25 JAN 2011

Property Market

Paul Uppal: I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate. I have been involved in property for about 20 years, and so this is an area that has concerned and perplexed me many times.I understand the premise of my hon. Friend's argument this morning, and have no issue with that; he is wholly correct. On the supply side, however, and particularly in terms of demand, in the UK we suffer from an exceptionally large number of people who aspire to own their own homes, compared with our continental neighbours in Germany and France, where there are much higher levels of renting. I have found that institutional investors often look for avenues through which they can get into the residential market, particularly from a letting perspective, and they have often approached Governments regarding the best way to do that. One area that is particularly talked about is the shared ownership vehicle. I do not know whether my hon. Friend, or the Minister later, will be able to comment on that, but I echo the sentiment of shared ownership as a way of solving the problem-not wholly, but certainly helping.

Richard Harrington: My hon. Friend has made an important point about the vehicles that can be used, and I am sure that the Minister will comment on that. I very much supported the introduction of the real estate investment trusts scheme into this field, but my argument today is about the supply of land for housing development, some of which-a greater percentage, I hope-will be for shared ownership; some of it will be for private ownership and private tenants, and the different forms of social housing. I do not think that my hon. Friend's point, valid though it is, is relevant to that argument.

I remind hon. Members that the lack of accessible housing for first-time buyers is not just a housing issue, or something to do with the idea that an Englishman's home is his castle, and people's desire for their own home. It has serious ramifications for the future of Watford, as for many other places. To use Watford as my example, as I should and must, it has for a long time been a popular place for young professionals, people working in and opening new businesses, and families seeking a first step on the property ladder. It is quite near London, and a lot cheaper, and it is a nice place to live. I say that in my capacity as honorary president of the Watford tourist board-but it is a nice place, and people enjoy going there. It is close to London without London prices. However, I have a significant fear that without housing supply at reasonable prices, which is a function of supply-we know that the demand will always be there, or I at least believe it will-the area will have difficulty in attracting young professionals, and attracting people to open or engage in businesses. That is the most significant aspect of what is a serious matter, with huge implications.

I support localism and I applaud the Government's efforts to introduce it throughout the country, but my central argument, which I hope the Minister will accept, is that it must be part of a balanced package. We must avoid any trap; for the last Government it was their obsession with centralism-the Stalinism that I mentioned before-but that must not be replaced by a similar obsession with localism as the only way to obtain housing supply.

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