According to housing minister Brandon Lewis, the government’s 2020 goal of building one million new homes is still within reach despite the UK’s decision to exit the European Union.
Addressing the Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference in Manchester through a video link from a bustling Westminster, Lewis said the referendum result and the anticipated change of Prime Minister have created a “new world” – but the Government remains dedicated to its housing strategy.
“Despite the changes ahead, our manifesto commitments stay true,” he stated.
“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 asked for a “recast their relationship” between municipalities and housing authorities.
“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.
In addition to the 160,000 homes that will be made available by the central government, I plan to engage with local governments to unlock development sites and speed up delivery through strong strategic partnerships.
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 committed to crack down on “abuse” of the expansion of Right to Buy by companies, set up legitimately, that are looking to make deals 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 that the expansion accomplishes its goal of allowing 1.3 million tenants the opportunity to own their own house. It is not the responsibility of organisations to make a profit. To ensure that the system is not exploited, I plan to present ideas to the sector very soon.”
The government won’t be lifting the Housing Revenue Account debt cap because doing so would have a negative impact on public finances, but Lewis pointed out that there is already £3.4 billion in unused “headroom” and councils didn’t utilise the extra capacity that ministers made available.
“Instead of implementing a top-down plan, I encourage any local government interested in building to contact me directly. We will have a dialogue with you and see what is out there. If you’d like to build, we’ll have a look at all of the options available to you “Then, he added.
Lewis emphasised that the aim, rather than target, of delivering one million new homes by 2020 remains possible.
“That will be even more difficult on Thursday, when we will have to deal with a number of difficulties, so we must remain laser-focused. It’s a fact of life that the country has made the decision, and I must work within that framework if I intend to build one million new houses during my time in this parliament.”