• Housing bill watered down by Lords

The government’s controversial new housing bill is facing numerous challenges, and is facing a substantial reshaping as critics emerge from various sectors of government.
The House of Lords has now extracted several major concessions from the original draft bill, putting back some of the restrictions and regulations that the government sought to remove from the existing planning and construction regulations.
Restrictions have been placed on the Treasury, which originally wanted to take the proceeds of the sales of high value council houses. And the proposed “pay to stay” charge for better off tenants has been amended, so that it will be down to local authority discretion, and set at a lower rate. At the same time, a stronger principle has been adopted to ensure that council homes are replaced one for one, when the existing stock is sold off.
A planning permission in principle concept has been restricted, with peers voting to limit it to housing schemes. There will also be the right for neighbourhood groups to resist proposals, if they run counter to a local plan.
The government also wanted to do away with rules requiring new homes to be consistently more energy efficient, something that has been knocked back. While councils are likely to get greater powers to restrict the growth of basement conversions, a back door extension route for homeowners that has proved highly unpopular, particularly in areas of London.
The government’s plans to push starter homes have been limited, with local authorities now able to decide how many to provide; while the starter home discount has also been restricted.
Shadow housing minister John Healey has been highly critical, writing: “The detail of the defeats matters less than the draining confidence – including among Tory Peers, MPs and council leaders – that Cameron and Osborne are making the correct calls on housing. They seem more concerned with political message than good housing policy or a sound long-term plan to fix the housing crisis.”
And the Lib Dems were equally unconvinced. Their housing spokesman Baroness Bakewell said: “This should be a wakeup call that this bill is failing to help those who need a home.”
A promised extension of right to buy for social housing tenants has been roundly condemned by the Public Accounts Committee. The committee says the policy is uncosted, and could have profound negative impacts.
“The approach to paying for this policy seems to be entirely speculative,” said committee chairman Meg Hillier. “On the basis of evidence heard by our committee, there are no costings or workings out. We are not talking about a ‘back of an envelope’ calculation – there is no envelope at all.”
At lawyer Pinsent Masons, planning expert Ben Mansell commented: “In its current form, the Bill is in a very different shape to the one originally presented. However, as the Bill passes back to the government, it appears that the government will fight hard against many of these defeats.”
LPA Perspective: The new housing bill had few supporters, outside the core of the Conservative party. Plenty of the proposals within it look to be motivated by political dogma, rather than any understanding of economics or the current situation regarding housing in the UK.
It is to be hoped that the Lords keep up the pressure, and help reshape a set of bad ideas into something more workable. Never mind the law of unintended consequences, these proposed laws have plenty of rather obvious – and highly negative – consequences. Were they to make it into the statute books, history would surely judge this government as being the one that not only failed to get a grip of the housing crisis, but actually made it worse.

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