for evidence is to allow everyone to feed in their views, and it is precisely those views that we want to hear. Following that, we will, of course, set out plans to take this further.

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Social Housing

8. What estimate he has made of the number of social homes that will be built in 2018. [902699]

The Government are providing substantial support for the building of social homes. We recently announced an additional £2 billion of funding, which takes the figure for the affordable homes programme to more than £9 billion. We have provided rent certainty for social landlords, and we have announced that there will be a £1 billion lift in housing revenue account borrowing caps.

The number of homes delivered for social rent has fallen by more than 85% since 2010. Just 5,380 are expected to have been completed in 2016-17, compared with nearly 40,000 in 2010-11. The Budget contains virtually no support for the building of new social housing, and only £6 billion of new money for housing altogether. Is that not a far cry from the £50 billion that was called for by the Secretary of State himself, and does it not mean that the number of houses will fall far short of the number that we need?

Order. That was far too long; absolutely hopeless. The hon. Lady’s questions will have to be much shorter in future. I am always keen to encourage her—she is a new Member, and a prodigious attender—but she needs to apply the blue pencil.

Since 2010, nearly 128,000 homes for social rent have been built in England, and 118,000 have been built for affordable rent. The hon. Lady talks about the money available for housing. I can confirm that, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his Budget statement, we are making at least £44 billion available over the next five years.

rose—

The hon. and learned Lady is an illustrious QC, so I am sure that she is capable of asking an extremely pithy question.

I will try, Mr Speaker.

East Cambridgeshire has established five community land trusts. Does the Minister agree that such trusts are a valuable way of ensuring that local people can have affordable homes locally?

Splendid. Circulate the text book.

My hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point. I commend her for the work that she is doing in encouraging the development of community land trusts, for which I announced additional funds only last week.

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Social Housing

9. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of new homes for social rent since 2010. [902700]

Since 2010, we have delivered 357,000 affordable homes including, as I said earlier, about 128,000 homes for social rent. As I also said previously, we are providing £9 billion for the affordable homes programme, a £1 billion lift in HRA borrowing caps, and rent certainty for social landlords. That will help the sector to build more affordable homes, including social rented homes.

Shelter has found that in the past year developers have used viability assessments to wriggle out of building more than 2,500 affordable homes to rent or buy, including 200 in Bristol. Will the Minister take steps to remove that loophole when he rewrites the national planning policy framework next year by removing the reference to the need for a competitive return?

One of the key issues in our consultation on local housing needs, which closed on 9 November, was viability assessments. We will of course review what comes forward, but we have made it very clear that we want developers to build affordable homes.

19. After 13 years of Labour MPs in Gloucester in which not a single new social housing unit was built, we now have built some new social housing, but we want to do much more through a master plan involving the Government’s estate regeneration programme. Will my hon. Friend confirm that money may be available through the new national productivity investment fund to help to bridge any potential funding gap caused by low values? [902710]

I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he is doing in his constituency to encourage more building of homes, including social homes, and I am delighted by the progress that is being made in estate regeneration. My hon. Friend’s constituency has received £1.25 million of capacity funding. More detailed eligibility criteria for the national productivity investment fund will be announced in due course, and I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

17. There was much fanfare in the Budget about housing, but when will the Minister start to understand that if the Government are to tackle the social housing crisis, they must abolish the right to buy? [902708]

Of course we support the right to buy. It has meant that people have been able to own homes, which I think is incredibly important. We are making more money available for affordable homes but, as I have said, there will be at least £44 billion over the next five years so that more homes can be built. We have a housing crisis now because not enough homes were built under the last Government.

If we are to meet the demand for more affordable homes, there needs to be a partnership between the private and public sectors. What actions can the Minister take to ensure that local authorities work with both sectors in order to deliver the homes that we need?

In the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out the planning reforms that we are looking at, which will have an impact on local authorities bringing forward more sites more quickly for building. We have also announced an uplift of up to £1 billion for the housing revenue account, which will make a substantial difference.

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High-rise Buildings: Disabled People

15. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that disabled people are not housed on the upper floors of high-rise buildings. [902706]

Decisions on who is allocated particular properties are ultimately for local authorities and landlords to take at local level. However, our statutory guidance on social housing allocations encourages councils to give appropriate priority to those who need ground-floor accommodation, including disabled people.

The Minister will be aware that several disabled people were housed on the upper floors of Grenfell Tower at the time of the fire earlier this year. One disabled woman, whose name was Flora, would certainly not have survived had it not been for the heroics of her son, who carried her to safety from the 24th floor. Can the Minister assure the House that the Grenfell inquiry will consider access and egress for disabled people living in tower blocks? Will he also tell us whether disabled and independent abled organisations will be able to have their voices heard in the inquiry?

The Grenfell inquiry is independent, so I will let the judge take care of that. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government will be publishing a social housing Green Paper next year, and that I am conducting a tour of the country and meeting social housing tenants directly. Of course we will consider access to accommodation for disabled people that is suitable for their needs as part of that work.

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Topical Questions

T2. Given that England’s private rented sector has doubled since 2002, what plans do Ministers have to emulate Scotland’s exemplary new policy under which such renters now have longer notice periods, indefinite security of tenure and a limit of one rent increase a year? [902731]

The hon. Gentleman will have noted that in the Budget the Chancellor set out our plans to consult on longer tenancies in the private rented sector, and that is precisely what we will be doing.

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The affordability of a house is not just what it costs to buy or rent each month but what it costs to live in it thereafter. May I therefore encourage the Secretary of State to set the highest energy efficiency standards possible for new houses so that they can be cheap both to own and to operate?

Energy efficiency, as a result of the policies this Government have put in place, has improved. Fuel costs are now several hundred pounds cheaper than they were in 2010.

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With the abolition of stamp duty for most first-time buyers, families in Wealden will save, on average, £3,209 on their first home. Will the Minister say what else is being done to help families secure their first home?

Of course I am delighted that my hon. Friend has highlighted the stamp duty cut, but we also know that for a number of years we have been running the Help to Buy scheme, which has helped 135,000 households already, and the extra £10 billion committed a few weeks ago will help another 35,000 households.

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The Minister said earlier that there would be a review of the viability assessments under the national planning policy framework. Will he admit that there is a problem, which the Mayor of London and London councils see, and that these viability assessments are abused by developers to stop local authorities and others developing affordable homes?

On London, it is worth pointing out that we have made £3.15 billion already available for affordable housing .That has been welcomed by the Mayor of London, so I suggest that he should start and get building. On the viability assessments, as I have said, we have had a consultation, which we will reflect on and come forward with proposals.

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In his response to an earlier question, the Minister made reference to a call for evidence on unauthorised Traveller encampments. Will he confirm that local residents will also be able to feed in to that?

I am confirm to my hon. Friend that everyone will have an opportunity to give their views as part of that call for evidence.

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I will talk very fast, Mr Speaker. May I say a big thank you to the Housing Minister for coming to Taunton Deane last week, where he met protestors at the Staplegrove development to see how important the road through the development was? Are the Government pursuing the right policy in putting more money into the housing infrastructure fund to guarantee that we get the roads that we need to make our houses work?

Absolutely; I can confirm that, as a result of the Budget, there is £5 billion in the housing infrastructure fund, which is precisely what many colleagues want to see in terms of spending on infrastructure.

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