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07/01/2016

Housing and Planning Bill: Report stage round-up

Words: Laura Edgar
Housing / Shutterstock_227591032

Ensuring that housing of all tenures is supplied and starter homes are available for local people featured among the clauses and amendments debated during the report stage of the Housing and Planning Bill.

The reading began controversially just before 9pm on 5 January, with shadow planning minister Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for the City of Durham, questioning why the bill had been bought back for debate on 5 January when it had to be fitted around four statements.

Blackman-Woods expressed concern regarding the little time available to discuss contentious parts of the bill.

“Never in my experience of many bills in this House have I witnessed 65 pages of government new clauses and amendments being produced at the last minute for a bill that is 145 pages long. That is simply appalling and means that there will be no proper scrutiny in this House of almost a third of the bill.”

Whether to continue with the reading was put to a vote, with MPs voting 303 to 195 in favour of doing so.

The date for the second day of remaining stages, including the third reading, is Tuesday 12 January 2016.

Clauses

New clauses debated include Building Control Standards for Starter Homes (new clause 1). This would require starter homes to not only be subject to the statutory regime of building inspection controls, but also to comply with a requirement for site inspections records and the assessment of compliance to be made available to home buyers.

Additionally, new clause 50 would incorporate the National Described Space Standard into building regulations to ensure that all new dwellings are built to meet those requirements.

Another new clause would provide a statutory duty on the secretary of state and local authorities to secure and promote the resilience of housing and other development.

New clause 57 would, Blackman-Woods said, “empower local authorities to impose a planning obligation when giving planning permission for the construction of new housing for sale requiring that a proportion of the housing is marketed exclusively to local first-time buyers”.

London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, asked if the new clause would go some way towards ending the "problem" caused by “developers selling homes in London to investors in Asia and the Middle East before they have been completed and made available for purchase by Londoners”?

Blackman-Woods assured him that the new clause would “enable a proportion of new homes to be held back exclusively for Londoners, or local people elsewhere”.

“We want to ensure that some new housing is reserved, at least for a period, so that local people have a chance to get on to the housing ladder,” she said.

Housing minister Brandon Lewis spoke during the reading about new clause 29, which allows the secretary of state “to make regulations via the affirmative procedure about the fees to be paid by applicants when they make planning applications”, while new clause 30, he said, sets out a resolution process to speed up S.106 agreement negotiations in order to help housing starts to proceed more quickly.

Amendments

Amendments were made to the bill to ensure that it would enable the supply of more housing across all tenures rather than just starter homes and that additional housing would be supported by adequate infrastructure.

A further amendment makes sure that starter homes are “affordable at locally determined rates of income” and a proportion will be available to local people.

During the reading, Tim Farron discussed an amendment he put forward that aims to ensure that starter homes are genuinely affordable.

“The purpose of my amendment 110 is to ensure that new homes built under the Starter Homes Initiative are genuinely affordable and include social rented homes. Unamended, this bill threatens an even worse crisis for those in need of an affordable home to rent or buy in the years to come,” he explained.

He added that developments should be of mixed tenure, including social rented homes and shared ownership, and “meet the needs of the community”.

Buy-to-let properties have been excluded from the definition for starter homes and it was confirmed that starter homes have been limited to ‘exception sites’, which the government had already announced.

One amendment aims to ensure that new developments include a range of affordable homes, to rent and to buy, while another will enable local planning authorities to ask for further planning gain measures that allow for a range of affordable housing other than just starter homes.

In addition to the planning fees clause, an amendment was made that will allow local authorities to develop a planning fees schedule that would “enable the full costs of processing planning applications to be recovered”.

Criteria for permission in principle and technical details consent will be subject to consultation with local authorities, according to the reading, while another amendment aims to allow local planning authorities to overturn the permission-in-principle decision “where important material considerations which the plan-making stage did not reveal have to come light”.

Helen Hayes, a town planner for 18 years and now MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, spoke at length about permission in principle, saying that “as far as we can tell [it] will not set any parameters other than land use and quantum of development”.

A developer, she explained, would not know what the size, type, design and quality standards must be and unless they do their own investigations, they would not know anything about the land they want to build on.

“Permission in principle, therefore, offers very little to developers, but it also offers nothing to communities. As a consequence, it will fail to speed up the pace of development and the delivery of new homes.”

The full reading, including all the new clauses and amendments, can be found here.

Image credit | Shuttershock

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