Message from @JohnHealey_MP on# HousingAndPlanning Bill

Last week Labour Press published his thoughts on the Housing and Planning Bill ahead of its Second Reading on Monday 02 November 2015.

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This Bill is one of the most centralising and anti-council pieces of legislation I have seen – John Healey MP

Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Housing, John Healey MP has today written to all council leaders in England ahead of the second reading of the Housing and Planning Bill next Monday, warning of the threat to local communities if the Bill passes.

In his letter to council leaders of all parties, Mr Healey warns of the “severe” effect of the Bill on the ability of local communities to build the affordable homes they need, and urges them to speak up.

On the Bill in general, Healey writes:
“Simply put, this Bill is one of the most centralising and anti-council pieces of legislation I have seen in my political career. It effectively ends a local authority’s ability to secure the mix of new homes needed in their local area and it will inevitably lead to fewer affordable homes when the need has never been greater.”

On the end of localism, Healey writes:
“The LGA have confirmed to me that the Bill’s 145 clauses give the Secretary of State 32 new powers. And almost all of these are wide-open powers, with detail to be decided by Ministers with little public scrutiny after the Bill is through Parliament.”

On the forced sale of affordable homes to fund the extension of the right-to-buy, he writes :
“The Bill extends the right-to-buy to Housing Association tenants funded by the forced sale of ‘high-value’ council homes and assets. It gives Ministers the power to set and impose an annual levy on stock-holding councils for this money.

“The greater the demand for affordable housing in an area, the higher the value of the stock – so the more the Chancellor will take.”

John Healey adds:
“Whatever your view about the extension of the right to buy, legislating for Ministers to raid the resources of local councils to pay for their policies is a deep disrespect to local government and a disgraceful way to treat local areas.”

The full text of the letter reads:

Dear Leader

Since the publication of the Housing and Planning Bill ten days ago, I have spoken to a large number of colleagues across local government, of all political parties. These conversations have reinforced my concern about the severe impact of this Bill on local communities across England and on local government that serves them.

There is a stark mismatch between what Ministers say they are doing with this Bill and what is actually contained in the Bill.

Simply put, this Bill is one of the most centralising and anti-council pieces of legislation I have seen in my political career. It effectively ends a local authority’s ability to secure the mix of new homes needed in their local area and it will inevitably lead to fewer affordable homes when the need has never been greater.

For this reason, as I have the responsibility on behalf of the public for leading the Official Opposition scrutiny of this Bill in Parliament, I am taking the unusual step of writing to you personally to urge you to examine the Bill for yourself and assess the impact its provisions will have on your area and your residents.

The end of localism?

The LGA have confirmed to me that the Bill’s 145 clauses give the Secretary of State 32 new powers. And almost all of these are wide-open powers, with detail to be decided by Ministers with little public scrutiny after the Bill is through Parliament. From stringent new powers on mandating ‘starter homes’ [Part 1] to directly setting rents for so-called ‘high-income tenants’ [Part 4] to setting aside obligations on developers through s106 to fund new affordable homes or local infrastructure [part 1], this Bill centralises big decisions in Whitehall.

Local decision-making will suffer, as will the ability of local authorities and communities to shape the development of their area. The Bill fundamentally changes the way the planning system works, introducing new open-ended powers for the Secretary of State to intervene in the planning process, including a new system of ‘automatic planning permission’ irrespective of local plan decisions [part 6].

The Chancellor’s cash-grab from councils

The Bill extends the right-to-buy to housing association tenants funded by the forced sale of ‘high-value’ council homes and assets. It gives Ministers the power to set and impose an annual levy on stock-holding councils for this money [part 4].

The greater the demand for affordable housing in an area, the higher the value of the stock – so the more the Chancellor will take. And Shelter analysis suggests that some councils could be forced to sell over half of all their affordable council homes.

The Bill also gives Ministers wide powers to set directly the levels of rent that councils and housing associations must charge ‘high income tenants’ [part 4], with the power to set and impose a second annual levy on councils to pay this money to the Chancellor.

Whatever your view about the extension of the right to buy, legislating for Ministers to raid the resources of local councils to pay for their policies is a deep disrespect to local government and a disgraceful way to treat local areas.

A breach of trust

Even those councils who do not manage homes, and so will not be directly hit by the Government’s cash grab, may regard this a huge breach of trust with local government.

The full localisation of HRA housing finances in 2012 was widely welcome and genuinely radical. It was based on the agreement I drew up as Housing Minister in 2009, so I know this was a binding once-and-for-all deal between central and local government in which many councils took on extra debt as part of the ‘buy-out’ freedom from the Treasury.

The Bill’s levy powers drive a coach and horses through this contractual and financial settlement, and undermine the very purpose of the HRA localisation to allow councils to plan and manage the housing ‘business’ over the long-term.

It follows hard on the July Budget decision to set aside the agreed ten-year rent formula for council and housing association tenants that the Chancellor himself had approved, and must call into serious question the trust that local government can place in any devolution agreement with central government.

A watershed moment

Whatever view you take of the headline policies behind the legislation, this is a deeply flawed Bill that grabs both resources and powers away from local communities. It is bad for affordable housing, a let-off for developers and a let-down for those who want to buy their own home.

It is also a crunch moment in central government’s commitment to localism and their relationship with local government. I hope you will therefore speak up for your sector and for your local community, and you will make your voice heard in debate on the Bill.

Should you want more information or discuss this with me, then please do get in touch.

With good wishes

John Healey MP

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