Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Housing and Planning Bill, 'an utter catastrophe' and the impossibility of providing affordable housing in East Devon

The Housing and Planning Bill has just finished its passage through the Commons:
Housing and Planning Bill passes third reading | Planning Resource

The Independent has been scathing about the whole process - and calls the resulting Act 'an utter catastrophe':
The Housing and Planning Bill reveals how little Tory MPs think of the public | Voices | The Independent

And the criticism goes wide and deep:
Even Tory Ministers Are Ashamed of This Housing Bill | John Healey

Bill 'a travesty' for social housing, say architects at demo | News | Building Design

The criticism has been pronounced in East Devon over the last days:
“A wholesale power grab: how the UK government is handing housing over to private developers” | East Devon Watch
Planning Bill: the potential for corruption | East Devon Watch
Daily Telegraph: “Developers can circumvent planning departments that take too long to clear approvals” | East Devon Watch
The myth of “affordable starter homes” and why they don’t help, explained by an American! | East Devon Watch

Meanwhile, the District Council has provided a 'well-reasoned and well-explained response' to the parallel review of the NPPF and the whole debate on what is 'affordable housing':
Hats off to EDDC! | East Devon Watch

In fact, the report to be considered next Tuesday is very critical:

Development Management Committee 

19 January 2016

Response to consultation on proposed changes to national planning policy 

Purpose of report: To outline the consultation by the Department for Communities and Local Government on proposed changes to national planning policy and provide a comprehensive response to the consultation on behalf of East Devon District Council.

1.8 Fundamentally there are concerns regarding the appropriateness of bringing starter homes within the definition of affordable housing in planning terms. East Devon is a predominantly rural area, with low local wages and high house prices driven to a large extent by older people moving into the area from the even higher priced housing areas of London and the South East of England (where wage levels are also considerably higher). The disconnect between wages and house prices mean that a large proportion of identified needs are for rented social housing. The proposed increased emphasis on the delivery of low cost homes to buy will make it increasingly difficult to deliver homes for social rent. There is a real concern that social rent and shared ownership will be replaced by starter homes without any net increase in overall housing supply and that the discount that starter homes brings will add more money to the housing system and risk increasing land and house prices further. 

1.10 There is a fundamental concern that the bulk of East Devon residents in housing need, including hard working people who would aspire to own a home, will not be able to afford a starter home. Few (arguably nobody) in housing need would be anywhere near being able to raise a mortgage of £250,000, or the relevant deposit (if they could they would not be in housing need), yet it is quite possible that developers will market starter homes at or getting towards this level. The outcome in East Devon (and many other localities) being that starter homes could end up becoming part of the normal stock, sold to people that can afford normal open market prices, but the 20% subsidy will diminish scope to deliver other needed affordable housing products. 

1.11 While EDDC can see a role for starter homes in promoting and enabling home ownership among those who have a reasonable income but this should not be as an affordable housing product as it will limit opportunities to meet the needs of those on low incomes. Even at 20% discount against open market prices the least expensive new housing stock (and the typically cheaper second hand stock) will be beyond price levels that most in housing need will be able to afford yet it is those that can afford the least are typically those that are in greatest housing need. 

1.12 There are complex viability issues with the change and uncertainty regarding the level of development that this will apply to and these should be thoroughly investigated before any change to policy is made. These viability issues vary by area and is why affordable housing levels and split between different affordable housing products should be set at the local level and not by national policy. It would be inappropriate for there to be national ‘one size fits all’ approach when quite evidently relevant factors vary so hugely across England. 


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