Brandon Lewis is Minister for Housing and Planning, and MP for Great Yarmouth.
I want to use this article to tell you about the multifarious and increasingly successful policies this government is using to increase housing supply, and to outline how our work will form one of the most important legacies of this Parliament.
Since I’m the minister for housing and planning that may not surprise you. But let’s start with a bit of history, just for context.
More than 82,000 people live in Harlow, the New Town in Essex, about 20 miles from where I was born. When the New Town was designated in 1947, only 4,500 people lived there. Let’s be conservative and say about 70,000 of that increase is due to the New Town (about 5,000 people live in Old Harlow, around which Frederick Gibberd fashioned the new).
In other words, thanks to the actions of the post-war Labour government (don’t panic, I will come back to the Opposition in a bit) nearly sixteen times as many people lived in the area by the end of the 20th century than was the case half-way through it.
For a time - thanks to those post-war Labour politicians and Margaret Thatcher’s Right to Buy – it was normal for parents to look at their kids and imagine them owning their own home.
The New Towns are one of the British Left’s best achievements. If I were Labour, I’d never shut up about them.
Maybe it’s shame at the way Gordon Brown trashed that post-war heritage which keeps them quiet. It takes half a century to build something great, but just one rubbish premiership to ruin it.
Here’s another quick history lesson, though this time we only need return to 2010. When Brown and the current Shadow Housing Minister John Healey left office, they left the nation:
- A post-war low in new council houses;
- The lowest level of house-building since the 1920s;
- Sites mothballed and builders left workless;
- A collapse in Right To Buy;
- A sustained fall in home ownership.
I could go on with these depressing statistics, but any of you trying to buy your first home, or those of us with kids in their early teens (guilty) will be only too aware of Labour’s housing legacy. Gordon Brown was the Miley Cyrus of the Left, a great big wrecking ball who smashed Margaret Thatcher’s property owning democracy into dust.
In Opposition, Labour have degenerated into the voteless comfort of half-baked Marxism. “Let’s control rents!”, they cry, because we all like another committee in Whitehall. Labour think they know better than the people and better than those around the world who have tried this and seen it crash and fail. They couple this ideology with that always-fresh-since-the-1980s standby of thin-lipped sneering at any council tenant who dares to want what you want, what I want, in fact what 86 per cent of the country wants: the chance to buy their own home.
Harlow might not be the perfect home for everyone – we all have different taste between rural and urban, modern and traditional – but it’s the reason I continue to be excited and determined in my job. If one architect could harness political will to provide homes for 70,000 in one small patch of Essex, imagine what the country could do with the force of our whole government behind it.
In the Coalition Parliament, housing supply was brought back from the state left by Brown and Healey. The number of first time buyers doubled. The number of new homes doubled. Public support for new house building doubled
As our children grow up, we all become IMBYs – planning permissions are 50 per cent higher than 2010, and well over 100 referendums have given assent to neighbourhood plans.
Since 2010 we’ve helped over 270,000 households buy a home, provided over 270,000 affordable homes for rent (nearly one third of those in London) and we are the first Government since the 1980s to finish their term with a higher stock of affordable homes than we started with
Twice as many council homes were built in these five years than during 13 years of Labour Government. Indeed – more new council housing was started in London last year that the whole of the Labour Government.
In all, £20 billion was invested over the course of the last Parliament, achieving the same rate of affordable house building with half the rate of grant. Tory policies and Tory budget control produce homes for hardworking people.
So – job done? Hardly, as I’m sure you’re aware. We want a million new homes over the course of this Parliament.
Fortunately this government gets it, in the way a student Marxist never will.
We were elected to sort out the deficit: the housing deficit as much as the financial one. At the spending review on 25th November 2015, George Osborne backed housebuilding when he said “for we are the builders”.
So we will build: including new garden cities at Ebbsfleet, Bicester, Barking and Northstowe.
We’ll invest £7.5 billion on the Help To Buy Equity Loan scheme, supporting the purchase of 145,000 new-build homes. Record evidence published recently proves that Help to Buy does not distort market prices, but it has helped thousands of people buy a home who otherwise could not and it is driving up housing supply.
In London, we’ll double the value of those loans to 40 per cent. Over 15,000 Londoners registered interest in this scheme a matter of days after its launch.
And Help To Buy: Shared Ownership will deliver another 135,000 homes. We’ve deleted Labour’s ghastly restrictions, which mean more people will be eligible to benefit from this entry to homeownership.
Fine, but surely these schemes still require mega-deposits?
Not so: a Yorkshireman can buy his home with a deposit of £1400. A woman in London can buy hers for £3400.
We’ll do something about the sclerotic market in housing supply, spending a billion pounds to support small and custom builders. We’ll spend £8 billion on 450,000 affordable homes.
And we’re bringing Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants, giving 1.3 million more people the chance to own their own homes. Ignore the guff from the anti-ownership Corbynistas about this: every housing association home sold will trigger at least one extra home being built. In London we’ll make it at least two for each one sold. We will continue to ensure that people who want to be home owners get the chance to do so, I am tired of listening to people who own their own homes argue why others should not.
We can also stand proud against the Labour argument that there should be second-class citizens who can never have these rights and freedoms. In Britain, 86 per cent of us want to own our own home – we in the Conservative Party understand that and will support that aspiration.
There is much more that we are doing to promote increased home ownership and housing supply, including fast-track planning processes, planning permission in principle and more. I will return to some of these issues in future articles.
Our Housing and Planning Bill will prioritise brownfield building near existing residents, protecting the green belt. I know you have heard this from every politician, forever, but give me a break: judge us on the results. My target is to have planning permissions in place for 90 per cent of brownfield sites on the new statutory register by 2020. And under Right To Build, councils will be required to identify and supply shovel-ready plots, so self-builders don’t get worn down by municipal delays.
There’s a lot of policies there, and a lot of schemes. I didn’t come into politics to promote an ideology, and when it comes to housing we’re beyond numbers, schemes and timelines.
The “million new homes” isn’t spin: we are committed to fixing the housing market and building those homes so your children can take what we once took for granted: the right to own their own home.
Whoever you are and wherever you live, you should have that right. What you might call the politics of, or for, One Nation.