Foreign investors needed to kick start some housing projects, Sajid Javid says
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said foreign investors were needed to kick start some housing developments, despite concerns they are blocking entry to first-time buyers.
Speaking to the communities and local government committee, Mr Javid said the problem with overseas buyers snapping up properties and leaving them empty was "smaller than people might think".
He cited a recent report by estate agents Savills, which found that of all the London homes bought by foreign buyers , 58% were then rented out, 27% were purchased for people to live in and 15% were bought for second homes that on some occasions were left empty.
He said: "Obviously, the homes that are built, we want to see more and more of those not being empty and actually being used to live in.
"The number of empty homes is at the lowest level since records began, but that is not to say it doesn't exist.
"It is the case certainly with some developments, particularly in London, the developers would say that without having some foreign owners, it may not kick start the development in the first place."
He added: "It is not to say that there is not an issue here, but it might be a lot smaller issue than some people think."
Focusing on business rates, the committee asked whether the Treasury was setting itself up for a £3 billion cash windfall after the Government bolstered its estimates for successful appeals.
While the Government has previously predicted that around 4% of the business rates collected would be later paid back after a successful appeal, this year's estimate has been pushed up to 5.97%.
Defending the hike, Mr Javid said the Government was required by law to ensure the scheme was fiscally neutral.
He said: "It cannot be and should not be an attempt to try and raise more money."
He added that he was even more confident of the estimate because the figure had undergone an independent assessment by the Office for Budget Responsibility and was deemed to be fiscally neutral.
Mr Javid's appearance comes amid a raft of disclosures reinforcing calls for a radical reform of the business rates system that has been attacked as unfair and illogical.
Smaller retailers across the country are being hit with crippling rises, with some having to stomach increases of well over 50%.
However, figures from business rates specialists CVS showed earlier this week that the Government's revaluation will see Tesco's bill for its largest stores in England and Wales fall by £13 million this year alone, from £450 million to £437 million.
CVS estimates Tesco will save upwards of £100 million over the next five years as a result. The supermarket disputes the tax cut as "inaccurate".
Argos boss John Rogers reaffirmed calls for an overhaul last week, claiming it was an "anachronistic tax" that does not reflect the digital age or how people shop.
Asked during the session whether the Government needed a different system of ratings that captured online business, Mr Javid said: "I do think it is something a future government will want to look at carefully."