Housing and Planning Bill
January 12, 2016
Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Like all London MPs, particularly inner-London MPs, I welcome any efforts that boost supply and tackle what has become an emergency situation for our capital city. Research by the City of London Corporation found that even the cheapest 10% of London’s houses are affordable only for the highest earning 25% of workers, and businesses now believe that housing supply costs are a significant risk to the capital’s economy.
We have heard contributions from MPs who represent Oxford, Bath, Sheffield and other cities, and it is increasingly apparent to me that there is now also an acute need for specific, London-based solutions to housing costs, so I hope that we can capitalise on the enthusiasm that we have heard in the House today towards devolution in that regard. I would like briefly to share with the Minister the thoughts of my two local authorities, and those of local housing associations, in the hope that we can start to carve out a proper London housing policy.
In almost every speech that I have made in this House on housing in the past 15 years, I have lamented the increasing polarisation of central London, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) referred. Those on medium incomes, and increasingly even those on high incomes, have been pushed out to cater for a new global super-rich and those who qualify for precious social housing. I say to my hon. Friend, and to the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), that as Londoners we recognise that we are an attractive city, largely because of the social capital that generations of Londoners before us have built up, but many future generations of Londoners will not have the opportunity of benefiting from that social capital.
Clive Efford: The right hon. Gentleman represents a major part of central London that has some of the highest land and housing values. Will he answer the question that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) completely avoided and say whether he agrees that the two-for-one policy is absolutely worthless unless the income from the sale of those houses is reinvested in the same local authority area in central London?
Mark Field: It is not absolutely worthless, although I echo the comments made earlier on that issue, and hope that the Minister—as well as accepting amendment 112, to which I was a co-signatory—will indicate that as far as possible the Government will wisely consider the legal terms and the wording of the amendment. The wording does not guarantee that the proceeds of any sales will be retained in London; it simply governs the terms of agreements that the Government might choose to make to that effect. It would be helpful to have something on record about the strength of the commitment to ensure that there is replacement building in the capital, but I will leave that to the Minister.
It is fair to say that plans to allow housing association tenants the right to buy their homes came as a bit of a rabbit out of a hat before May’s general election. I appreciate and agree with the general aspiration to roll out home ownership to as many people as possible, but I worry that forced sales will deplete stock, and that once a windfall has been pocketed, the property concerned will simply be rented out to a high earner. That is what has happened in many housing estates in my constituency, where the second or third buyer after a sale under the right to buy has been—dare I say it?—a well-paid yuppie.
On a philosophical level, I confess that I am uneasy about the principle of the forced sale of properties that have been built or bought with private, philanthropic donations, and without Government grant. In the case of Peabody—a major social housing provider in my constituency—that approach risks disregarding the intention with which the founder, George Peabody, made his original charitable endowment in the late 1800s, when 10,772 Peabody homes were built without Government grant in my constituency and slightly beyond. I accept that we crossed the Rubicon on that with leasehold reform legislation over the past 30 years, but I worry about the precedents we are setting. It has already been mooted by Opposition Members that buy-to-let landlords should be forced to sell their homes to tenants. I think that would be entirely wrong, but it would probably be the extension of what is proposed.
That touches upon the inherent “fairness” of this policy. Had the Secretary of State been here, I would have taken him on a walk down memory lane. He was a former councillor in my constituency and the Warwick ward of Pimlico, and I walked through that area two or three weeks before the general election, canvassing the stucco-fronted homes of Cumberland Street. On one side, tenants of London and Quadrant pay perhaps £100 per week rent for their flats, whereas on the other side, in almost identical properties, private renters—I accept that this is a hotspot of central London—are paying £350 per week. Already those tenants are in a financially disadvantageous position, yet the former group will get a discount on the purchase price of their properties, and will potentially be able to rent them out further down the line. I question the fairness of giving such huge advantages to those already in secure housing, yet giving no advantage to those in the private rented sector whose voice is perhaps not heard as loudly in this debate, particularly from Labour Members. Central London is an extremely expensive place to live.
I have spoken to a number of housing association residents, such as Lee Millan of the Golden Lane Estate Residents Association in the City of London, and Nicole Furre of the Seven Dials housing co-operative. They pointed out that charging families to “pay to stay” in their council home if they earn more than a certain level of income—£30,000 a year outside London, or the relatively modest amount of £40,000 in central London—also introduces unfairness. For a family in my constituency, £40,000 is not a large amount, and I believe that the cap should be set higher and staircased so that people pay rent that is linked to what they are earning at a particular time. There is also a natural worry that the starting level of that cap might be reduced as time goes by.
There is much that is good in the Bill, and I wish to end on a positive note, but all London MPs share some major worries. Meeting the housing needs of the capital requires the commitment and action of all local authorities, and to help to address those shortages, I am proud that the City of London Corporation has committed to building 3,700 new homes by 2025, many of which will be outside the square mile—as many Members will know, some of the most successful London housing estates outside the square mile are run by the corporation. The programme will be funded through planning gain receipts, grant funding, borrowing through the housing revenue account and a cross-subsidy from the market sales of new homes.
I am sorry that I have concentrated on London, but Members will appreciate why I have done so. All London MPs know only too well that our city will function successfully only if we start thinking creatively in a way that a number of Members from—dare I say it?—both sides of the House have been doing. Together, we must try to address the housing crisis. Once the Bill is on the statute book, as I hope it will be soon, all London MPs stand ready to help the Government—and any future Government—to ensure that we are able more successfully to tailor London’s housing policy so that the social capital to which I referred earlier is kept intact. Some issues of constrained housing supply can be addressed only at a national level, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to this timely debate.