William Eichler 08 February 2017

Housing white paper criticised for ‘glaring omissions’

Housing white paper criticised for ‘glaring omissions’

The Government’s housing white paper contained three ‘glaring omissions’ including no mention of the one million homes target, the Liberal Democrat’s say.

Responding to the white paper, a Lib Dem spokesperson pointed out communities secretary Sajid Javid did not mention the Government’s ambition to build one million homes by 2020.

Published yesterday, the white paper laid out Downing Street’s plans to fix the ‘broken’ housing market by - among other measures - forcing councils to produce up-to-date plans detailing their local housing needs.

However, the Lib Dem shadow housing minister John Shipley accused the Government of making no new funding available for housebuilding and of taking no decisions on the future of council homes.

‘This White Paper is utterly vacuous. It is not the ambitious, radical plan we need to solve the housing crisis,’ said Mr Shipley.

‘There is no mention of the one million homes commitment by 2020 and no new money for investing in the homes we need – it’s clear the Government has no real grip on the situation at all.

‘We desperately need genuinely affordable housing and many more homes for rent and yet there was nothing announced to help the 35,000 people who have been on housing waiting lists for over ten years. It’s a disgrace.’

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for housing John Healey MP described the white paper as ‘feeble beyond belief’.

‘After seven years of failure and a thousand housing announcements, the housing crisis is getting worse not better,’ he said.

‘There are 200,000 fewer home-owners, homelessness has doubled, and affordable house-building has slumped to a 24 year low

‘Ministers should be setting out clear plans to deal with these problems, but all Theresa May’s ministers have delivered so far is hot air.’

Despite these criticisms, housing minister Gavin Barwell has defended the proposals laid out in the white paper in The MJ today.

‘It recognises the current system simply does not work, and it explains how far-reaching reforms will significantly increase the number of homes we build, both in the short-term and for many years to come,’ he said.

Council chiefs were also positive about some of the Government’s housing proposals.

‘This white paper includes some encouraging signs that Government is listening to councils on how to boost housing supply and increase affordability,’ said Cllr Martin Tett, housing spokesman at the Local Government Association (LGA).

‘We are pleased it has taken on board a number of recommendations made in our recent housing commission final report.’

‘Communities must have faith that the planning system responds to their aspirations for their local area, rather than simply being driven by national targets,’ Cllr Tett continued.

‘To achieve this, councils must have powers to ensure that new homes are affordable and meet their assessments of local need, are attractive and well-designed, and are supported by the schools, hospitals, roads and other services vital for places to succeed.’

Mr Javid’s announcement yesterday also appeared to suggest a shift towards focusing on delivering mixed types of accommodation, a point the LGA appeared to welcome.

‘All types of homes - including those for affordable and social rent – have to be built to solve our housing crisis and flexibility around starter homes is much-needed recognition of this,’ Cllr Tett said.

‘It is important that councils have powers to ensure a mix of homes are built, alongside the infrastructure to support strong communities.’

The LGA also welcomed the new powers available to councils to crack-down on land banking.

However, Cllr Tett warned local authorities required access to more funding in order to ‘resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes.’

‘This means being able to borrow to invest in housing and to keep 100% of the receipts from properties sold through Right to Buy to replace homes and reinvest in building more of the genuine affordable homes our communities desperately need,’ Cllr Tett said.

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) also welcomed the Government’s ‘greater emphasis on flexibility around type and tenure’ of housing.

‘Districts are -  and will continue to be - at the forefront of delivering the country’s housing needs since they already accommodate one-in-two new homes built nationwide,’ said DCN chair Cllr Neil Clarke.

‘In this spirit we welcome a greater emphasis on flexibility around type and tenure, including a renewed focus on affordable homes and homes to rent, in the white paper - to help our members build the homes this country needs.’

However, Cllr Clarke also repeated the LGA’s call for ‘greater fiscal freedoms’ to help councils build more houses.

‘District councils will also require greater fiscal freedoms to fully unlock their ability to build more homes, including the removal of the HRA borrowing cap, the use of Right to Buy receipts and other borrowing freedoms,’ he said.

On the question of increased funds, Cllr Clarke welcomed proposals to increase planning fees by 20%.

‘We also welcome proposals to increase planning fees by 20% from July 2017, with the prospect of a further 20% increase to councils who are delivering new homes for their communities,’ he said.

‘For too long council planning departments have been under-resourced to deliver local planning.’

However, in his response to the white paper yesterday, LGiU chief executive Jonathan Carr-West warned many of the Government’s aims would be hard to achieve because planning departments have been ‘hit particularly hard’ by cuts to council budgets.

The DCN concluded the ‘housing revolution’ should be locally driven and, to this end, the planning system should be closely aligned to the devolution agenda.

Reiterating some of the concerns raised by the LGA and DCN, Jo Miller, Solace president and chief executive of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, said: ‘Local Authorities need to be given more powers and flexibilities to be able to invest in housing, for instance through the retention of 100% of receipts from the sale of their assets, which would enable reinvestment and the building of more affordable homes.'

To read housing minister Gavin Barwell's take on the 'broken housing market' visit The MJ (£).

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