I would like to take this opportunity to raise transport and housing budget-related issues.
I was extremely disappointed that the Chancellor has chosen to make little headway in addressing the north-south divide that continues to prevail in our country. The fact remains that we have greater gaps between our regions than any other OECD country, and this Government are simply not doing enough to address that.
Infrastructure is key to the development of the northern powerhouse the Government hope to build. They have introduced yet another toll in the north-west. It will cost my constituents and other residents in the region in excess of £1,000 a year to cross the new Mersey Gateway toll bridge. Many of their journeys will be made simply to travel to work or to attend hospital appointments. I urge the Government to reassess that situation and to use the next Budget to find the funds to scrap these tolls and to alleviate that burden on my constituents and on businesses. It is about time the Government began to invest properly in northern infrastructure.
Let me move on to housing, the green belt and air quality. In constituencies across the UK, including mine, there is a huge shortage of affordable homes. Under Conservative-led Governments, we have seen homelessness double, ownership fall to a 30-year low, the lowest number of social rented homes built since records began, and the number of new affordable homes fall by half since 2010. There was no new direct central Government investment in affordable housing in the Budget. Many of the houses that have been built are simply not affordable, leaving families, first-time buyers and many others unable to step on to the property ladder.
I welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to continue the strong protection of our green belt, but this Budget remains a missed opportunity to strengthen the protections and to enshrine a brownfield-first approach to development. The Government have so often been strong on words but weak on action, so it is no surprise that, despite strong protections, evidence collected by the Campaign to Protect Rural England shows that there has been a 54% increase in the number of homes being built or that have been planned to be built in the green belt in the past year—the biggest year-on-year increase in two decades. There is increasing evidence that local authorities are turning to development in the green belt as a result of mounting pressure from the Government to meet housing targets and to produce local plans. These councils are responding to a series of national messages and policies that are forcing many of them to release green-belt land to receive financial incentives and avoid sanctions.
The Government must do more to address the housing crisis, to protect our green belt and to improve air quality.