While the analysis of many of the problems facing us as a society regarding housing, housebuilding, land supply and affordability is very sound from the government, Housing Justice has serious concerns that the initial proposals do not go far enough to address these concerns; the more you read in to the detail the more you realise there is not that much of substance, especially to help those who could most do with assistance. It also feels as though some good ideas were potentially there in first drafts, and have been removed because of the political impact they could have internally for the Conservative party.

Indeed, many of the problems are ones we, and others in the industry more widely, have highlighted before, and it is encouraging that the government recognises and quite clearly spells out that the market is broken. We don’t build enough homes, we don’t build those homes fast enough, and there is not enough protection for a growing number of people in the private rented sector. The term ‘affordable’ is also broken, and there will be a consultation on this as outlined in the annex to the White Paper.

However, this was a landmark opportunity for a government in power, in such a position of authority in the polls, to have made some big changes to the scale of housebuilding outside of the main cities in this country. Sadly, it looks as though the large scale changes needed will not happen.

There are particular areas of concern:

  • Green Belt – this was trailed before the release of the White Paper by the Secretary of State as an area of great change, that the idea of building on Green Belt land would be looked at more seriously. Nothing substantive has changed and instead we see more focus on building in cities, increasing density of accommodation, building up, and filling in small spaces and brownfield sites
  • Size of property – on top of increasing density of accommodation there is a strong suggestion that the government will look to redraw guidance on how large properties need to be, through a re-evaluation of the Nationally Described Space Standard
  • Local Authorities still have no mechanism by which to build the homes they have themselves indicated they want and need to build. The LGA wants the restrictions to funding for housebuilding removed and while this does not happen then a significant section of potential houses for those most in need and those ‘just about managing’ will not be realised. See below a visual representation from ResPublica’s November report[1] on housing.

 

  • Length of tenancy is to be increased to 3 years in some instances to help provide some stability for families. This should be significantly strengthened and lengthened with a 7-year tenancy for young families as children go through school whether primary or secondary if this desire for stability is to be accomplished

It would have been good to see more information on how the government will support Community Land Trusts than just one paragraph – this is a strong model for how to protect genuine affordability (more of which can be read here). The support through funding is to be encouraged but it is clear that this must be led by communities own plans.

Further Analyses

The Local Government Association have published their detailed response here. They are broadly supportive of the government in its aims to increase housebuilding rates, but would have liked to see it go further in allowing Local Authorities to do this job – ‘we will continue to call for the housing borrowing cap to be lifted’. They are however encouraged by the new Land Release Fund which will encourage the easier and quicker use of public sector land, as well as the idea of retaining fees for gathered through any appeals process to Local Plans for the purpose of strengthening their own planning departments. There is some support too for the increased potential of CPOs although they do recognise this will have ‘little impact’ on build out speeds in general. Also highlight their desire to see longer term tenancies for families (10 year).

The RTPI are concerned about the changes to planning policy that sees the time lag between getting permission and building is reduced to 2 years from 3 years as potentially having unforeseen consequences (e.g. ‘may simply deter or defer applications’) – this policy it says has not been properly researched. RTPI also highlights the need to revisit the fundamental purposes of ‘Green Belt’ to ensure it is actually fulfilling its role. Full analysis is here.

Jules Birch has written about his concerns that the White Paper does not go far enough in certain areas. Two areas of positivity from his perspective are ‘publication of information on land ownership and options over land, and allowing local authorities to participate in German-style land pooling for new development’. Too much focus though he sees lies in the fact that government policy only focuses on two types of tenure – home ownership and private rent – and excludes any real support to Housing Associations and Local Authorities who want to build more affordable housing. He concludes that the White Paper is very much about the housing ‘market’ not the housing ‘system’. His full blog on the White Paper is here

Generation Rent saw the White Paper in disappointing terms describing the ‘timidity [as] infuriating’. They have highlighted the lack of help to those who are already renting as the key problem, specifically the issue of ‘no reason’ evictions (Section 21) and ‘revenge’ evictions (where a tenant highlights a problem in their property and is rewarded with a Section 21 notice)  – protections are not strong enough, and only come in to effect if a landlord is breaking the law – the implication being that wider-scale protections need to exist and Section 21 needs to end. Their full analysis is here

On the same theme as Generation Rent, PwC highlight the particular problems for those aged 20-39 in their response here.

IPPR wants the government to go much further and says ‘the government must tackle the dysfunctional land market and be willing to invest more in affordable housing’. Full response here.

Adam Smith Institute has described the White Paper as a ‘missed opportunity’ – ‘Sajid Javid seems to understand Britain’s housing problems in a way that previous communities’ secretaries have not. However, many of the bold ideas that had been floated in the past few months have been dropped, presumably because not all his colleagues recognise the scale of the problem’ Full response on their site is here.

The Guardian’s analysis particularly focussed on the increased density in urban areas and reduction in allowed size of properties. Article is here.

The New Statesman is fairly damning in its response as it says the government is ‘afraid of Middle England’. Full article here.

24 Housing has compiled what a number of industry leaders have said in response here.

The Home Owners Alliance is particularly concerned with the standards of homes, not just the numbers promised: ‘there is a real danger that we are building the wrong sort of home. We need to revisit enforcement of the existing standards system for new build homes.

“The white paper back tracks on space standards and there is a very real danger that poor quality rabbit hutches will be built and presented as the solution to the crisis.” Their full response is here.

Lanson’s Consultants rightly highlighted the following as key in terms of the politics at play ‘In keeping with the Government’s ideological land grab from the Labour Party, the White Paper also signals a U-turn on a decade old Conservative value: the Government has signalled an abandonment of its commitment to universal homeownership, with new measures designed to make renting more appealing as a long term solution for people seeking a home.’ Their analysis is here.

[1] http://www.respublica.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Going-to-Scale-1-1.pdf