Stuart Backs Government Plans on Housing

Stuart yesterday spoke in a debate on a long term plan for housing, praising the response from constituents following the Leeds City Council consultation on site allocations.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I think I am going to fail at the first hurdle, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on a subject I have had an interest in for a long time, not least since I became a councillor back in 2003. Although I agree with the beginning of the motion, as I do believe that everyone has the right to a decent and affordable home, other parts of the motion are slightly disingenuous in respect of what this Government are achieving. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has acknowledged that this country has a housing crisis, but that crisis is down to successive Governments’ chronic lack of investment in the housing that we need.

It is right that we do everything possible to help people fulfil their ambition to become homeowners. I grew up on a council estate in the 1970s and 1980s, and it is fair to say that the early part of that period was an era that silently expected families such as mine just to accept their lot. Chances to improve our lives and move to a different area were extremely limited, but something that changed that and tore up that ethos was Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy policy. That was the first time people on my estate, and the first time in generations that families, were given the opportunity to own their home and enjoy the benefits that many other people had enjoyed in this country. This was not just about the opportunity and dream of owning one’s own home; it also helped significantly with those families’ social mobility. Some may say—I have heard it said today—that this policy is ideologically driven. If that ideology gives families such as mine the opportunity to become homeowners and improve their lives, it is an ideology I fully support. I am glad that this Government have kick-started that policy of right to buy again, so that families on those estates today are given the opportunities I was given. Furthermore, I am delighted that the Government have committed to a like-for-like rebuild for those houses. It is great that the replacement policy is already running at 2:1 in London.

I am proud that more council houses have been built under this Government since 2010 than the Labour party managed to achieve in a full 13 years. Other initiatives such as Help to Buy have also helped. Many of my constituents are now proud to have the family home and security that they want. I am proud, too, that our Help to Buy individual savings account is encouraging people such as my own parliamentary researcher to save up to become homeowners.

The right to buy scheme has now been extended to housing associations, which means that people such as my brothers and their families also have the opportunity to own their home. These schemes provide a real opportunity for young people to enjoy the social mobility from which I was fortunate enough to benefit.

It is important that we strike the right balance with the type of house that we build and where we build it. My hon. Friend the Minister will be fully aware of my concerns about the planning issues in Pudsey. My constituency has contributed greatly to the housing needs of Leeds. Many of the old mills have been rebuilt and used for housing. We have built many thousands of new homes to help supply housing for the Leeds area, but I have significant concerns about Leeds City Council’s local plan. The council has set itself an over-ambitious housing target of 70,000 houses over 14 years, which poses a threat to the green-belt land that makes our city and my constituency great. The land serves as natural boundaries between historic towns and villages and helps to stop urban sprawl. It is important that we do not lose our identity of which so many people are proud. Areas are at risk from the council’s target, and Leeds City Council is currently consulting on the site allocation plan. The response has been huge.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about green-belt land. Does he agree that green-belt land also plays a key role in driving urban regeneration and in delivering a lot of our brownfield sites not only in Leeds, but in my city of York as well?

Stuart Andrew: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come on to that point in a minute.

As I was saying, the response to the consultation has been significant. I pay tribute to the neighbourhood development group, Rawdon and Horsforth councils and other community groups that have been helping local people understand these complex matters. What frustrates local people is that these valuable green sites are up for grabs while the brownfield sites in other parts of the city are just left abandoned.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I thank the hon. Gentleman who is my neighbour for giving way. He and I agree on the Leeds City Council targets, but does he not accept that there is a real disconnect between what he would like and what Ministers say, and the reality of the Conservative Government’s planning system and what it delivers? Does he not agree that our constituents are frustrated about that? Does he not acknowledge that, and is he raising it with Ministers?

Stuart Andrew: The hon. Gentleman knows that I have raised those issues on a number of occasions. Of course the plan must go before the inspector, and we will be making it very clear that much of what Leeds City Council is advocating goes against Government advice. We will make that point very strongly again during the inspection period.

While I am talking about the brownfield sites, let me say that the Leeds City Council plan goes against the advice from Ministers on brownfield development first. Releasing green-belt land should happen only in exceptional circumstances, and those circumstances have not been proved by Leeds City Council.

What also frustrates people is that there are already 17,000 planning permissions in existence in the Leeds area, and not one single brick of those schemes has been built. We need to get the developers building. They cannot be allowed simply to say that they cannot afford to do so. We need far more help in this regard. Building on those sites with the 17,000 permissions would go a long way towards helping to deal with our housing crisis.

We have suffered significant floods in the Leeds area recently. It is easy to attack the Government on the flood defences project, but Leeds City Council must look at the plans that it is putting in place. Building on those important green-belt sites in my constituency will add to the amount of water coming off those new estates and into the rivers that serve the city further downstream.

We need to get some of those 17,000 houses rebuilt and implement the powers that already exist to bring empty houses back into use. We must regenerate the brownfield sites to create the housing that people need and so that the residents who live there now can enjoy a much smarter area to live in. I welcome the fact that the planning process now involves more neighbourhood planning, and I hope Ministers will look carefully at the plan to see whether Leeds City Council has properly engaged with groups such as the Aireborough neighbourhood development forum, which has some strong concerns.

I am proud of our Government’s achievements. Yes, 260,000 affordable houses have been built. The right to buy offers opportunities to families like mine and allows more young people to become homeowners. Some of us never had the bank of mum and dad, so I thank the Government for the initiatives that will help those 86% of people who aspire to own their own home, because my experience shows that the best social mobility can start when we give people the reality, not just the dream, of owning their own home.