The Housing and Planning Bill – what’s the problem?
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, and Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive of APSE, comment on the the key issues in the controversial Housing and Planning Bill.
Currently, the Government’s new Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 is in the second reading stage in the House of Lords. The Bill has been seen as hugely problematic by many, including APSE and the TCPA, because it is still unclear how the actions described in it will help relieve the housing crisis facing the UK, despite the Government claiming their plans will kick-start a ‘national crusade to get 1m homes built by 2020’ and transform ‘generation rent into generation buy’.
Keen to gauge how others working in local government felt about the proposed changes, APSE teamed up with the TCPA to create and distribute a survey to local authorities across the country. This generated some very interesting, and some rather concerning, results. However, before we look at those in depth, it would help to first contextualise the Housing Bill and look and the problems it raises.
The Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 aims to speed up the current planning permission process, working on the premise that less bureaucracy means more housing can be delivered quickly. This, the Government expects, will encourage people to self/custom build their housing, as well as giving developers some extra opportunities to build more commercial housing. This is welcome news as it gives authorities, private firms and the general public more freedom to build the houses they require. However, many believe this has come too late; though the permission is there, we will struggle to meet the country’s demand of 250,00 homes each year due to a shortage of workers and supplies.
Alongside this, the Government intend to build more Starter Homes for first-time buyers, namely people under the age of 40 who have not previously owned a home. Offering 200,000 homes by 2020, the Government has said there must be a discount of at least 20% to the buyer. These homes, which should be targeting teachers, police officers, nurses and other professional roles, will have a discounted price of no more than £250k outside London and £450k in London, making these properties unaffordable for most of the target workers. These are the kind of people that starter homes should be accommodating, yet they are the ones who will be unable to afford them.
In terms of social housing, the Bill details a Pay to Stay scheme, in which social tenants with incomes of over £30k – over £40k in London – will have to pay market rent on their properties rather than their current social rent. For local authorities, the money this generates must be given to the Government, whilst Housing Associations are able to keep the extra rent money. Moreover, it is considered unviable by many councils who see this as adding to the ongoing problems of a poor private rented market – so forcing people on affordability terms from secure council tenancies into the private rented sector – will do little to alleviate local problems.
As well as this, the Right to Buy scheme is being extended to housing association tenants. This move is deeply worrying as it will lead to a decrease in the amount of social homes available for those in most need. Despite allowing these properties to be sold off, the Government have no plans to give local authorities the funds needed to build more and replace them. This is a major concern for the already-sahky future of social housing.
So what did the APSE and TCPA survey tell us? Well the headline news is that others share our concerns.
We found that 93% of councils do not think that Starter Homes will address affordable housing need.
Moreover, almost 80% of local councils do not think that Starter Homes should be classified as affordable housing, and only 7% of councils think they will address the need for affordable housing in their local authority areas.
We also found that over two thirds of respondents anticipate that they will be building less social and affordable housing as a result of the Government’s plans to reduce social rents by 1% a year for the next 4 years.
This is against a backdrop of 96% of councils describing their need for affordable housing as ‘ severe or moderate’.
Moreover, nine out of 10 councils are concerned that the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants will mean that there will be well socially-rented homes available.
Most starkly for the Government, 53 of respondents are from Conservative-controlled councils – this clearly shows a huge difference of opinion between Conservative Councils, charged with delivering more homes at a local level, and central Government policy.
So with the House of Lords scrutinising key measures in the Housing and Planning Bill, and pressure to deliver the Bill, is there room for concessions?
The answer has to be yes – there is a growing cross-party consensus for a series of amendments to be tabled which may yet ‘gut’ the worst excesses within the Bill.
APSE and the TCPA hopes that with cross-party working, more sensible approaches can be taken to delivering the homes our communities desperately need. It is time now for the Government to listen to local councils; they are best placed to really know and appreciate the impact of housing policy within their communities.