Local MP Robin Walker rounded off his 2015 in Parliament with a well-received speech during yesterday’s Opposition Day debate on Housing.

The Worcester MP, who will be travelling back to Worcester for the Christmas period later this evening, used his speech to look to the future of affordable housing in Worcester at the head of a successful few years under the Conservative-controlled Council.

Robin said:

“In our beautiful county town, a city of about 100,000 people, there is rightly pressure to build affordable homes on brownfield rather than greenfield sites, both to protect the stunning Worcestershire countryside, which is such an asset to our county, and to defend the vital floodplains on which we rely each year to keep the River Severn out of homes and businesses. I was pleased to hear in a recent meeting with the Environment Agency that it rates Worcester City Council as one of the best councils in the area at using the planning system to protect its floodplains. Given that we see winter floods almost every year, that is essential.”

“There is much the Government can do to further support the delivery of affordable homes in brownfield sites, and I am pleased to hear about the new brownfield fund. I hope the Government will look into more mechanisms to support renting above the shop and city centre living, which I believe can both help our high streets and address the desperate need for affordable homes.

I welcome the Government policies on Help to Buy. I have seen that for myself on the streets of Worcester, meeting people who have been able to buy their own home for the first time who would not otherwise have been able to do so. I particularly welcome the Help to Buy ISA. I also welcome the Government’s efforts to crack down on rogue landlords, going further than Labour ever did in their 13 years in office to deal with this very serious issue.”

Robin also used part of his time highlighting Labour’s shameful record on affordable housing in Worcester

“For as long as anyone can remember, Worcester has been bombarded by Labour leaflets telling people that Labour is the party of affordable housing. I remember fighting local election campaigns as long ago as 2001 in which every Labour leaflet was adorned with messages about affordable housing. In 2003, the Liberal Democrats went into coalition with Labour on the council, with the explicit aim of delivering more affordable houses. If Labour had any track record of success in this area, the leaflets would be understandable. Knowing the importance of affordable housing, I made it my mission to explore how much Labour administrations in the city had delivered.

The figures from Worcester City Council tell a stark story of Labour neglect. From 1997 to 2000, a period in which Worcester had a Labour MP, a Labour-led council and—oh joy of joys—that things-can-only-get-better Labour Government in Westminster, the council built fewer than 20 affordable homes per year. Very few of these homes, and none after 1997-98, were for affordable ownership, and the abysmal record of Labour when they had complete political control of Worcester was of just 22, then 11, then 19 affordable homes delivered—these figures in a city of 100,000 people.”

 

Notes to Editors:

Robin’s full speech can be found below

I am grateful to the Opposition for calling a debate on affordable housing, because it gives me the opportunity to point out the very different records of Labour and my party in both national and local government in supplying affordable homes in Worcester.

Affordable housing is one of the most pressing and important issues for me, as the MP for Worcester. It is the single most commonly raised concern at my surgeries. Although Worcester has seen nothing like the price inflation that has been seen in the south-east, the price of housing is a major worry for young people, whether they are students and apprentices setting out to rent or young professionals looking to buy their first home.

In our beautiful county town, a city of about 100,000 people, there is rightly pressure to build affordable homes on brownfield rather than greenfield sites, both to protect the stunning Worcestershire countryside, which is such an asset to our county, and to defend the vital floodplains on which we rely each year to keep the River Severn out of homes and businesses. I was pleased to hear in a recent meeting with the Environment Agency that it rates Worcester City Council as one of the best councils in the area at using the planning system to protect its floodplains. Given that we see winter floods almost every year, that is essential.

For as long as anyone can remember, Worcester has been bombarded by Labour leaflets telling people that Labour is the party of affordable housing. I remember fighting local election campaigns as long ago as 2001 in which every Labour leaflet was adorned with messages about affordable housing. In 2003, the Liberal Democrats went into coalition with Labour on the council, with the explicit aim of delivering more affordable houses. If Labour had any track record of success in this area, the leaflets would be understandable. Knowing the importance of affordable housing, I made it my mission to explore how much Labour administrations in the city had delivered.

The figures from Worcester City Council tell a stark story of Labour neglect. From 1997 to 2000, a period in which Worcester had a Labour MP, a Labour-led council and—oh joy of joys—that things-can-only-get-better Labour Government in Westminster, the council built fewer than 20 affordable homes per year. Very few of these homes, and none after 1997-98, were for affordable ownership, and the abysmal record of Labour when they had complete political control of Worcester was of just 22, then 11, then 19 affordable homes delivered—these figures in a city of 100,000 people.

Unsurprisingly, Labour was turfed out of control of Worcester in 2000 and a Conservative administration took control. What happened to affordable housing delivery when those nasty Tories took over? It rose 47% in the first year, more than doubled in the second year and then ran all the way from 2002 to 2012 at an average of 112 homes per year—five times as many as Labour had delivered. “Ah, yes,” said the Labour party, “but things slowed down after we lost power in 2010,” and yes, they did. Labour left us with the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s. It took years for the housing market to recover from the great recession that began in 2008, but in Worcester we kept on building affordable homes.

In 2012-13 the council delivered a remarkable 117 units of affordable housing, 79% of all new homes delivered in the city that year, under a Conservative administration.

Mr Bacon: I joined the Conservative party in Worcester in 1978. Will my hon. Friend accept that it comes as no surprise to me that things are now better—under the Conservatives?

Mr Walker: I am delighted with my hon. Friend’s intervention, although he may be less delighted to hear that the year he joined the Conservative party in Worcester was the year I was born.

What happened when Labour and the Liberal Democrats took control? Affordable housing delivery slumped, falling from 117 to 76, a decline of more than 30% in a single year. Worse still, the fall in delivery of housing meant a slowdown in receipts from the new homes bonus, a welcome financial incentive introduced by the coalition Government to support delivery of affordable housing. Not only did Labour’s chaotic year in control mean a more acute housing shortage, but it also meant damage to the city’s capital receipts.

Fortunately, the voters of Worcester, seeing the record of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats—who, alas, are absent from this debate—elected more Conservative councillors in 2014, and those mean old Tories took back control of the council once again. The result: an immediate recovery in the number of new affordable homes. The delivery of affordable homes in Worcester in the last year is the highest on record since 1997, and out of 460 new homes delivered in the city, 260 are rated as affordable. In 2015, new homes bonus income for the city rose to £5 million. The lesson here is stark: Labour always promise affordable homes, but only the Conservatives actually deliver them.

I know very well that there is still a great deal more demand, and the city’s own estimates suggest that this year’s record delivery is only the baseline for what is needed. In debates on building affordable homes it is often as if the only choice is to deliver them and concrete over our green fields or to give up on providing them altogether. That is simply not true. In fact, whereas a fifth of homes delivered in Labour’s one year of control were delivered on greenfield sites around Worcester, that figure has fallen, even as delivery of homes has increased, to only around 7.5% in the current year. Looking ahead, about 90% of the homes planned for in Worcester’s land supply can be delivered on brownfield sites, and I hope that figure continues to increase.

There is much the Government can do to further support the delivery of affordable homes in brownfield sites, and I am pleased to hear about the new brownfield fund. I hope the Government will look into more mechanisms to support renting above the shop and city centre living, which I believe can both help our high streets and address the desperate need for affordable homes.

I welcome the Government policies on Help to Buy. I have seen that for myself on the streets of Worcester, meeting people who have been able to buy their own home for the first time who would not otherwise have been able to do so. I particularly welcome the Help to Buy ISA. I also welcome the Government’s efforts to crack down on rogue landlords, going further than Labour ever did in their 13 years in office to deal with this very serious issue.

Today’s motion is typical of the relentless negativity we see from today’s Labour party. It says nothing about the aspiration of working families to live in homes they can own, nor the steps that have been taken, greater than under 13 years of Labour, to regulate rogue landlords. I am very proud that in Worcester, under a Conservative Government and with a Conservative council, we are delivering more affordable homes than ever.