Felicity Buchan is the MP for Kensington.
There are two things that the vast majority of people would agree with:
A substantial programme of new housebuilding is the answer to both of those. Through apprenticeships and traineeships, we can increase job opportunities in the construction sector to drive the economic recovery, while building hugely needed new homes.
This issue – of ensuring that everyone has a safe, secure home they can afford – is personal for me. As the MP for Kensington, which includes Grenfell Tower, I am acutely aware that each person should go to sleep at night in a safe and secure home. Good housing has a profound impact on health, wellbeing, educational attainment, and economic success. The prevalence of coronavirus in communities where overcrowding is common, is another wake-up call for the need for more housing. We need to adopt a two-step approach: ensuring our existing housing stock is safe and fit for purpose, while building more housing.
I am very supportive of the Government’s overhaul of our building safety regime with the Fire Safety Bill (which had its Second Reading in April) and the draft Building Safety Bill (which was introduced to Parliament in July). If there is to be any positive legacy from the Grenfell fire, it must be that a tragedy of this kind is never allowed to happen again and that our building and fire safety regime is state of the art.
But we also need to correct the fundamental shortage of housing, in particular of affordable housing. Many people working in our vital services and many young people struggle to find an affordable home within a suitable distance from their employment, and this is certainly a significant issue in Kensington.
We have seen the Government commit to increasing the supply of affordable housing by allocating £12.2 billion for the Affordable Homes Programme for homes to be delivered from 2021/22 over the next five years. In June 2020, Government estimated this would deliver up to 180,000 new affordable homes.
We need a range of tenures in our new affordable housing, including socially rented and intermediate ownership. Clearly new housing needs to be sympathetic to its surroundings; and I would strongly recommend a focus on developing brownfield sites, with developments of a height and massing in keeping with the local area.
As we respond to coronavirus, we must focus not just on saving lives, but on saving livelihoods. Housebuilding is crucial to rebuilding a strong economy, and brings with it skills and employment opportunities. Research from the Centre for Economics and Business Research and the National Housing Federation had calculated that £4.8 billion would be added directly to the economy, and 86,000 jobs would be supported, if 90,000 affordable homes were built a year. When indirect spending is added, this rises to £11.2 billion and 200,000 jobs. Furthermore, the Government estimated in the Budget 2020 that its £12.2bn investment in affordable housing should generate an additional £38 billion in public and private investment, an enormous uplift.
Community organisations and businesses also have a role to play. In December last year, I visited a housing association scheme for young people at risk of homelessness in Kensington, run by Evolve Housing and Support. It was inspiring to see young people learning skills and receiving the support that can set them up for life.
A government-backed building programme also provides an opportunity to encourage investment in green, sustainable development. As a member of the Conservative Environment Network, I have been particularly involved in lobbying the Government for a Green economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The Green Home grant scheme is an excellent step in improving our existing housing stock; we also need to build energy efficient new affordable housing developments.
Building new affordable homes is a rare example of a “win win”: providing the safe and secure new homes people need, while fuelling the recovery of the construction sector and the economy as a whole. These homes can be a lasting positive legacy: well built, energy efficient, and sympathetic to their local areas.
Let’s combine these aims to make sure we build back better.