Housing Minister ‘has hands tied by Treasury’

A heated discussion on housing in the Public Accounts Committee covered a wide range of topics including the White Paper.

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Lord Porter has accused the Treasury of being at fault for the current state of housing.

The Local Government Association chairman slammed the Treasury for its lack of positive action in housing.

He said: “We now have a housing minister that is actually open to housing but his hands are tied by the Treasury and if government really loved housing then someone would get hold of the Treasury and make them understand that it is all their fault.”

He said governments had “fallen out of love for building the homes families want, in a place they want, at a price they can afford.”

When pushed on his point, he retorted: “If we haven’t fallen out of love with building enough houses then why do we get in the way of building houses?

“It is state intervention in some things and lack of it in others that has created the situation that we are in.”

He also had a spat with former housing minister Caroline Flint, saying councils had been “actively discouraged from building houses”.

“The previous Labour government drove councils away from building council housing and the only way we have built enough houses to keep with what is needed is when the state plays a part.

“Private builders, apart from recession years, build the same amount of homes year on year so it is the state that hasn’t kept up with demand.

“Councils have been actively discouraged from building houses. I can’t remember any Labour housing minister whilst I was in charge of housing at the LGA that encouraged councils to build houses. In fact, the Labour government you (Flint) were part of wanted us to get rid of our houses in stock transfer.”

Flint hit back at Porter, saying there was opportunity for local councillors to do more.

But he said that the local plans were there to stop development, not encourage it.

“There will be no votes in housing. People don’t want their home views obscured. You’ll find very few councils that will shy away from developments.”

Also at the evidence session was Toby Lloyd of Shelter, who highlighted the issue of land in the housing crisis.

He said: “The fundamental problem in housing is a land problem because land is inherently scarce, a market only solution will never deliver sufficient homes in order to bring a price down to everyone can afford.

“Therefore, we need public sector intervention in land markets in order to provide enough land at low enough cost, let alone for infrastructure that is needed to make genuinely attractive affordable and sustainable communities.

“The mixed market approach in housing and land has historically been the only way we have been able to keep prices in reach of ordinary people.”

When questioned about housing benefit from committee member Richard Bacon MP, in which it was outlined that 75% of what government spends on housing is in housing benefit, Lloyd said: “It was a policy choice to go down this route, it was not an accident. When local authority building stopped, the housing minister at the time said that housing benefit was there to take the strain. This was a choice and one that can be unmade. Unfortunately it cannot be made quickly.”

Chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, Terrie Alafat, said “one size does not fit all” in terms of sorting out the benefits system and added there needed to be a joined up thought process to deal with the problem.

She also offered CIH research to helping the government look at the impacts across the country and to different groups of people.

There were also reactions to the White Paper, with Toby Lloyd saying it was “missing the detail” but there were some measures that looked favourable.

Terrie Alafat welcomed the fact the paper stated one part of the sector or one tenure will solve the housing crisis.

She added: “There is a lot that can be done with the right packages and incentives for local authorities.”

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