Originally published on March 1 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
For a piece of legislation that’s already faced hours of scrutiny from MPs and peers, there are still gaping holes at the heart of a Housing and Planning Bill that started life on the back of a fag packet and hasn’t moved much beyond it in several important respects.
Opposition demands for more detail about legislation are nothing new of course, but I’ve argued before that the lack of clarity here is deliberate in a bill that is designed to allow the government to do what it wants in future. To take one example, after stretching the definition of ‘affordable’ to breaking point to include £450,000 Starter Homes, the bill adds that the secretary of state ‘may by regulations amend this section so as to modify the definition of affordable housing’.
Many of the gaps were highlighted in the Commons late last year. The last two months have brought little further detail but now it’s crunch time: as peers debate a series of amendments, ministers are bound to come under increased pressures to say exactly what they mean.
Originally posted on February 16 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
If you believe Brandon Lewis, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme is a resounding success: it’s helped thousands of people to buy a home who could not have done otherwise; and it’s done it without inflating house prices.
But does an external evaluation for the Department for Communities and Local Government back up his claims? The good news for the housing minister is the central verdict that 43% of homes built under Help to Buy were additional and would not have been built without the scheme. And the report certainly has a positive conclusion:
‘Overall, the scheme has met its objectives in terms of increased housing supply. It has done this via a stimulus to demand which has fed through into an expansion of supply and with little evidence of a serious and destabilising impact on house prices.’
But look a little deeper and there is plenty of ammunition for critics of the scheme too. Most obvious is the flipside of that headline figure: if 57% of Help to Buy homes would have been built anyway, is that really a good use of the £9.7bn that the scheme is set to cost by 2020?
Originally posted on January 6 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
MPs staggered bleary eyed from the House of Commons at 2am last night without even getting to the most contentious parts of the Housing and Planning Bill.
Despite a series of obituaries for council housing and a ‘Kill the Bill’ protest outside, issues such as forced high-value sales, Pay to Stay and the voluntary Right to Buy will only be considered on day two of the report stage debate (set for next Tuesday, January 12).
Last night’s five-hour debate included starter homes, the regulation of housing associations, rogue landlords and the planning system. Opposition MPs complained that 65 pages of new clauses and amendments had been added at the last minute to a Bill that was only 145 pages long.
I blogged back in October that this a Bill written on the back of a fag packet and last night only confirmed that impression. The Bill also leaves a series of crucial decisions to be made by ministers by regulation later.
Nothing sums this up more than new clause 31 on planning obligations and affordable housing. This adds starter homes selling for up to £450,000 to the existing definition of affordable housing: homes for people whose needs are not adequately served by the market. However, it also adds that:
‘The Secretary of State may by regulations amend this section so as to modify the definition of “affordable housing”.’
Originally posted on November 30 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
For some reason, George Osborne made me think back to the school playground as he set out his spending plans for the next five years.
As the sidekick and heir apparent to the head boy, the chancellor has the power to get what he wants. First he had to correct his mistake from the Summer Budget when he was caught redhanded trying to steal the dinner money of most of the poor kids. He has now handed it back to the Strivers but will be waiting for them in the bushes to claim it back after school.
With that out of the way, he was free to get the gang together to build some homes, by which he means almost exclusively homes to buy. First in line were his main allies the housebuilders.
When you’ve already benefited from billions of pounds worth of loans, guarantees and relaxations in the rules on planning and energy efficiency, what’s another £2.3bn between friends? Yet this was different: the first time that I can remember that grant (presumably it is grant) has gone to pay for something that will not be recycled into more homes.
Originally posted on November 11 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
So now it is official. Brandon Lewis has confirmed that ‘affordable’ means 80% of the market rate.
His statement at a Communities and Local Government Committee hearing on the Housing Bill confirms a direction of travel that has been clear ever since the creation of ‘affordable’ rent. Starter homes at a 20% discount to the full price now represent ‘affordable’ home ownership. Needless to say, neither is exactly affordable by any conventional definition of the word.
The minister’s statement came in this exchange with Labour MP Jo Cox:
Cox: Do you think there should be a statutory definition of affordability for both rent and purchase?’
Lewis: At the moment it’s 80% of the market value, whether to rent or purchase.
Cox: But there isn’t a statutory definition.
Lewis: Well, the definition of affordability… an affordable rent is 80% of market value and affordable purchase with starter homes it would effectively be 80% of market value.
Originally posted on November 3 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
As MPs debated the Housing and Planning Bill on Monday it was hard to escape the impression that the real action was elsewhere.
From the extension of the right to buy to the forced sale of council houses to starter homes, key discussions had either already happened or were still taking place outside the Commons chamber. Yes, talks behind the scenes are an inevitable part of any Bill, but far more so with this one than any other that I can remember. Yes, the Deal removes what would have been a key element in the legislation from parliamentary scrutiny but this is about more than just that.
That’s partly because this is a back of a fag packet Bill that sets out some general principles with the detail to be filled in later. We still know little more about how the sums will add up for paying housing association discounts from forced council sales than during the election campaign. And, as Alex Marsh points out in relation to Pay to Stay, there are whole chunks of the Bill that give the secretary of state the power to do pretty much whatever they like.