Planning and Housing

22.11.17

Raft of new housing measures ‘sadly fall short’ of council need

First-time house-buyers will no longer have to pay stamp duty on the first £300,000 of a home’s value, chancellor Philip Hammond has announced in today’s Autumn Budget as part of a raft of new housing measures.

The move comes as part of the government’s commitment to deliver 300,000 new homes a year in the UK.

He also pledged an additional £15.3bn of support for housing schemes over the next five years, bringing the total to £44bn, and more freedom for councils to borrow beyond the current housing borrowing cap.

In order to create space for new housing, the chancellor pledged to introduce planning reforms which would look at making better use of space in cities and towns for housing.

Despite the announcements, Jo Miller, president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace), said the government did not go far enough to help local authorities.

“Local government needs certainty, stability and flexibility. Sadly, this Budget falls short, despite some positive measures,” she explained.

“The chancellor has set out a package of housing measures that stand to increase supply across the country. These could go even further by being extended to all local authorities.”

Hammond also spoke about empty properties, saying that unoccupied homes would now be subject to a 100% council tax premium to encourage owners to bring buildings back into use. He also confirmed that the government will proceed with a £200m large-scale regional pilot of the Right to Buy scheme for housing association tenants in the Midlands.

Lord Porter, Conservative chairman of the LGA, agreed that the Budget was a good start but did not go far enough to help councils.

“The LGA has long called for councils to be given greater freedom to borrow to build new homes and today’s Budget has taken a step towards that by lifting the housing borrowing cap for some councils,” he commented.

“This is an important recognition of our argument about the vital role that councils must play to boost homes for local families in need and solve our housing crisis, but does not go far enough.

“Our national housing shortage is one of the most pressing issues we face. The last time this country built more than 250,000 homes a year – in the 1970s – councils built more than 40% of them. Councils were trusted to get on and build homes that their communities need, and they delivered.

“If we are to get back to building 300,000 homes a year, then the government needs to ensure all areas of the country can borrow to invest in resuming their role as major builders of affordable homes.”

The County Councils Network (CCN) presented a more positive view of the housing announcements.

“Today’s housing announcements recognises that to deliver the homes the country needs, we need strategic planning and infrastructure investment on the county-wide scale,” said the organisation’s chairman, Cllr Paul Carter.

“The commitments in Oxfordshire and the South-East, alongside an increase in the housing and infrastructure fund and lifting the Housing Revenue Account cap for high-demand areas, should be strongly welcomed and act as a model for other areas across England.

“The direction of travel on housing outlined today would be further a strengthened through a stronger role for county councils in the draft Statement of Common Ground and in strategic infrastructure tariffs.”

In his speech, the chancellor also reiterated the government’s commitment to intervene in areas where local authorities have failed to draft an updated Local Plan for housing development. Fifteen councils have already been slapped with the threat of intervention so far.

“There is a significant gap between the number of planning permissions granted and the number of homes built. In London alone, there are 270,000 residential planning permissions unbuilt. We need to understand why,” argued Hammond.

“So I am establishing an urgent Review to look at the gap between planning permissions and housing starts. It will be chaired by my Right Honourable Friend for West Dorset [Oliver Letwin], and will deliver an interim report in time for the Spring Statement next year.

“And if it finds that vitally needed land is being withheld from the market for commercial, rather than technical, reasons, we will intervene to change the incentives to ensure such land is brought forward for development, using direct intervention compulsory purchase powers as necessary.”

Homelessness

On the subject of homelessness and rough sleeping, the government has set out ambitious plans which it claims will halve the number of people sleeping on the streets by 2022 and exterminate the issue entirely by 2027.

This includes three ‘Housing First’ pilots – in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands – which will see £28m invested in supporting rough sleepers, with another £20m available for schemes to help people at risk of homelessness and grant access and sustained tenancies in the private rented sector.

Jonathan Carr-West, chief executive of the LGiU, said: “The government has taken action to address the housing crisis at the source – with councils who have been dealing with this crisis on the ground.

“Announcements on the HRA borrowing cap will be welcomed alongside firm commitments on infrastructure.”

Top image: Rui Vieira

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