Speech

Eric Pickles speaks to the Chartered Institute of Housing conference

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Secretary of State addresses the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester.

The Rt Hon Sir Eric Pickles

Before taking office in 1924, Stanley Baldwin knew he needed to address the country’s need for housing.

He inherited a nation on the brink of financial collapse and a construction industry on its knees.

But for Baldwin, improving the supply of housing was not enough - “Decent housing,” Baldwin wrote, “is the foundation of both decent life and social peace.”

In 2010 the coalition inherited the lowest level of house building since Baldwin’s time.

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The bitter reality was the biggest budget deficit in peacetime history and a crash that devastated the sector, and beyond.

Like Baldwin, all great reforming governments have faced the challenge of how to meet the aspirations of Britons who want their own 4 walls.

A place they feel is their home.

From Baldwin to Macmillan to Thatcher, the methods may change but commitment to fulfilling dreams of home ownership and improving housing standards remain steady.

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Our inheritance?

An industry and a near collapse in construction.

Our challenge?

To fix it, to get Britain building again, and to help people into the home they deserve.

For housing is not just the cornerstone of a nation’s economic strength.

Besides the physical bricks and mortar, Great Britain needs great communities, too.

We are clear about the scale of the challenge we face. We are determined to succeed.

Fixing the broken housing market

We inherited a sector in disrepair.

We were dealing with a planning system strangled in red tape and ill-thought out developments were erupting with little care for comfort or design.

And where there was a problem, we sought a solution.

Planning reform

To start with, we needed a planning system that encouraged sensible development – that worked for local people, not against them.

So we got rid of top-down regional strategies, replacing them with ground-up local plans.

We scrapped density targets and ditched bureaucratic Housing Information Packs, helping people keep more of their hard earned cash.

Now we are going even further, today I can announce an extra £3 million to support local authorities tackle the barriers that hinder housing starts.

This will help facilitate up to 25,000 new homes.

We have also acted to ensure that councils are encouraged to build for their community.

The New Homes Bonus is rewarding those who go for growth and increase their housing stock.

Growing communities have growing needs, new doctors surgeries, schools and roads, and the bonus will support that and will ensure that they are not put off by a lack of funding.

To date, nearly £2.2 billion of New Homes Bonus has been allocated for more than half a million homes, and these developments continue to pump billions back into local communities.

Changes like this have made a big impact – in 2013 to 2014:

  • planning permission was granted for 216 thousand new homes

  • permissions on major sites are up by 23%

  • and housing starts are at their highest since 2007

But we understand that we cannot just stop there; there is no quick-fix, or silver bullet.

What we do have is a long-term commitment to put right the wrongs of Britain’s housing.

Getting Britain Building again

Housing supply

Better choice, better quality, a competitive and well-stocked supply will satisfy demand.

Unlocking large scale sites, making use of underdeveloped areas with the potential for more than 1,500 homes is one way we can achieve this.

We have already freed up enough sites for 80,000 homes, and today I can announce that the next phase of the £1 billion Local Infrastructure Fund has so far attracted 56 bids.

That’s more bids than there are unitary authorities in England, and demonstrates the eagerness of the industry to break ground on large sites.

We are delighted with the interest industry has shown, and the shortlist will be announced very soon.

And we will be looking at all these bids to make sure they make the most of every taxpayer pound being invested.

Today in Manchester, I am delighted to say we are unlocking the next phase of the Ancoats site.

Ancoats joins other freshly unlocked sites, East Kettering, Swindon, the Medway Valley, that’s more than 7,000 homes for hardworking families.

Already, Ancoats have transformed three abandoned blocks into 3 sustainable rental properties.

They’ll be given attractive makeovers energy efficient fittings and all financed by our £1 billion Build to Rent fund.

£49 million of that fund is supporting private rental properties in Hampshire and Croydon too, putting our current project total at over 1,600 new homes for rent.

Small builders

We know that our housing needs can’t be met by big developments alone.

That’s why we are supporting small builders with a £525 million Builder’s Finance fund.

This access to finance will get those firms back on site.

Together with our determination to make greater use of derelict brownfield sites, hundreds of thousands of homes will get built without plundering our precious green spaces.

Custom build

And I have more great news for developers and prospective home owners.

Today we are publishing the prospectus for a new £150 million investment fund for serviced plots, meaning you can be at the forefront of the emerging Custom Build industry.

Self-builds are popular throughout Europe and can be cheaper than traditional methods.

‘Right to Build’ will give custom builders the right to access land from their council, and by helping to deliver ten thousand plots you will be laying down the blueprint for self-build dreams.

Park Prewett in Basingstoke, a custom-build site surrounded by woodland and great road links, is being brought forward in partnership with the local council to build up to 120 plots.

Whichever direction you turn, there is a housing policy for every part of the sector and like a puzzle the pieces are all coming together, removing the barriers for Britain to build.

Helping hard working people get the home they want

But the task is not an easy one. We are working hard to turn the tanker around and reverse the decline in the number of first time buyers [political content removed].

Our priority has always been to help hard working people who aspire to buy a home of their own.

Help to Buy and Right to Buy

And Help to Buy has given those people, ‘generation rent’, a different future to plan for.

Owning a home is no longer the dream or preserve of those with wealthy parents.

We are making homeowners out of almost 36,000 families and by extending the Help to Buy offer to 2020 the dream of homeownership will become a reality for a further 120,000.

I welcome the Bank of England’s comments today, that mortgages should not be offered at more than 4 times a person’s salary.

This is precisely why the Chancellor has given new powers to the Financial Policy Committee – to intervene in a timely manner.

This proportionate step is helping us to maintain a stable housing market, and avoid the problems we have seen in the past.

The scheme already has a loan to income cap of 4.5 – precisely because we have never wanted to encourage unsustainable lending.

In fact, the average loan to income ratio for purchasers under the scheme is below 3.5.

Help to Buy is directly supporting the building of new housing stock house prices remain lower in real terms than in 2007 and the majority of transactions are taking place outside of London – 94% to be precise.

The Help to Buy capital is actually 200 miles away in Leeds.

Here in the city of Manchester, 259 families have been helped into a home of their own, and the average property price is under the national average.

For a graduate close to paying off their student loan, or a young father saving what he can by working extra hours, Help to Buy is unlocking the doors to thousands of properties.

Home ownership no longer seems like an unachievable target.

Roots are important and what better way to feel like you belong to a community than through home ownership.

Tenants living in their council house are just as entitled to this feeling of belonging and that’s why we have revived Right to Buy – [political content removed] that helps those who have worked hard and want to take that step towards home ownership.

And next month we are introducing a Right to Buy Agent Service that will offer impartial advice to encourage more Right to Buy sales.

27,000 social households now have their foot on the property ladder and for those not in a position to buy their council home, we are topping up the country’s affordable housing supply, left in steep decline by our predecessors.

Affordable housing

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Reversing the loss of 420,000 social rental houses is a difficult task.

But we have already delivered 200,000 since 2010, and we are on track to achieve the fastest rate of affordable house building for decades.

The price of a house should not mean poor quality.

Places like Rainham, where developers are putting quick and inexpensive offsite methods to use, are delivering affordable and attractive places to live.

These are real homes where you can enjoy living and spending precious time with family and friends and get to know your neighbours over the fence.

We have not done this alone.

Housing associations are doing a great job of creating these sorts of communities.

Our new programme is a partnership of the political and the private of £3.3 billion of government investment and up to £20 billion of leveraged private finance.

Councils started building more homes last year then they have done at any point over the last 23 years - a significant achievement.

The growing demand for housing is being met by a growing supply.

In government we have made difficult choices.

And by implementing bold policies like the Local Infrastructure Fund, the Custom Build investment - and Help to Buy, we have brought the market to life again.

A home should be somewhere you feel proud of when you cross the threshold every day, but so too should the street you walk down, and the community you are part of.

Regardless of budget, this is a feeling most of us aspire to have.

We are doing all that we can, so that you can do what you can to build.

You told us what you needed. We listened. Then we did it.

We have reconstructed the sector to get it moving again.

You’ve now got a full toolkit at your disposal, to get to work with a renewed focus.

The future for not just Britain’s economy, but for Britain’s housing, is bright and we are right behind you in achieving that.

So, my plea to our planners, developers and housing associations is this – create the sort of places you yourself would want to live.

Somewhere you’d take your family, or recommend to others.

A place you’d be proud to say, ‘yes, I live there, and I love it.’

We need you to be ambitious.

We need you to show ambition and leadership.

We need you to build the best homes this country has seen in decades.

Published 26 June 2014