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17/07/2015

The trouble with the housing bill

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A focus on housing is welcome, argues the RTPI's Joe Kilroy, but the provisions of the Housing Bill are as likely to cause as many dilemmas as they set out to solve

Joe KilroyThere is cross-party consensus that we have a housing crisis. Many agree that a shortfall in house building is a major factor. Campaigns like the RTPI’s Homes for Britain have done important work to get housing on the government’s agenda.

The purpose of the Housing Bill is to extend the Right to Buy Scheme to facilitate access to homes for first-time buyers. The hope in the housing sector is that the bill will address the supply side of the problem, but it is difficult to see how.

The RTPI’s concern with the extension of Right to Buy – apart from its potential to cut the supply of affordable housing stock – is for communities who agreed to housing developments in good faith on the understanding that a proportion of the homes would be affordable.

"In terms of devising evidence-based policy, housing is an area that is still proving problematic for government"

In parts of the country S106 agreements have led to a substantial volume of affordable housing in the past 20 years, but these agreements are being bypassed to facilitate a small number of people to pursue home ownership.

Another concern is whether, in the absence of strategic arrangements with other landholding authorities, councils have access to less expensive land that would allow the building of replacement affordable homes on a one-for-one basis.

Many councils will struggle to find land at a price that would allow more expensive properties to be replaced by more or less valuable homes.

The First Time Buyers proposal may lead to a fall in affordable housing available to all on the basis of need.

The ‘cost’ is not borne by government but by lost Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and affordable housing receipts for the council area. There is a financial squeeze on local government and this measure would reduce further money for delivery.

And it is doubtful that low-value housing in poorer locations all occupied by first-time buyers is a realistic or desirable outcome. Targeting commercial land to provide homes for first-time buyers raises the question of whether people want to live there.

The desirability of such areas will be weakened by the fact that these developments will be exempted from CIL obligations, making it less likely that social infrastructure will follow. Development needs to happen in a holistic way. This means delivering social and physical infrastructure alongside housing. It is welcome that housing is on the government’s agenda, but in terms of devising evidence-based policy, housing is an area that is still proving problematic for government.

Joe Kilroy is a policy officer at the RTPI

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