Jeremy Beecham on the incompetence and misjudgement of those promoting the Housing and Planning Bill
There are only two things wrong with the Housing and Planning Bill – much of what it contains, and also what it doesn’t. Faced with a shortage of affordable housing to rent, the Bill concentrates on measures which will do little or nothing to meet growing need, focusing instead on an expensive Starter Homes scheme. A section of the Bill that suffered the wrath of Peers earlier this week.
The Bill extends the ‘Right to Buy’ (which has seen almost 40% of former council houses bought by former tenants now under the ownership of private landlords) to housing associations under a “voluntary” scheme. This will be financed by the forced sale of so-called ‘high value’ council homes when they become vacant. Rather incredibly, payments will be required on the basis of estimated vacancies, i.e. before they occur. So unless amendments are forthcoming that lead – at the very least – to one for one replacements, a significant reduction in available stock is inevitable.
The effects of the Right to Buy and high value sales provisions in both London and rural areas are likely to be particularly devastating. It will lead to still more private lettings, at ever higher rents and with minimal security for tenants. Paradoxically, this could cost the taxpayer due to the inevitable rise of housing benefit.
Just as the Conservative government is removing councils from a role in education, the Bill substantially erodes their capacity to ensure proper local balance of genuinely affordable housing for rent as well as purchase. Plus it also weakens local authorities’ capacity to require developers to provide affordable homes as part of planning agreements.
The handling, to date, of this Bill – both in the Commons and the Lords – is just as scandalous as what it is seeks to achieve. Primary legislation more often than not comes with an Impact Assessment, which is supposed to give details of how it would work. The one relating to this Bill is woefully short on detail of the anticipated effects on tenants and other residents, councils, communities and the taxpayer.
The Secretary of State will have ample opportunities to implement the Bill’s provisions by regulations which, even if requiring parliamentary approval, cannot be amended. Drafts of those regulations have not been made available during the Bill’s progress. Even worse, the various consultations that are supposed to precede them have either not yet started or not been completed. And in any event, the government’s responses won’t be available before the Bill becomes law.
Peers across the House have been compelled to express sympathy with the Lords Minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, as she has struggled to defend the indefensible. Even some on her own side have expressed significant misgivings. So much that one congratulated me recently on keeping my sanity “in the light of this terrible, terrible Bill”, adding that it was “a disgrace”. Indeed it is, and serious questions arise as to the competence and judgement of those responsible for promoting such damaging legislation.
Lord Jeremy Beecham is a member of the Shadow Housing team in the House of Lords. He tweets @jeremybeecham
Published 12th April 2016