Will starter homes get more housing built in London?December 10, 2015
The Housing and Planning Bill is currently at Committee Stage in the House of Commons.
You may be interested in an update on one part of the Bill – starter homes – where there is still a great deal of uncertainty about how the new initiative will be implemented.
We have set out below are some key points made by the Government during the Committee Stage:
- The Government intends to make starter homes only available to owner-occupiers and therefore not available to buy-to-let landlords. The Government is currently considering the most appropriate way to achieve this.
- Housing Minister Brandon Lewis constantly emphasised the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to provide 200,000 starter homes by 2020, and in order to meet this commitment starter homes would need to be delivered on both exception sites (as the policy was originally conceived during the coalition government) but also on ‘more conventional housing sites too’ (as has become clear since the election).
- A technical consultation on starter homes will be published which will consult on, amongst other things:- the proportion of starter homes that conventional housing sites (or ‘reasonably sized developments’) are expected to deliver
– ‘changing the definition of affordable housing in planning policy to include starter homes, along with other changes to embed starter homes delivery in national policy’; and
– whether local authorities should be allowed to apply a ‘local connection test for starter homes….where there is a clear justification for such a test’ (i.e. potentially placing a geographic restriction on who can purchase a starter home although Mr Lewis made these comments in relation to starter homes being built in rural areas and who might be eligible for them).
- The Government accepts that ‘a degree of flexibility’ may be required when applying starter home policy ‘to reflect the different nature of residential developments and viability pressures across the country’. Mr Lewis mentioned the option of commuted sums for off-site starter home developments as potentially be appropriate for some developments.
- Referring to the forthcoming technical consultation and the percentage of starter homes that would be expected to be delivered on reasonably sized sites, Mr Lewis said, ‘I do not want to pre-judge the technical consultation now, but I’m clear that a one-size-fits all approach to setting a regulation with a blanket requirement that blindly applies to all housing sites from Brighton to Berwick-upon-Tweed and all points in between, irrespective of local circumstances, will not work’.
- Mr Lewis also said he recognised that for some ‘specialist housing’ requiring starting homes to be ‘an integral part of the development, given design, property management and investment needs’ would be ‘inappropriate’. Lewis went on to cite build to rent developments as being an example of specialist housing and as something that he has ‘strongly encouraged’ and that for such development ‘we will have an issue not with the financial viability but the appropriateness on the particular site, so commuted off-site contribution may be more appropriate’.
- Mr Lewis was pushed by Labour MPs about the power in the Bill allowing the Secretary of State to issue a compliance direction to local authorities that are failing to fulfil their statutory duty to promote starter homes. The Minister was asked to explain how the strong emphasis being placed by government on the delivery of starter homes reconciled with the fact that local authorities are supposed to assess and determine local housing need in their area. Mr Lewis explained that the compliance direction would be a ‘backstop provision’ targeted against a policy or part of a policy that was being used to prevent starter homes coming forward and that the ‘remaining planning framework [of a local authority] for a local plan would remain in force’.
A bit more clarity about starter homes policy has emerged from the Committee sessions but there are still a lot of unanswered questions. The forthcoming technical consultation will be the next stage in the development of this policy and it will be interesting to see if this is published before the Bill reaches the House of Lords, which traditionally likes to scrutinise detailed legislation rather than a series of enabling clauses.
Please do get in touch if you have any questions and we would welcome your thoughts on starter homes and their impact on getting more homes built in London.
Contact: Jonathan Seager, firstname.lastname@example.org