The Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has delivered a statement to Parliament about new housing.

Mr Pickles spoke about what “the Coalition Government has put in place on housing and planning, as part of our long-term economic plan. We have implemented a range of measures to get Britain building again, to fix the broken housing market and to help hard-working people get the home they want.”

Under the last Labour Government house building fell to its lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s.  The housing supply is still far too constrained.

However Mr Pickles was able to point out that there has been some progress:

  • Planning permission was granted for 216,000 new homes in England in 2013-14.
  • Housing starts in England are at their highest since 2007 and we have already delivered over 445,000 new homes since April 2010
  • The number of first-time buyers is at its highest since 2007.
  • Repossessions are at their lowest since 2007 and the number of new mortgage arrears is at the lowest since the Bank of England’s data series began in 2007.
  • New home registrations rose by 30% in 2013 in England, the highest since 2007; and are up 60% in London, the highest for over two decades; this is in contrast to Wales which has a Labour administration, where new home registrations are falling.
  • More council housing was started in London last year than in the 13 years combined of the last Labour Government; and
  • The number of empty homes in England have fallen to a 10-year low, and the number of long-term vacant properties has fallen by around a third since 2009.

How has this come about?

Mr Pickles says there has been a shift to “a locally-led planning system”.  Instead of top down targets we have the New Homes Bonus, “which rewards housing growth through grants based on the council tax raised from additional homes and long-term empty homes brought into use.” Thus far we have “over £2.2 billion of New Homes Bonus has been given to local councils. This has ensured that growing areas have had resources to meet the needs of new and existing communities. Local neighbourhoods with a neighbourhood plan will also benefit directly from the Community Infrastructure Levy.”

There has also been “streamlining [of] the planning system and removing unnecessary burdens”. The National Planning Policy Framework reduced over a thousand pages of national policy to around fifty, written simply and clearly. To help deliver the new homes that families want, we have abolished that families want, we have abolished Whitehall minimum density requirements and maximum parking standards, and stopped gardens being classified as brownfield land.”

Mr Pickles added:

‘Whitehall minimum density requirements and maximum parking standards, and stopped gardens being classified as brownfield land. This will ensure that the market can build more homes with the gardens and parking spaces that people want to buy.’

But what more will be done?

‘In this session of Parliament, we will augment these successful reforms to look at practical ways of removing excessive red tape, whilst ensuring environmental safeguards and continuing our locally-led approach.

The Infrastructure Bill will speed up the way that planning conditions are handled, so homes granted planning permission can start on site more quickly. We will seek to improve the engagement and performance of statutory consultees; and we will tackle the gold-plating of EU Directives.’

Since discounts under the Right to Buy Scheme were increased in April 2012, Right to Buy sales have risen from 2,638 in 2011-12 to 11,238 in 2013-14. This has generated £420 million in receipts for new additional housing.

The new Estate Regeneration Fund of “£150 million of recoverable investment will help kick-start and accelerate the regeneration of some of our most deprived estates. We are also working with the Greater London Authority to support the regeneration of Brent Cross and unlock 11,000 homes at Barking Riverside.”

Furthermore “in contrast to the Labour Government, we are actively supporting the self-build and custom-build sectors, helping people design and build their own home”:

‘At the 2014 Budget, we announced that we will consult on a new “Right to Build” to give self-builders a right to a plot from councils and we will shortly be identifying a small number of councils to act as vanguards to test how the Right to Build model will work in practice. We also announced a new £150 million investment fund to help provide up to 10,000 serviced building plots, and announced will we look to extend Help to Buy equity loan to self-builders.’

Where the Government should be doing far more on selling state land for housing. Mr Pickles said:

‘The Public Sector Land Programme has identified land with capacity for over 100,000 homes which we aim to release to the private sector by March 2015. At the end of December 2013, we had released land capable of delivering 76,000 homes to be built.

Through the Strategic Land and Property Review we have identified scope to generate £5 billion of receipts from government land and property between 2015 and 2020. This will put land and property into the hands of those who can exploit them for commercial purposes, supporting deficit reduction and creating opportunities for housing and economic growth.’

I would add a couple of noughts to those totals.

House prices are artificially high because a free market is not operating. The state is still restricting supply by land banking and a planning process – which both constrains the amount being built without ensuring that what is built is attractive. But if the glass is three quarters empty, Mr Pickles is also entitled to point out that it is also a quarter full.

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