Social Housing Green Paper announced
Speaking at the National Housing Federation conference in Birmingham this month, Secretary of State Sajid Javid announced a forthcoming green paper on social housing. Trailed by Sajid Javid a “wide-ranging, top to bottom review”, it is intended to look at what has “gone right and what has gone wrong. Why things have gone wrong and most importantly how to fix them”. As might be expected in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the green paper will look at safety issues alongside matters such as the quality of social housing and its management, the rights of tenants, the role of social housing in creating safe and integrated communities, and a host of other issues including homelessness.
This latter issue was recently looked at by the National Audit Office (NAO). Outlining the rapid increase in homelessness, the NAO found the ending of private sector tenancies was the biggest single cause. Commenting that changes to the benefits system are “likely to have contributed” to housing becoming less affordable, it observes that the government has yet to fully assess the impact of welfare reforms on homelessness. Produced before the announcement of the social housing green paper, the NAO also commented on the limited options open to councils to house families, referring to the “significant reduction in social housing” and the steady increases in spending on homelessness services such as temporary accommodation at a time when overall spending on housing services has declined. With the NAO reporting that there is no cross-government strategy to tackle homelessness, it will be interesting to see the extent to which these issues are dealt with in the forthcoming green paper.
Local house building targets, easy as 1-2-3?
As part of its drive to increase the rate of housebuilding, the government is consulting on further changes to the planning system. Chief among these is the proposal for a standard, three-stage methodology to calculate the number of homes a council should plan for. Replacing locally devised approaches, the government’s proposal would take the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) household growth projections as its starting point. In stage two, in areas where average house prices are more than four times average earnings there will be an increase in the number of homes planned for, with the rate of increase set according to a national formula. A final third stage would cap any increase to 40% above the local plan figure, or if the plan is not up to date, the original ONS projection.
Launching the consultation, Sajid Javid said that figures would not be “hard and fast targets” due to local constraints. On the other hand, other areas may be “willing and able to take on unmet need for neighbouring authorities”, while councils could also arrive at higher figures to meet economic aspirations. Without these adjustments it seems that for many areas the proposed methodology could produce a fall in the baseline housing numbers. The illustrative figures for each council can be found in a document accompanying the consultation.
Strategic and neighbourhood changes
Changes are also proposed to strengthen strategic, cross-boundary cooperation by means of Statements of Common Ground. Under these proposals planning authorities would have 12 months to set out how they are working with their counterparts on strategic issues including housing and infrastructure and record where agreements have or have not been reached. Generally these would cover agreed housing market areas, although other geographies are not ruled out.
Other changes being consulted on include: improving the identification of the housing needs of specific groups such as older people; whether local authorities should set out housing figures for designated neighbourhood planning areas and how this might be done; the use of viability assessments in both plan-making and decision-making; and increasing planning application fees where “authorities are delivering the homes their communities need”. The consultation closes on 9th November.
New Homes Bonus reductions
Responding to the consultation, the Local Government Association (LGA) said that while there may be benefits, “a formula drawn up in Whitehall can never fully understand the complexity and unique needs of local housing markets”. In commenting, the LGA also noted that Councils approve nine out of ten planning permissions. In this context, its worth noting the current consultation on the technical aspects of the local government finance settlement. Among other things, this includes a consultation on methods to reduce councils’ New Homes Bonus funding where the homes have been granted on appeal rather than by the council. The Local government finance technical consultation closes on 26th October.