Reynolds questions government over leaked document, which suggests housing starts are set to fall

Emma Reynolds, shadow housing minister, has called upon housing minister Kris Hopkins to publish a leaked document that shows the number of houses on which construction will begin are forecast to fall next year. 

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In a letter she has made public (of which you can find the full text below), Reynolds questioned Hopkins over the leaked figures, found by BBC Newsnight, which “reveal housing starts to have decreased by four per cent” and, she goes on to state,  “the BBC report claims that Ministers are now looking for ’emergency measures’ to increase house building.”

As Reynolds makes clear in her letter, this revelation comes off the back of repeated claims made by the government that their housing policies are working. She cites a number of examples where it’s said the leaked document shows that the government’s assertions over housing appear to be entirely incorrect. She explains:

“In PMQs on 15th January this year, the Prime Ministers aid, “House building is picking up: we are seeing a big increase in housing starts”. He went on to say “[We] are seeing house building increase.

However, it has been reported that the document states, “DCLG [ the Department for Communities and Local Government’s] expect a decrease in the number of houses started this year: down from 133,650 in 2013/2014 to c.128,000 in 2014/15 (-4%).” 

At a time when there’s an ongoing housing shortage, the potential gap between government claims and the reality of the situation is a worrying one.

Reynolds ends her letter with a set questions for Hopkins, including whether he will “now publish in full the document leaked to Newsnight last night?” and if he can “confirm that the document warns that housing starts are set to fall next year?” We, along with Reynolds, look forward to hearing his response. 

Emma Reynolds’s letter to Kris Hopkins in full:

Dear Kris

A leaked report from your Department obtained by BBC Two’s Newsnight shows that Ministers have been advised that next year’s housing figures will reveal housing starts to have decreased by four per cent.

The BBC report claims that Ministers are now looking for “emergency measures” to increase house building. This is despite repeated assurances from members of the Government, including the Prime Minister, that housing starts are set to increase

It is already a matter of record that your Government has presided over the lowest level of home completions in peace time since the 1920s. This report now reveals that the reality of your Government’s record is seriously at odds with recent statements

Claims on house building

In PMQs on 15th January this year, the Prime Ministers aid, “House building is picking up: we are seeing a big increase in housing starts”. He went on to say “[We] are seeing house building increase.

However, it has been reported that the document states, “DCLG expect a decrease in the number of houses started this year: down from 133,650 in 2013/2014 to c.128,000 in 2014/15 (-4%).” The BBC report also stated that “the Government is exploring emergency measures to kick-start house-building.”

Claims on sites with planning permission but not yet started

In a written PQ reply to the Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn, the Planning Minister said, “The latest figures from Glenigan estimate that the number of dwellings with planning permission that are classified as ‘on hold or shelved’ has fallen”.

Yet the Government’s document reportedly states, “9,000 sites for 350,000 homes with full planning permission haven’t started building.”

Claims on right-to-buy replacements

In a debate in Parliament on a Statutory Instrument yesterday, you suggested that your right-to-buy policy will deliver one-for one replacements. On Tuesday 1st July, you said, “Some £420 million-worth of receipts have been secured through right to buy since we rejuvenated that pot, and they will deliver one-for-one houses.

Yet the leaked document suggests that the policy of “right to buy 1-1 replacement” is not delivering.

The number of homes we are building as a country is of the highest importance. In a recent interview Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England said “the biggest risk to financial stability, and therefore to the durability of the expansion – those risks centre in the housing market, and that’s why we are focused on that”. He notes, “there are not sufficient houses built in the UK”.

This is clearly an issue of national importance and in light of the revelations from the leaked report and the contrast with your statements and those of your ministerial colleagues on housing policy there are significant questions that need answering.

  • Will you now publish in full the document leaked to Newsnight last night?
  • Can you confirm that the document warns that housing starts are set to fall next year?
  • How do these reported figures – and the other comments on planning permission not started and 1-1 replacement – reconcile with Ministers’ claims about your housing policies?
  • Is it the case that Ministers are now looking around for emergency measures to kick-start house building?

In view of the widespread public interest in this matter, I am releasing this letter to the media.

Yours sincerely,

Emma Reynolds MP

Shadow Housing Minister

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