Footing the Bill

Footing the Bill

New Housing & Planning Bill criticised for furthering government’s home ownership agenda to the detriment of affordable housing.

At the CIEH Housing and Health Conference in London in May, as the Bill passed through its final day in Parliament, one of the headline speakers, Labour Shadow Minister for Housing & Planning The Rt Hon John Healey, branded it ‘a blinkered, unbalanced Bill, with the sole political purpose to try and promote and talk about home ownership.’

There are three areas of the Bill in particular that will impact on social housing, and most specifically on councils. The first is that all councils will be forced to sell off higher value council homes as they become vacant after the Bill becomes law. The money will go to the treasury to then pay housing associations the full value of the discount that they are going to give to their tenants under the new RTB for housing association tenants.

One of the concerns raised by Healey is that the higher value affordable rented homes owned by councils to be sold off as they become vacant, will not go to the people who lived in them, nor to local people, but to the highest bidders, buy-to-let landlords, investors and speculators.

The second area Healey cites as potentially detrimental is the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants. Healey believes that few of the new homes built by HAs once the existing social homes have been sold off will be like-for-like replacements, asserting: “Already one third of housing associations say they have no plans at all in the future to build more social rented homes. The heart of their social purpose and mission over decades set to one side.”

This is a damning indictment. HAs are diversifying their offering and roles, adjusting to market forces, however many are doing this to generate more funds which can be ploughed back into social housing. Are really a third of housing associations not going to build social housing in the future?

The third area of contention is the new powers under the planning system in the Bill, which allow ministers to force all councils as planning authorities to insist that 20% of properties on all new housing developments be Starter Homes. Healey believes this will “totally choke off the ability [of local authorities] to drive a deal with the developer to say we want a proportion of affordable rented homes as part of what you build.”

We already have a housing crisis, with potentially fewer social homes won’t this only exacerbate the problem further — a rise in homelessness, an increase in prices in the private rented sector and longer housing waiting lists populated by people with nowhere else to turn. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I think there will always be a need for truly affordable social housing — not everyone can afford a home, even when offered at a discounted subsidised rate.

At the conference Healey said: “I’ve been an MP for nearly 20 years and this is one of the most extraordinary and extreme pieces of legislation I’ve seen during that time.” Lets hope these dour predictions don’t come true. I would be interested to hear reader’s thoughts on the Housing & Planning Bill and how it is likely to affect you as councils and housing associations. What plans do you have in place to build social housing now and in the future?

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