Speech

Brandon Lewis' speech to the RESI housing conference

Housing Minister Brandon Lewis' speech to the RESI housing conference in Newport.

The Rt Hon Brandon Lewis MP

It’s a pleasure to join you again for my second RESI conference.

We’re back at Celtic Manor, but one small difference from last year is that there is no longer a general election looming on the horizon.

It will come as no surprise that I believe the election result was the best outcome for the housing market and the country.

It removed the threat of rent controls and blanket regulations that would have seriously damaged the private rented sector, and undermined the potential for investment.

For me personally it meant another opportunity to serve as Minister of State for Housing and Planning.

I was delighted when I got the call from the Prime Minister confirming my reappointment, because I believe housing is one of the most important jobs in government.

In the election campaign we made it clear that improving the housing market would be a top priority.

That goal is only possible because we cut the deficit by half and laid the foundations for economic recovery.

For the second year in a row we are growing faster than any other major advanced economy, and our job creation is the envy of the developed world.

Our country is rising again, and that includes the performance of the housing market.

Housing starts and the number of first time buyers have doubled since 2009.

Last year alone the number of first time buyers rose by 20%.

But we all know the job is far from complete.

A better housing market will be vital for meeting the aspirations of working people, and raising the productivity of our country.

On 7 May the British public recognised that fact. They asked us to finish the job, and we are determined to repay their trust.

That’s why this government is committed to encouraging homeownership, building homes people can afford to buy, and investing in all areas of the housing market – including the private rented sector.

We will serve as a one nation government.

One nation – so whoever you are, and wherever you live, you can benefit from a home of your own, whether you buy or rent.

One nation – because for Britain to prosper every part of the country must contribute to its success

Devolution and housing

Our commitment for one nation is why this government is dedicated to devolving greater powers away from Whitehall to local areas.

To ensure we continue rebalancing the economy, and help local communities use their dynamism and local leadership to fulfil their potential, and provide the homes their area needs.

During the last parliament we made great strides towards reversing the failure of centralisation, devolving powers on planning, housing and economic growth.

We reached an agreement with the 10 councils in Greater Manchester to devolve significant powers, and recently extended this deal to include a land commission to release public land to build new homes.

Earlier this summer we agreed a devolution deal for Cornwall – the first for a county – and we are negotiating deals to devolve powers to the Sheffield City Region, Leeds, West Yorkshire and its partner authorities, and the Liverpool City Region.

This is just the start. The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill will enable us to negotiate with cities, towns and counties across the country.

To give them the power they need to galvanise their local economies, and take greater control and responsibility over many areas of policy, including housing.

We want local areas to develop their best case for increasing housing delivery, perhaps by contributing their own assets and capital funding.

This will undoubtedly change the landscape of the housing market, but we’ve already seen why devolution works, by providing a fertile environment for investment in housing.

During the last parliament our planning reforms put local people in control.

Today they are developing their own plans for house building, and the planning system is faster and more efficient.

Since 2010, planning permissions for new homes are up 50%, while the number of Local Plans in place has more than doubled.

And since we introduced the National Planning Policy Framework, the number of new homes planned for in Local Plans has risen by 23%.

Neighbourhood planning has captured the imagination of communities across the country, and support for new homes has doubled over the last 4 years.

I was able to release figures at the end of June that showed that the numbers of homes that were granted planning permission in the year to March, was higher than before the 2008 economic crash.

Last year, councils across England granted permission for 261,000 new homes - the highest annual total for 8 years. It is all too easy to blame the planning system, and planners, for the challenges facing the housing market in particular. All too easy and it would appear, wholly wrong.

So our reforms are helping to boost housing supply, but they are also good for investment.

The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that councils should look at the viability of Build to Rent schemes when setting Section 106 obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy.

The result is that councils are starting to play a more direct role in bringing schemes forward.

Again, Manchester is a pioneer here, setting up Matrix Homes as a joint venture between the city council and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund to bring forward new homes for rent.

In London Wandsworth Council granted planning permission for a 114 home Build to Rent scheme within a 500 home development by Bellway Homes in the Nine Elms regeneration area in Battersea.

It’s now time for other local authorities to look at innovative ways of marrying their land holdings with third party capital to bring forward new homes.

I am convinced that councils will rise to the challenge of devolution, and this will mean delivering the homes their communities need, and providing more opportunities for institutional investment in housing.

Government investment in PRS

The government will also continue to play its part in creating a bigger, and better private rented sector, working through local partners.

Increasing supply is the best way of improving quality and choice for tenants.

That’s why we introduced the £1 billion Build to Rent fund, to build 10,000 homes specifically for private rent.

It has taken time to build momentum - and it is encouraging to see the amount of attention that you are giving to the subject of PRS delivery over this two days here in Celtic Manor: you all know we need to address this with renewed vigour now there is more certainty in the market - but real progress has been made in Build to Rent since the last RESI conference. 15 schemes will create over 4,000 new homes; and there are more deals in the pipeline.

Some of these schemes have reached completion.

I was delighted to see for myself the Three Towers project in Manchester, which has converted three disused tower blocks into 192 high quality apartments for rent.

The fact that 90% of the properties were rented out over a single weekend shows the demand that is out there for good quality, well managed privately rented accommodation.

The programme is generating momentum for investment, with more schemes coming forward that are independent of government funding support.

Some landmark schemes are now renting out including Be:Here’s 158 privately rented homes in Tower Hamlets, and Moorfields’ 240 privately rented homes at The Keel in Liverpool.

That building used to house the Inland Revenue, so I’m sure you’ll agree it’s now being put to better use.

In addition to capital funding, we’re also using our strong economic record to offer innovative housing guarantees to finance new rented homes.

That means £10 billion worth of investment in both private rented and affordable housing projects.

The Affordable Housing Guarantee Scheme has already committed to guarantee over £1.5 billion of debt for more than 13,000 new affordable homes, across 41 borrowers.

The Guarantee Scheme for the private rented sector is now open for business, operated by Venn Partners.

More than 150 investors in the private rented sector have registered their interest and Venn is currently processing the scheme’s first credit applications.

I’d encourage you all to go and speak to them at their stand and see if your businesses could also benefit.

Standards in PRS

The government will continue to facilitating investment in private rented sector, while using our powers to tackle the small minority of landlords that continue to offer a poor service and give the whole industry a bad name.

Standards in the sector have been steadily improving, and customer satisfaction is high, but there is still room for improvement.

The vast potential for investment in the sector will only be realised if rented homes have a reputation for good management.

That is why we recently published a discussion document setting out proposals that include a blacklist of rogue landlords and letting agents, banning orders for the worst offenders, extending Rent Repayment Orders to cover poor property conditions and illegal eviction, and the introduction of civil penalties.

Conclusion

We will crack down on rogue landlords and drive them out of business.

But we will never jeopardise the new appetite for investment in this sector with red tape and unnecessary regulation.

That would simply undo the good work of the last 5 years – a journey that has taken this country from the brink of bankruptcy to the fastest growing advanced economy in the world.

Businesses are growing, more people are in work than ever before, and living standards are rising. Our plans for devolution will give cities, towns and counties across the country the power to galvanise their local economies, deliver more homes, and provide a better business environment.

The government will continue to provide capital through Build to Rent, and cheap finance through our guarantees schemes.

We will release our land for development and encourage councils to do the same, while continuing to ensure the planning system is more efficient and productive.

Britain is a country on the rise, and we are creating the conditions for investment in the housing market.

So I’d encourage everyone in the room today to make sure your businesses can benefit from the new opportunities on offer, and deliver the homes that families need.

Published 9 September 2015