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Current housing policies ‘unlikely to meet crisis demand’ – Lords

Peers have formally backed several council arguments against elements of the government’s housebuilding strategy in a new report calling for greater local control over developments, a rethink on 1% rent cuts, and a review of national planning policies.

The House of Lords’ National Policy for the Built Environment Committee today criticised current government policy for being “unlikely to meet demand for either the quantity or quality of houses we need”.

While it acknowledged that prioritising the housebuilding speed and the need to increase the housing supply overall is “understandable” in the context of the “housing crisis”, restrictions to local freedoms and flexibilities “pose a threat” to councils’ ability to build their own houses.

“We do not believe the government can deliver the step change required for housing supply without taking measures to allow local authorities and housing associations each to play their full part in delivering new homes,” the report said.

“In addition, government initiatives have so far failed to address a further part of the housebuilding problem, which is the gap between planning permissions granted and new homes built.

“More fundamentally, however, we are concerned that the overall emphasis on speed and quantity of housing supply appears to threaten place-making itself, along with sustainable planning for the long-term and the delivery of high quality and design standards.”

Baroness O’Cathain, chair of the committee, said one of the results of emphasising speed and quantity is having homes built “in the wrong place, to a poor standard, without the consent of local communities”.

“That is why we are recommending local authorities are once again empowered both to build new homes of their own, and to ensure all developments are of a suitably high quality. Spending a little bit extra on good quality design at the outset can avert massive costs to people, society and government in the long-run,” she argued.

Other recommendations included reviewing the national planning policy framework to ensure developers don’t use financial viability to “play fast and loose” with design quality and sustainability.

“If developers submit substandard plans local authorities should be able to ask them to think again without builders falling back on questionable viability assessments to get their way,” Baroness O’Cathain said.

Importantly, the committee’s report asked Whitehall to reconsider its proposal to include starter homes within the definition of affordable housing, since starter homes “cease to include any element of affordability after five years”.

It should also rethink extra elements in the Housing and Planning Bill, currently in committee stage in the Lords, which “would undermine the maintenance of mixed communities”.

Baroness O’Cathain also called on the government to appoint a chief built environment advisor to work across departments to integrate planning policy.

But the government is adamant that its policies are in the right place, with a DCLG spokesman telling PSE: “We’ve got the country building again with new homes up 25% and the reformed planning system has given permission for 251,000 new homes in the year to September, higher than at the pre-recession peak in 2007.

“We have set out the biggest, boldest and most ambitious housing plan in a generation to help a million more people into homeownership, including directly getting homes built.

“Our policies ensure that all new homes are built to a high quality and local people have their say where developments should and shouldn’t go.”

Yet today’s report is just the latest in a string of criticisms towards the government’s housing policies which, if legislated, would ultimately reform the way local authorities deal with housebuilding.

Lord Porter, the LGA’s Conservative chair, recently warned that some elements of the Bill will be detrimental to existing council ambitions and their ability to invest in new affordable social homes.

While his warnings came as an eleventh hour plea ahead of the Bill’s reading in January, the LGA had already collectively made similar criticisms to a series of tabled amendments made to the legislation early this year.

(Top image c. Lynne Cameron, PA Wire)


Graham   19/02/2016 at 13:12

All new homes should be zero carbon. Polystyrene is not that expensive. What is the point of building yet more 19th century housing? People do not want heating bills. The planet does not need any more unnecessary CO2.

Muttley   19/02/2016 at 14:00

No mention that the current bill will accelerate the ongoing forced mass removal of London residents by councils? The scandal of at least 8000 social rented homes lost already and a further 7326 due to be lost from current schemes is not being halted. This human tragedy has been aptly named the 'Lowland Clearances'and is a serious human rights matter - councils need to stop bulldozing people out of their homes for profit or it should be supported by a detailed Human Rights cost-benefit analysis - the rights of those losing their homes balanced against what ever the new development offers. Most of the replacement homes are not affordable and many are snapped up as investments. Check out the number of offshore companies owning these 'regenerated' estates using the live map by Private Eye. Sadly, for most residents of these estates, they will not be coming home.

Geoff Beacon   20/02/2016 at 13:53

MUCH CHEAPER HOMES ARE POSSIBLE Land is cheap - at agricultural prices £500 a building plot - until the grant of planning permission adds £(many tens of thousands) to the price. That's due to scarcity because plots with planning permission are held by corporate land bankers. Without the inflated cost of planning permission, it is possible to build a house £50k or a wooden starter tiny house for £15K. It's possible to provide starter homes on their plots for about £20K - about 10% of normal prices. The shock of plotland development, where individuals (not corporate land-bankers) hold planning permission, could cool the housing and rental market and reduce the current transfer of wealth from the poor to the affluent. A shock to the housing market is needed ( Note for Graham: Yes but "zero-carbon homes" are not necessarily zero carbon. The standard ignores embodied carbon. Wood is good for carbon storeage.

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