Shadow Housing Minister Grant Shapps spoke in Westminster Hall yesterday, during a debate on temporary housing. He opined that many more homes need to be built, but warned against their imposition on local communities:
"The Department for Communities and Local Government says that, on 31 March, there were 78,000 homeless households in England in temporary accommodation, which is nearly twice as many as in 1997. It also says that three quarters of those households in temporary accommodation contain children who are dependants. Indeed, I published a report a year ago almost to the day that showed that there are 130,000 homeless children living in various forms of temporary accommodation, which is double the number 10 years ago.
Those are the facts. What about the reasons? It seems clear that the lack of supply has been the biggest contributory factor to those enlarged figures and the supply side has created a range of problems. It does not really matter whether one is looking at temporary accommodation, lack of social or affordable housing, or housing in general. As has been discussed many times in similar debates, for every type of housing fewer houses have been built in the last decade, which I know is as deeply troubling to many Labour Members as it is to us in the Conservative party.
The simple lack of housing provision has led to many of the chronic problems that were described today in great detail, with individual case histories being provided during the debate. As was mentioned, it is a fact that only 27,000 affordable homes will be built this year.
The simple facts are that, on average, 145,000 homes have built each year under this Government, compared with 175,000 under the previous Government, meaning that over 10 years about a third of a million fewer homes have been built. If those homes had been built and were in play and in the marketplace, it is reasonable to expect that rents would be lower.
That situation is what we need to get back to, but we cannot do it through top-down targets; we need to do it through bottom-up incentives. That is a fundamental argument at the heart of this debate and every other debate on housing that takes place here in Westminster Hall. Until the Government recognise that they cannot force the targets down on unsuspecting communities without giving them something in return—those communities need to be provided with a carrot or an incentive to build new homes—we will continue in the mess that we find ourselves in today. Labour Members are happy to complain about that mess, but they will not recognise the source or the real reasons behind the catastrophic situation in relation to temporary housing, homelessness and, indeed, the cost of housing overall."
Mr Shapps is right to say that top-down targets cause a great deal of resentment. He is also right that there is demand for more housing. This is indeed a difficult circle to square, not least given environmental considerations such as the potential loss of green space and inadequate water supply.
The Conservative front bench may be less comfortable about tackling another matter – the extent to which immigration has put pressure on housing demand and whether a radical change in national policy is necessary.