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15.07.16

Freeze Housing Act implementation to avoid ‘further upheaval’, says Healey

Ministers should freeze the implementation of the Housing and Planning Act to avoid “further upheaval” from Whitehall on the fragile housing market, John Healey, Labour’s former shadow minister for housing and planning, has said.

Speaking at the CIPFA Annual Conference, Healey, who stood down in the recent mass Shadow Cabinet resignations, said that he was still committed to Labour having a strong voice on housing over the next few months.

“I remain totally determined to continue with the projects I have in hand, so a report on devolution in housing in the 11 English deals signed so far will be published next week,” he said. “A book with around 20 examples of Labour-led innovation in housing and planning will be published in September, and the independent review I commissioned, from the Taylor Wimpey boss Pete Redfern, on home ownership will also be published in the early autumn.”

Healey, the MP for Wentworth and Dearne, added that at this time, above all times, “we need to reduce the uncertainty, risk and potential waste of what we do with government and public sector policy and funding”.

He added that the controversial Housing and Planning Act, which received Royal Assent the month before the EU referendum, “undermines the ability of councils to build, diverts funding away from tried-and-tested housing association homes to rent and buy in favour of an untested concept of starter homes”.

As well as advocating freezing the Act’s implementation, which would also force councils to sell their best homes, Healey said that national and local government must invest in new homes to rent and buy – creating jobs and apprenticeships and spurring private sector investment.

Only last week, the LGA called for a renaissance in council housebuilding to meet future demand. Former business secretary Vince Cable also said it would make an “enormous difference” in local government if local authorities had much more scope for borrowing, especially if it was extended to housing.

Healey added: “I believe ministers should also lift the artificial cap on councils’ Housing Revenue Accounts, allowing, in some cases, the freedom to build within the strict and established prudential borrowing rules.

“On a cautious case, this could free up to £7bn over the next five years to build at least 60,000 new council homes. I see such steps as the bridge between imperative interventions for the short term and policies for the long term.”

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