We will get Britain building and help more people on to the property ladder
The UK should aim to set world standards in building on safety, technology, accessibility, design and the environment, writes Esther McVey MP
Everybody knows the main issue in housing policy across the country: there is too much demand and not enough supply. While last year saw 220,000 new homes built – the highest number in all but one of the last 30 years – until we reach an annual housebuilding target of 300,000, hardworking families will continue to be priced out of their communities.
Why is this important? For blue-collar Britain, a home is an engine of social mobility, something to aspire to and be proud of. That’s why this Government is supporting people who seek to buy through schemes such as Help to Buy, Right to Buy and Rent to Buy.
As it stands, we need to be building more of all kinds of houses – council, social and private; houses to rent and to buy. We all need a place we can call home. I know first-hand; I’ve been in a Barnardo’s home, a council home, my first family home, and now I live in my own home.
That’s why I’m championing an “all types of builders, all types of homes for all stages of life” approach that ensures government help goes to building homes, not boosting executive pay packets, and allows more people to live in the types of housing they choose. But there are three other things I want to touch on here that will help.
First, we need to let builders build, and not just the big PLCs. We need to open up the industry and bring back the small and medium (SME) housebuilders, 30% of which we lost in the financial crash of 2008 and never returned to the sector.
And we need to let people build their own home, as they do in other countries. That means removing barriers to building while upholding the highest housebuilding standards.
The recently published National Planning Policy Framework irons out some of the planning process to help builders deliver the homes we need. But we must do more; so our work on planning reform continues as we focus on delivering an accelerated planning green paper and delivering infrastructure in advance of building.
We also need to incentivise developers to build on brownfield land which could deliver a million homes. These sites are much less contentious in local communities and more likely to be affordable for people seeking their first step on the housing ladder.
Let’s also look up and think about things differently. What about utilising unused space above municipal buildings, libraries, railways and car parks, to build modern communities and affordable homes? In London alone, more than 300,000 new homes could appear out of thin air. We can thus make housebuilding an opportunity for much-needed regeneration by ensuring local communities benefit from local development.
Second, building 300,000 new homes each year provides enormous career opportunities, from traditional building jobs to the new technological ones of modular construction, requiring IT and manufacturing expertise.
Our message to school leavers must be: your country needs you to get Britain building again. More than that, let the next generation of housebuilders be setting the standards for housebuilding around the world on safety, technology, accessibility, design and the environment.
Third, let’s work together. My first Commons exchange as minister for housing was hugely positive. There was a spirit of collaboration across the Chamber, demonstrated by the shared goal of helping people into a home. And where we see an obvious wrong, like the sale of abusive leaseholds, let’s correct that.
Beyond Westminster, councils should pursue more joint ventures with local private builders as they seek to expand council houses, allowing a win-win for the local area. As an outward-looking global Britain, we can both lead the world in housebuilding standards and also learn from international best practice.
There’s much more we can do, and I hope to hear from colleagues across the House to help realise the homeowning aspirations of people right across the country.
Esther McVey is Conservative MP for Tatton and minister for housing