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06/05/2016

More questions than answers with starter homes drive

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Houses under construction

Developers need clarity and certainty in order to build the houses the market needs. The government's Starter Homes initiatives, as it stands, offer anything but clarity, says Paul Campbell of Richborough Estates

Paul CampbellOn 23rd March the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a consultation on the details for the regulations to support the Starter Homes clauses in the Housing and Planning Bill, presenting a chance to comment on the percentage and definition of this latest incentive to assist first-time buyers.

Starter Homes began life as a manifesto pledge, with an original target of 200,000 to be delivered in the term – an election promise that reached out to the rising number of people struggling to get on the housing ladder.

The more cynical might suggest that the Tories weren’t expecting a general election win at the time, which might explain why, a year on, there is still no real clarity on how Starter Homes will work. Regardless, they are now committed to deliver on the pledge.

But even though the consultation is ongoing, there are a number of questions around the initiative. The new Housing and Planning Bill bill has a whole chapter dedicated to qualifying what constitutes a Starter Home, but what we are lacking is definition and clarity on how they will sit alongside other products already on the market.

"What we are lacking is definition and clarity on how Starter Homes will sit alongside other products already on the market"

Are Starter Homes designed to be complementary and provide a greater range of options to first-time buyers? Or will they run in competition with other initiatives such as Help to Buy or shared ownership tenures, replacing homes rather than providing a net increase?

There could be a financial knock-on effect, as the classification and application of a Starter Home could result in there being more or less value in affordable housing on a site which could lead landowners and house builders to sit and wait for clarity on a bill that won’t be ratified until the summer.

If it were to undermine the 
viability of sites, it 
will also trigger protracted negotiations with local planning authorities to reduce levels of affordable housing.

On a more fundamental level, is the issue that a centrally prescribed target for Starter Homes seems to somewhat fly in the face of the local evidence-based approach of the NPPF that, up until now, has allowed local authorities to assess the requirements and location for affordable housing provision.

While we understand the aim of the policy, it is difficult not to question its impact, especially in the short term and particularly as we are facing a period of significant uncertainty between now and the summer.

Paul Campbell is managing director of Richborough Estates

IMAGE | SHUTTERSTOCK

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