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28/01/2016

Housing and Planning Bill: House of Lords raises questions about its policies and its ‘denial of localism’

Words: Laura Edgar
Housing / Shutterstock_141093886

The Housing and Planning Bill this week underwent its second reading in the House of Lords, with starter homes, the right to buy, and the centralising of powers all coming under scrutiny.

Localism

 

Labour peer Baroness Andrews said the “tragedy” of the Housing and Planning Bill is that it is “neither fair nor fit for the future”.

In a reading that lasted for six hours on 26 January, Andrews highlighted that the bill contains 34 new powers for the secretary of state – “powers to override local housing needs”. She said it “demolishes whatever remains of the government’s credibility on localism”.

Lord Kerslake (CB), chair of Peabody Housing Association, also pointed this out, saying that the secretary of state will have “considerable powers to dictate” the number of starter homes that local authorities will build - even down to individual schemes.

“To state the obvious,” he said, “this is a complete denial of localism.”

Kerslake said decisions on the right mix of housing should be down to local councils. “What is the point otherwise of a local needs assessment and a local plan?”

Lord McKenzie of Luton, Labour, asked if policies that support localism introduced under the coalition government, including the National Planning Policy Framework, the scrapping of region spatial planning, the duty to cooperate, and neighbourhood planning were such a success “why does the bill include a raft of centralising powers for the secretary of state to intervene?”. 

He cited several measures, including allowing the secretary of state to intervene to set time limits on decisions to hold a referendum to designate specific neighbourhood areas.

“Whatever happened to localism? All this moves us inexorably away from a planning system anchored in the democratic process of the local community. How will all of this encourage local communities to support the new developments we so desperately need?” he asked.

Conservative peer Lord True said he believes in localism and is therefore disappointed to see “more centralism” in the bill. “I wish councils were not always put on the spot and blamed.”

He said he would be tabling an amendment to allow councils to opt out of a “damaging policy of automatic arbitraging of office value to residential without planning control”.

Starter Homes

 

Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Labour, said that while people sitting on the benches are supportive of measures to increase home ownership, starter homes are “still unaffordable to many people”. He said the benches have concerns about the deposit people will have to raise to purchase a starter home in London and the level of income required to keep up the repayments.

The Bishop of Rochester, James Langstaff, expressed anxiety at the inclusion of starter homes in the definition of affordable housing, “not least because that affordability will disappear after a short period, when it is possible for that home to be sold into the private market at private benefit”.

Lady Andrews said a starter home policy - however welcome - “does not add up to a housing policy for the nation”.

“Where are the homes for growing families, or disabled families with a need for lifetime homes? Where are the homes for retired people who want to downsize?”

These families, she said, would lose out. In fact, everyone would lose out because the “whole housing system will remain resolutely stuck if we provide significantly only for starter homes”.

Starter homes are a quick fix, but the problem is long term. Andrews said the scheme is not affordable for most low and middle-income rural and London families, and unfair for future buyers.

“The 20 per cent discount will apply only to the first tranche of buyers; they will be free to sell their assets after five years at market value. We will be minting a new generation of property speculators,” said Andrews.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Doocey said the starter home initiative is likely to lead to a reduction in other forms of affordable housing.

“I have great concern about how the emphasis on starter homes could affect estate regeneration. It may make it impossible for local authorities to regenerate their estates without pricing their existing tenants out of them.”

Right to Buy and social housing

 

Doocey said right-to-buy proposals are already having an impact on registered providers, with some beginning to sell empty stock rather than “risk financial loss under right to proposals”.

Others, added Doocey, have signalled that providing housing at social rents “will no longer be viable”. She added that it is known from experience that stock “will not be replaced on a like-for-like basis”.

Kerslake said the bill promotes one form of tenure - home ownership - at the expense of social rented housing. Combining this with other measures in the bill, Kerslake said the “only reasonable conclusion is that social housing is being written out of the script”.

Regarding right-to-buy discounts, he said: “What many people have lost sight of is that the bill for these discounts will not be picked up by the government – who, after all, are promoting the policy – but by local authorities.”

Councils would then be required to sell off their higher value properties as they become vacant to fund this.

Labour’s Baroness Blackstone said right to buy and the forced sale of high-value local authority housing “hardly plays to the government’s pledge to devolve decision-making”.

“It is, in fact, an unscrupulous assets grab,” she said.

“Alternative providers”

 

During the report stage of the Housing and Planning Bill in the House of Commons, MPs expressed concern about an amendment tabled by communities secretary Greg Clark, that would allow planning applications to be processed by “by alternative providers”.

Young said such fundamental changes to the planning system “risk focusing too closely on speeding up the planning system, when in fact the problem is not planning approvals but build out” on applications that already have planning permission.

“Other factors such as the availability of skills, finance and measures to ensure that large developers do not hang on to sites to keep prices up all need to be tackled before we erode the planning system, which is a tribute to localism, democratic accountability and community involvement,” said Young.

More information about the second reading of the Housing and Planning Bill in the House of Lords, can be found on the UK Parliament website.


The latest RTPI briefing, published ahead of the reading, can be found here.


The House of Commons report stage round-up can be found here.

MPs unhappy with "privatisation of planning" can be found here.

The third reading can be found here.

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