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Peers express intention to give close scrutiny to Housing and Planning Bill

Out-Law News | 02 Feb 2016 | 2:40 pm | 3 min. read

Members of the UK parliament's House of Lords have raised concerns about the parts of the government's Housing and Planning Bill relating to starter homes, the right to buy and the new powers for the communities secretary to intervene in the planning process. 

At the Bill's second reading in the House of Lords last week several peers were critical of the Bill's focus on the provision of 'starter homes' for sale at a 20% discount from market value, with more than one reference to the government putting "all its eggs in the home ownership basket".

Lord Kerslake estimated that a deposit of £97,000 and a salary of £77,000 a year would be required to buy a starter home in London. He voiced concerns that the homes would be required to be provided instead of, rather than in addition to, other forms of affordable homes. Labour peer Baroness Blackstone said "redefining affordable housing to include starter homes" would "make the concept of affordable homes utterly meaningless".

Baroness Doocey said requirements for councils to prioritise the delivery of starter homes "may make it impossible for local authorities to regenerate their estates without pricing their existing tenants out of them". Peers also questioned the temporary nature of the five-year starter homes discount, with Baroness Thornhill among those who proposed to amend the Bill to ensure the discount remained in perpetuity.

Proposals to fund the extension of the right to buy to housing association residents by forcing local authorities to sell high-value council homes or pay an equivalent levy also received close attention from peers. Doubts were expressed as to whether the government's intention to replace homes sold on a one-for-one basis were realistic, and several speakers feared that high value areas would lose nearly all of their social housing over time.

Many of those speaking contrasted the Bill's treatment of starter homes with the reduction of support for some of those on low to middle incomes, and in particular proposals for 'high earners' to have to pay near market rents to stay in council and social homes. Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville said that, at £40,000 in London and £30,000 elsewhere,  proposed annual household incomes above which families would have to 'pay to stay' were "far too low". Baroness Bakewell said the policy would "penalise hard working couples, many of whom have children" and Baroness Andrews said it would "hit the very people the community depends on - low-paid key workers such as carers, bus drivers and teaching assistants".

Baroness Young of Old Scone said proposals such as the ability for the communities secretary to grant 'permission in principle' for certain types of development represented "a serious assault on the planning system". The Labour peer called for clarification of what kinds of document would be deemed able to give permission in principle, how the public would be consulted and how important issues that were more than "technical details" would be considered by councils. The baroness also said she was "seriously confused" as to how proposals to allow alternative providers to process planning applications would work. The baroness was also concerned about how

Peers were generally supportive of proposals to support self-build and custom-build homes, take action against 'rogue landlords' and to streamline the neighbourhood planning and compulsory purchase processes.

However, there was widespread concern about the number of measures in the Bill for which details are proposed to follow in secondary legislation. Baroness Young asked for assurances that draft secondary regulations would be shown to the committee scrutinising the Bill. Baroness Royall of Blaisdon said it would be "improper and irresponsible" of peers to pass judgment on the Bill without seeing draft regulations and Lord Kerslake agreed there was an "urgent" need "to see the detail of what is proposed".

Planning expert Jamie Lockerbie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: "Many of the provisions contained within the Bill undoubtedly shift planning powers away from local planning authorities and towards central government and third party providers. Many will remember the advent of Regional Spatial Strategies through which central government imposed housing targets on local planning authorities and the possibility of starter homes targets is starting to feel akin to that."

"The Conservative heartlands rejoiced when Regional Spatial Strategies were abolished by the introduction of the Conservative's localism project. It is somewhat ironic that the Conservatives are now proposing to speed up the planning system and deliver starter homes by introducing a raft of measures that once again strengthen central government’s role in planning to the enfeeblement of local councils," he said.

The schedule for the Bill's committee stage was yet to be published at the time of writing.