Thank you, Madam Deputy Mayor. I think this is a very important debate—[Interruption.] I do apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker; I was away with my local government head on there, rather than my parliamentary one.
Clearly housing matters. We should never forget that a house is a home, a place where people live as individuals and bring up families. Therefore, we want to see improvements in housing. We want to see increased quality and we want to see quantity improve. We want to ensure choice in social housing, in the rented sector and, most importantly of all, in the owner-occupier sector. We must also remember the other markets, such as the student let and the holiday let markets, that have a role to play in housing.
As has already been said, in many respects the solution is straightforward: we simply need to build more homes. However, I appreciate that there are barriers to achieving that.
I have listened to all the contributions, and I am probably out of step with quite a few hon. Members here, but nobody is talking about the failure of the builders to build. The builders are getting the permissions in their tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, but they are land banking the permissions and the land promoters speculate on that. If we could tackle that, would we not get closer to solving the problem?
I am not totally convinced that that is correct, but it is an interesting point that my hon. Friend makes.
I appreciate that in housing there is a degree of controversy in particular parts of the country, but we should be careful about making lazy assumptions. There is not a national housing market; there are many variations up and down the country. London is different from Manchester, Cornwall is different from Leeds. There are differences between urban and rural, and in many respects the housing market is regional and sub-regional. In my county of Cumbria, the Lake district is a very different market from Barrow or Carlisle. What is affordable also varies considerably depending on values, supply and of course salaries. Therefore, the housing market is a bit more nuanced than we sometimes think, and we must respect and consider that when we come to making policy.
It is also important that we do not see housing policy in isolation. Tax, whether it is council tax, stamp duty, capital gains tax or inheritance tax, can influence the housing market. How we organise our infrastructure and connectivity—train lines, roads, access to housing and housing developments, bus routes—also has an impact on the housing market. So too, most importantly, do businesses and economic and employment activity.
There are solutions, which hon. Members have already touched upon. I wholeheartedly agree that the responsibility for a local plan lies with the local authority and, if it does not produce one, one should be imposed upon it by Government. I think that is right. On tax incentives, we need to look again at our tax regime, particularly stamp duty and council tax, and hon. Members have already touched upon the planning rules that also need reform.
However, we also need to be bigger in our thinking. We need to think strategically. The Government need to be bold, imaginative, visionary and above all brave. We have an unbalanced nation, principally a north-south divide in our economic performance. The north clearly needs a great deal more investment, both public and private.
We have economically underperformed in the north for many years, but there are opportunities emerging. We have the green revolution, we have the energy policy and the prospect of nuclear plants, and there is an industrial renaissance—I hope—starting to happen. The northern economy is still 15% manufacturing, so there are opportunities. We need more business investment and we need to grow that economy.
The Government should make a commitment to build half a million new homes in the north of England and shift activity to those areas. To achieve that, we need better connectivity and greater incentive for business. I agree with my right hon. Friend Mr Davis about new towns. That is an eminently sensible solution. Garden villages can also be part of the solution, as can reclaiming brownfield sites.
I will give two little examples of what can be achieved. In my Carlisle constituency, we have a proposal for a garden village of 10,000 homes. That has been opened up by housing infrastructure funding that will improve the road infrastructure, which will release those 10,000 homes over the next 10 to 20 years. It is well supported: people want to see places such as Carlisle grow, because we need critical mass to support the services that we have in our area. We are, in many respects, an area that needs to attract a greater population.
I was involved with the borderlands growth deal initiative. There are 1.5 million people in the borderlands area. If we superimposed a plan of that area over London, it would stretch to Brighton and almost to Cambridge and Bristol—an area that contains more than 20 million people. There are opportunities for housing and places for people to move to, but at present we do not have the housing supply. With economic activity, private investment and public infrastructure investment—housing policy cannot be seen in isolation—that would be a win-win for all. It would take pressure off parts of the south, create a stronger north—fundamental to improving the overall performance of our country—create a more balanced country and, above all, create homes for all.