Brandon Lewis MP is the Minister of State for Communities and Local Government and Member of Parliament for Great Yarmouth.
Britain’s strong growth and job creation is the envy of the developed world. It can also make us forget how bad things were in 2010. The economy was in a mess, and the perilous state of public finances had put Britain on the brink.
In the long list of economic failures we inherited from the last Labour government, the wretched state of our housing market was the most lamentable. The banks weren’t lending, the builders weren’t building, and young people who were perfectly capable of paying their mortgage each month were denied that opportunity.
After the housing crash in 2008, risky high loan-to-value mortgages were rapidly replaced by demands from lenders for ever larger deposits – an impossible requirement for anyone without financial assistance or high wages. The average age of first time buyers rocketed, while the number of people taking their first step on the housing ladder plummeted. Without first time buyers, the entire housing market ground to a halt. It was completely broken.
The primary task of this Government was to convince the world we were serious about dealing with the deficit, to keep interest rates low and investment flowing. Upon this platform we built our long-term economic plan, and at its heart was a commitment to help people who work hard and want to get on the property ladder. Four years later and nearly 192,000 households have been able to buy or reserve a new home through a Government-backed scheme.
If buyers can buy, builders will build, and it’s no accident that the number of first time buyers and rates of house building are both at a seven-year high. House builders are expanding operations and recruiting new workers, and the Mortgage Advice Bureau recently reported a record number of highly competitive mortgage deals.
Great progress has been made, but this is no time for complacency. Hubris doesn’t build homes – the last Government taught us that. It’s clear we still need to significantly increase the rate of house building, and continue to extend a helping hand to aspiring homeowners. That means maintaining our support for Right to Buy, and extending Help to Buy until 2020.
The Starter Homes initiative will provide an additional option for young first time buyers, offering newly-built homes with a 20 per cent discount to buyers under 40. People saving to buy could shave years off their wait if they use the Help to Buy scheme to buy a Starter Home, paying a five per cent deposit on a home already available for 20 per cent below the market price.
The mechanism to achieve this is simple. We’re changing planning rules, so developers involved in the scheme are exempt from local taxes. They must build these homes on surplus commercial and industrial land, and pass the savings onto their customers.
Under a Conservative government as many as 200,000 additional homes will be built through this scheme: the first applications can be submitted this week, and building work is expected to start within months. Anyone interested in taking up this offer can now sign up for updates via a dedicated website run by the Home Builders Federation.
By building on surplus commercial or industrial land, Starter Homes will help regenerate towns and cities, and maintain our rock-solid protections for the Green Belt, ensuring it remains a green lung around our towns and cities and prevents urban sprawl.
The new homes will meet the highest possible design standards, overseen by a dedicated Design Panel that includes leading architects such as Sir Terry Farrell and Sir Quinlan Terry. They’ve already started work, compiling designs from high quality homes across the country that designers of Starter Homes can draw upon.
We’ve come a long way since 2010, and the Starter Homes programme sticks to the principles that put us on the road to economic recovery. But our support for homeownership goes beyond economics. Buying your own home appeals to a very British sense of aspiration and self-reliance. We take pride in our homes, and especially value the freedom and security provided by homeownership. That’s why we will continue to support the aspirations of hard-working people, and ensure we build the homes this country needs.