At this hour, I do not need to go into great detail as it is fairly obvious that Amendment 83C speaks for itself. It seeks to enable the Secretary of State to create local development corporations at the request of local authorities. Amendment 83A requires that any such development corporations so established,

“shall include at least one local authority elected member who shall have full voting rights”.

I hope that is self-evident and that it would happen anyway. I move that amendment as a probing amendment at this stage but hope to receive at least an encouraging response from the Minister. I hope that she and noble Lords opposite will at least support the intentions here. I beg to move.

Lord Best: My Lords, I declare the interest that I did not need to declare in my previous amendment, which is that I am president of the Local Government Association, which supports both these amendments. I see them as complementary to our earlier debate on nationally significant infrastructure projects.

I very much hope that wherever a local authority wants to get on with it and do these things, we should give it every possible encouragement. I hope that these amendments are both acceptable to the Minister but would just add that it is likely that housing associations would play a very significant role in the development corporations. Many local authorities will not themselves be undertaking development on such a scale, and

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co-operation and partnership with housing associations will also be incredibly important in making the development corporations work.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we are happy to support these amendments. I say only, in relation to the proposal to have one local authority elected member, that the key thing is not so much status on a board and voting rights but the imperative of engaging with the local authority. That is probably behind the amendments, which I am happy to support.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Tope for explaining the background to these amendments. As I said in response to my noble friend Lord Jenkin in an earlier debate, it is not that the Government do not support the purpose of what a local development corporation could achieve in terms of what a local authority could get from that.

We believe that what a local development corporation could achieve is possible for local authorities to do already. They already have plan-making and development control powers for their areas and powers to acquire land compulsorily where necessary. Should they wish to focus on particular geographic areas, they can, under their general powers of competence—new powers brought in by this Government—make appropriate arrangements to do so, whether informally through a sub-committee or through a formal structure such as a limited company. For example, Liverpool has set up a mayoral development corporation to drive growth and development in the city without there needing to be any specific primary legislation providing for this. Where local authorities want to work together to secure the development of an area that crosses local authority boundaries, they are able to pool their planning powers so that decisions about that area can be taken in one place.

It is quite a straightforward measure but I feel that, as I have already explained, because the powers are already there for local authorities to act in this way, I have very little more to add to that, really, in responding to the debate.

Lord Tope: I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord McKenzie, for their support and to the Minister for her reply. I have no choice but to withdraw the amendment.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Will the Minister just explain again? Are we saying that any powers that could accrue and be put in place for a local development corporation are, in total, otherwise available to a local authority on an individual or a joint basis? Is that what the Minister is saying?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Will the noble Lord clarify what he means by joint?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I thought the Minister said it is possible for local authorities to do certain things together with other authorities in terms of

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planning powers; they could share those. Is that the totality of the powers that a local development corporation could have available, or are there things that are excluded?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I hope that my noble friend, Lord Tope, will forgive me if I have in any way short-changed him in responding to this. I felt that I did not want to go off into great detail, as it seemed quite straightforward. I can also say to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, that the answer to his question is yes. They have the powers available and they can work together jointly, as I have described. There is a principle in what the noble Lord is seeking to achieve through this. It is available and possible; they can do it and there is nothing standing in their way to take advantage of the powers that already exist.

5.30 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: If I may ask one further question, would a local development corporation be in a position to hold its own assets, effectively through a corporate structure? Would that be different to how a local authority might hold them?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Does the noble Lord mean to ask whether a local development corporation would have greater powers? Based on the information I have and the answers I have already given, I think the answer to that has to be no. They would not have any additional powers. As I said earlier, the local authorities can set up a limited company. That is available to them; in Liverpool, they have already set up a mayoral development corporation to deliver what this amendment seeks to achieve.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: So just to be clear, they could set up a local development corporation.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Yes.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Splendid.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I reassure the Minister that I did not feel short-changed and that I feel even less short-changed now. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 83A withdrawn.

Amendment 83B

Moved by Lord Tope

83B: After Clause 20, insert the following new Clause—

“Custom build housing

(1) Local authorities may make provision for custom build housing through the assembly of land within their area.

(2) Local authorities may charge a fee for this activity from interested parties to recover their costs.”

Lord Tope: My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 83B to enable us to have what I hope will be a short but interesting debate on custom-build housing. This will give the Minister an opportunity to respond with

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examples of the Government’s enthusiasm for it, which I know is there. I am conscious that this time on a Thursday evening is probably not the best time to initiate such an enthusiastic debate. I am not suggesting for one moment that this is the answer to the housing crisis we discussed earlier today. Plainly, it is not but it is a small and useful part of the answer. There is a growing interest in custom-build housing so perhaps I should be clear for the record what is meant by that. It includes both self-build housing, where the owner builds it himself, and those where individual commissions for building are of a house. I think that the phrase custom-build housing has now been adopted to cover both.

The LGA tells me that one in 10 new houses in the UK is custom-built. If that is the case, as I am sure it is, it is a small but significant part. It is one which is growing and in which there is considerable interest. My part of the Government are certainly very keen to encourage it and if this fairly simple amendment—which, as I said, was intended to create a debate—were enacted it would encourage local authorities to make provision for custom-build housing in their assembly of land. It would give further stimulus and encouragement to what is, as I say, a growing market and make a contribution—perhaps a relatively small contribution but a useful one—to meeting the housing need. It would also meet it in a way which most directly meets the needs of those who wish to use that housing, because it is their housing in every sense of the word. With that brief explanation and introduction, I beg to move.

Lord Best: I will not prolong the debate late on a Thursday, but I add my support to this amendment and note again that the LGA is keen on it. The major housebuilders have moved up from building 46% of the nation’s housing to building 70%. We are becoming incredibly dependent on a handful of very large housebuilders and we need to get back to having the SMEs, the small and medium-sized housebuilders, getting back into business. Many were wiped out during the credit crunch, the recession, and we need them back again. This is a way of ensuring that they can come back, because what they lack is the opportunity to get their hands on land. This is made easy for them by the use of the custom-build technique and this amendment would help in that process. In Germany, they build something over 40% of all their housing on this basis of land being assembled and housebuilders building sometimes a single house but sometimes several houses on the plots that are made available.

There is a slightly sinister aspect to the bringing back of the SME housebuilders, which is the notion that the smaller housebuilders and those developing smaller sites—smaller housebuilders and smaller sites often go closely together, because the big players do not want to deal with small sites—would not in future have a requirement for the provision of affordable housing attached to the consent. It is a government concept, which has yet to be enshrined in any way but is subject to consultation, that sites with perhaps fewer than 10 homes would not be required to have any affordable housing within the mix. One might think that with 10 homes that does not much matter, but in

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rural areas nearly all the village schemes for affordable housing for local people are of fewer than 10 homes. Something like 70% of all rural schemes are of fewer than 10 homes. The thought that this will help small housebuilders to do more is misguided.

It is the land, which is the subject of this amendment, which is preventing the small players doing the kind of housebuilding they used to do. They cannot get their hands on sites. It is not that they need to have special concessions and reduce the amount of affordable housing that they build, just as it is not the case that smaller schemes should have the requirements removed from them for sustainable housing for the move towards carbon neutrality by 2016. This amendment seeks to bring back those small and medium-sized housebuilders. Those amendments which seek ways of lowering standards or of removing the requirement for affordability are missing the point. It is this one which would help bring back those housebuilders in such a way that we do not make any sacrifices in terms of quality.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am happy to support this amendment and I support the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Best. Doubtless, the Government will make reference to their custom-build fund, which was announced a couple of weeks ago. As for our plans for custom build, we support an actual requirement on local authorities to include a higher proportion of small sites in their five-year land supply, in order to boost small and custom build, and to guarantee access to public land for smaller firms and custom builders. As I think I said before, to make sure that we give people the chance to sign up to a waiting list for custom build, co-operative homes or community land, trust projects with local people have been the priority. We are certainly supportive of custom build, but we await with some trepidation the outcome of the Section 106 consultation for smaller sites.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Tope for tabling his amendment. This is, as he suggested, not because I think it is necessary in order to achieve an increase in custom build, but because it provides us with an opportunity to discuss and debate this important matter. This Government very much support custom build and are doing a lot to enable it. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, outlined the way the Opposition propose to approach this issue. However, it is worth noting that, sadly, when they were in government there was no advancement in this area, so we have some ground to make up.

Finding a suitable building plot remains the single biggest barrier holding back thousands of new projects every year. Of course, some councils already provide land for custom build. For example, at Bicester, Cherwell District Council is bringing forward land for up to 1,900 custom-build homes. However, the Government want to do more to help custom builders and support this growing industry. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Best, said. This is an important way of encouraging those smaller building firms as well. That is why we announced a further package of measures in the Budget to tackle this problem. Last week, we invited local

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authorities to apply to become right to build vanguards. Later this year, the Government will consult on creating the new right to build, which will give custom builders the opportunity to buy suitable shovel-ready plots of land.

Local authorities are already required by the National Planning Policy Framework to assess and plan for their housing needs and our planning guidance makes clear that this should include people who want to build their own homes. Those authorities forging ahead on custom build show that they already have the powers they need to support custom building. They can also already recover the costs of sales. Stoke-on-Trent City Council is doing just that and other authorities such as Cherwell, as I indicated, plan to do the same. The Government are keen to continue to consider what we can do to support custom builders but, as I said, I do not feel that this particular amendment is necessary to do that. I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend that we want to see more local authorities doing more to support custom build.

The other thing is that most noble Lords who contributed to the debates this afternoon are more experienced in the field of housebuilding and planning than I am. However, my father worked in the building trade and I feel very much that, when we talk about custom build, we should be careful to ensure that we paint a picture to people that it is not just the preserve of a small minority or a certain kind of people. Custom build should be available to everybody. With the measures the Government are putting in place, we are firmly on the path to realising that ambition. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Tope for giving us this opportunity to discuss this matter, albeit briefly, but I hope he will none the less withdraw his amendment.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his eloquent support. He is much more knowledgeable on the subject than I and he explained it very well. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for his support, too, and to the Minister for recognising that I put the amendment down to enable the debate and not with any intention of pressing it to a vote—not that I can—or expectation that it would appear in the Bill.

We have had a short debate, but it is important that we were able raise an issue that will be of growing importance. The Minister made some personal family comments. Actually, a few weeks ago I visited a house in Glastonbury that I had not known about before but which was built by my grandfather’s nephew. He was a small builder and built that house so that each of its four walls was in a very different style. It was built at the turn of the century and was a slightly odd-looking house, but I guess that it must have been one of the original show houses. You would visit the house and choose which type of stonework you wanted. It is now used as a bed and breakfast and if any noble Lord wants the details I am happy to give them. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 83B withdrawn.

Amendment 83C not moved.

Committee adjourned at 5.45 pm.