Sharma under pressure over housing need proposals

The Communities and Local Government Committee have quizzed housing minister Alok Sharma on the proposals, which are due to come into effect next April.

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Alok Sharma has defended a new government proposal, which seeks to make changes to local housing need.

The proposals would see a methodology introduced which sets the number of homes needed in a particular area.

However, the committee were concerned that in some areas, this actually lowered the number of homes already pitched to be built in areas.

Committee Chair, Clive Betts, said there was an issue that “less homes could get built”, saying local authorities with lower targets may accept them and scale back, while those with higher numbers may not be able to reach the new targets.

Issues were also raised from Liz Twist MP on affordability, to which the housing minister replied: “Our approach to housing need is that this needs to be done by honest assessment of where homes are needed and how many are needed.”

But the committee were still not convinced the methodology being introduced would enable more homes to be built.

The housing minister once again defended the policy, saying: “What we are saying to local authorities is look at what you are delivering and look at what is being proposed.

“The new methodology is not the only methodology, councils can come up with their own but that would have to be tested.

“It is up to local areas to decide what numbers are good for them. From our perspective, what this is about is putting forward a methodology, which if you have heard from local experts group, they feel there should be some standardisation.

“We do not want to limit the ambition in any area. We are putting forward a methodology but ultimately it will be a local decision on housebuilding.”

Committee member Helen Hayes said using this new methodology, Southwark would have to build 75% of the number that the whole of Birmingham has to.

She said this sounded “counter intuitive” and asked the minister to clarify if that was right.

He said: “This is not some sort of top down target we are imposing.

“When I published this consultation I had a couple of conversations with the mayors in the north and said this is just a starting point.

“Clearly, if based on economic growth, jobs growth forecast, areas wanted to be more ambitious, we would very much welcome that. Clearly, if they believe the homes they want to build can be sold, that is very good thing.

“What we have tried to address is the issue of affordability and what we have said is that it is up to local areas in the north if they want to build more then they should.

“We are having conversations with places in the north in terms of local deals with councils and we want to encourage that.”

Hayes pressed Sharma on what support there would be for councils from the government.

Sharma pointed toward the Housing Infrastructure Fund, as well as the additional £2bn announced by May at the party conference.

He added that the rent settlement for social housing landlords has been welcomed by landlords, which “allows them to speak to their lenders and build more homes than originally anticipated”.

The housing minister said local plans would be used to ensure “less ambitious councils” were building the homes needed for their local area.

Betts also asked whether a new policy announcement and consultation a week is actually harming the housebuilding rates, creating more uncertainty.

Sharma responded: “A lot of what we have proposed does require consultation, it does require changes of legislation but as a result of this we believe we will have a better system that produces more homes.

“There have been a lot of announcements but most of these have been welcomed.

“I hope that while we have been doing a lot, it shows a sense of purpose and direction in the department to get on with the job in hand.”

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