Introducing The Housing Insecurity & Land-Grab Bill – aka The Housing & Planning Bill 2015-16

Mark Brown mark at
Mon Mar 14 21:06:12 GMT 2016

Introducing The Housing Insecurity & Land-Grab Bill – aka The Housing & Planning
Bill 2015-16

The government are in the process of passing a legislative bill through
Parliament called the “Housing and Planning Bill”. At the heart of this
legislation are ‘Starter Homes’ – targeted to boost the grossly-inflated housing
market designed to transform ‘Generation Rent into Generation Buy’ by providing
discounts of 20% to first-time buyers which at 4/5ths the market price will
still be unaffordable to many (calculations for London demand an ‘ income of
£77,000 and a deposit of £98,000). For council housing tenants, the bill
requires councils to change how they charge tenants with a combined income of
more than £30,000 outside of London and £40,000 in the capital. Under the
so-called “pay to stay” measures, tenants will be charged the same level as the
private rent sector, which could force thousands of people from their homes.

The ‘Planning’ component of this bill sets in motion a complete overhaul of the
planning system primarily to give housebuilders more freedom to build more
houses whilst at the same time diluting the definition of “affordable housing”,
combining with the ‘Housing’ aspect of the bill to boost the housing market with
measures such as expanding right-to-buy to housing association tenants and
‘Starter Homes’. However, the ‘Housing’ component of this bill also makes
fundamental changes to social housing, including making tenancies less secure,
and together with extending “Right-to-Buy” to housing association tenants in a
massive sweeping way, forces the sale of high-value council homes – changes
which will further shrink social housing and further expand the “Buy-to-Let”
housing sector and private rental sector.

The Housing and Planning Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 13
October 2015. It had its second reading on 2 November 2015. The Bill passed
Third Reading on 12 January 2016 and goes through the House of Lords before it
can get final assent in Parliament. As many as 65 amendments were tabled and
added onto the bill at 3rd Reading in the House of Commons, including replacing
secure tenancies with fixed-term tenancies and allowing councils to “contract
out” the processing of planning applications.

The Housing Crisis and the Government’s Solution: Subsidies to housebuilders,
social housing tenants (and banks), debt entrapment fait-accomplie to new
mortgagees and “Hasta la vista, baby” to council-housing:

That there is a shortage of affordable housing is obvious. The campaign group
Defend Council Housing point to the reason for this as having been the “chronic
under-supply of new homes, particularly affordable homes for rent”, citing the
steady decline in the rate of new house-build over time since the early 1970s
including particularly the decline of new council housing which is now next to
nothing after being 50% of total new housing stock in 1970. A rise in the
“Buy-to-Let” market, an explosion in bank credit in the 1990s and a gradual
long-term shrinking of the social housing base because of the long-term
dwindling of council housing stock have been the main factors which have
combined to create this affordability crisis in England – especially southern
England – of high house prices and high rents.

With property increasingly attracting foreign investors, especially in London,
and the “Buy-to-Let” market continuing to expand, the house-price spiral has
further accelerated. As a result, as well as a rental affordability crisis, the
proportion of the population in home ownership is starting to dip as new
entrants struggle to afford to get on the property ladder.

The Tory government’s solution to the crisis has developed over the last year.
Their plan is to spark demand in the mortgage market in this sea of
unaffordability through subsidising new entrants for owner-occupation to get
their first step on the housing ladder through a new “Starter Homes initiative”,
to encourage right-to buy by housing association tenants, and on the supply
side, to free up the planning system to housebuilders, small and large.

Social Housing undermined and Council-Housing under threat
Public sector assets (council homes) will be sold off, with councils forced to
sell-off high-value council homes when they become empty, with proceeds from
sales unlikely to be ploughed back into more social housing as the bill will
formally require councils to subsidise Housing Associations’ Right to Buy
discounts up to £100,000, with no guarantee of replacement homes at similar
rents in the same area.

In their plans, council housing is considered only at the margins, reconceived
as a resource to be utilised only as a safety net for the very poorest in
society, whilst remaining poor and low-income working population are consigned
to being accommodated through social housing within housing associations, where
rent is marginally discounted, or in the private-rental sector, where rents are
high. The existing and future Social Housing stock will shrink under these plans
because there will be no statutory obligation on housing associations to provide
like-for-like quantitative replacement social housing in regard to right-to buy
purchases of social housing by housing association tenants, so reducing the
total stock of social housing.

The long term trend of the shrinking social housing base and transfer of
rentiers into the private sector rental market has increased the housing benefit
bill, which has risen by £650 million a year since 2009-10 (for 2013/14 it was
£24.6 billion and is expected to reach £27 billion by 2018/19).

Creating Insecurity
The bill will remove secure tenancies and replace them with 2-5 year fixed-term
tenancies, after which tenants would have to “reapply”, with means testing and
‘Pay to Stay’ deals if household income reaches above £30,000 (£40,000 in
London), radically undermining the stability of mixed communities. Relatives
living with a tenant would lose their right to remain and take on the tenancy if
the tenant dies or moves away.

Planning System overhauled – planning balance sacrificed for the short-term
whims of housing market
The Housing & Planning Bill will amend planning legislation to give priority to
its new Starter Homes initiative. This is a programme of funding for developers
to provide “starter homes” at 80% market price. The value thresholds for starter
homes in London will be £450,000 and in the rest of England £250,000 – prices
which are not affordable by many middle-income households and certainly not by
lower-income households.

In effect, what the government is doing in promoting a specific developer
product – starter homes at 80% of average market price – over and above other
more affordable housing products, is both unprecedented and contrary to the
basic principle of evidence-based planning. The government is geared to imposing
starter homes targets on individual local authorities so that it delivers its
national 200,000 starter homes target by 2020.

A new clause introduced into the bill contains a new definition of affordable
housing. It defines it as “new dwellings in England that are to be made
available for people whose needs are not adequately served by the commercial
housing market”, bringing Starter Homes within the definition. The National
Planning Policy Framework consultation proposal is to “amend the national
planning policy definition of affordable housing so that it encompasses a fuller
range of products that can support people to access home ownership …This would
include products that are analogous to low cost market housing”. So ‘affordable
housing’ is being redefined within the confines of the market, a market which
even at 80% of market price particularly in London is financially out-of-reach
to large sections of the population, especially younger generations.

The central measures in the Housing and Planning Bill propose key changes to the
definition of planning permission, creating a new definition of “Planning
Permission in Principle” with “technical details” (such as built form, density,
bedroom size, access, social infrastructure and flood mitigation measures)
ironed out after initial consent is agreed in principle, a new planning
framework which seems to earmark a more robust, flexible and efficient planning
system that better responds to the economic environment. However, the difficulty
here is that policy compliance on “technical details” are critical matters
within any consideration of a planning application and they cannot be checked at
the “in principle” stage, and once “in principle” consent is given it is unclear
to what extent planning authorities can impose their key policy requirements.

The government is also introducing a mechanism by which the government minister
can issue a local development order for a site or group of sites which in effect
determines planning policy and grants planning consent for developments,
irrespective of the policies set out in adopted local plans. While ministers
have stated that the use of these powers will be limited to small sites or to
sites on the council’s brownfield register (another new requirement), the bill
itself contains no such limitations.

Duncan Bowie – senior lecturer in spatial planning at Westminster University,
member of the RTPI/CiH affordable housing network and convenor of the Highbury
Group policy forum – says: “Overall the bill represents a significant reduction
in local authorities’ planning powers. Taken together with the recent permitted
development rights and their recent extension, I would argue that the basic
principles of the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act – that local authorities
should adopt plans for their areas based on an assessment of the development
requirements in their area and that planning decisions in relation to specific
development proposals should be based on these plans – has been fatally
compromised by these proposals.”

In Summary
This Housing and Planning Bill undermines social housing provision across
England and Wales whilst acting as a charter for developers and the big housing
corporations to expand their growth, allowing them to reap structural changes to
planning law that facilitate new housing development underpinned by structural
changes to local government that guarantee financial subsidies to discount new
house build paid for through the sale of high-value council homes. This bill
will also create centralised government control and developer-led privatisation
of parts of the planning system. It is not only fatally flawed, but
fundamentally disastrous, will increase the displacement of vulnerable
communities and elevate eviction rates. This bill is not a solution to a housing
crisis; it will intensify the housing crisis. It must be opposed!


We point to the solutions already signposted by Defend Council Housing. They
Alternatives to create the homes we need, including:
– Regulation of private renting with standards for repairs and controlled
rents; end retaliatory and no-fault evictions
– Stop demolition of structurally sound council and housing association housing
– More moorings and sites for bargees, gypsies and travellers
– Lift the bedroom tax and welfare caps
– Housing Associations to be more transparent, open and accountable
– Write off unjustified housing debt to allow building of new council housing
– 50% ‘social rent’ homes on all housing developments and 100% on all
publicly-owned land
– A national housing strategy and emergency building programme targeted to meet
identified need

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