The Government’s aim of building one million new homes by 2020 is still achievable in this parliament, although the UK’s vote to leave the European Union will make it more challenging, housing minister Brandon Lewis has said.
Addressing the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference in Manchester via a video link from a hectic Westminster, Lewis said the referendum result and the impending change of Prime Minister have created a “new world” – but the Government remains committed to its housing policy.
“Despite the changes ahead, our manifesto commitments stay true,” he said.
“That includes delivering 200,000 Starter Homes by 2020, it includes freeing up public sector land for new housing, support for small and specialist builders and diversification of our industry, reforms to compulsory purchase, further reforms to streamlining the planning system and we remain committed to extending the Right to Buy.”
Lewis also called on local authorities and housing associations to “recast their relationship”.
“The planning powers and assets of local authorities should be and can be combined with the development expertise and the funding of housing associations,” he said.
“Strong strategic partnerships will unlock development sites and accelerate delivery and I will be working with local government to deliver land for another 160,000 homes to add to the 160,000 homes’ worth of land that will be made available by central government.”
Lewis cautioned that it will not be plain sailing as the economy adjusts to a post-referendum world, but the housing sector is in a healthier state compared with the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, with 171,000 new homes build last year, compared with 145,000 in 2010, and planning permission granted for a “near record” 265,000 homes.
He also pledged to crack down on “abuse” of the extension of Right to Buy by companies, set up legally, that are seeking to make arrangements with tenants to buy up their properties and turn a profit.
“I’m aware there are people out there who are trying to use the system in a way that is inappropriate and I am determined that we will stop it,” he told the conference.
“We are working with the sector to ensure the extension does what is it intended to do, to allow 1.3m tenants the opportunity to own their own home. It is not for organisations to attempt to profiteer. I will be coming forward with proposals very soon, with the sector, to make sure we have a system that is not abused.”
Taking questions from the floor, Lewis said the Government will not lift the Housing Revenue Account debt cap because it would affect public finances, although he noted that there is already £3.4bn in unused “headroom” and when ministers made extra capacity available, councils did not use it up.
“Rather than doing some top-down scheme, I would say to you if you are a local authority that wants to build, come and see me. We will have a conversation with you and see what is out there. If you want to build, we will look across all of the schemes that are out there,” he said.
Lewis insisted that the ambition, rather than target, of delivering one million extra homes by 2020 remains achievable.
“Thursday does make that a bigger challenge than it was before; we are going to have some issues we need to deal with but we’ve got to be focused. The reality is the country made the decision, I’ve got to work with that decision and I still want to deliver one million homes in this parliament.”