Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by South Norfolk Council (HPB 127)

Housing and Planning Bill

1 South Norfolk Council officers have considered the Housing and Planning Bill, have discussed the matter with councillors and would like to make the following response to the Public Bill Committee:

Summary

2 The Housing and Planning Bill will have a very considerable impact on the future of Housing and Planning services run by councils across the country. A number of the measures proposed are very welcome – for example, the provisions to enable better control of "rogue" landlords. Other measures may have negative as well as positive impacts, and in a large number of cases, "headline" proposals have very little detail supporting them at present.

The importance of proper and co-ordinated consultation on secondary legislation

3.1 In a significant number of areas, topics covered by the Bill will be given effect through later secondary legislation and it is therefore not easy to comment in detail on the various provisions of the Bill at present. It is only through this secondary legislation that the precise outworkings of the Bill will be better known, and inevitably a lot of the devil will be in the detail. Due to the very significant nature of these issues, South Norfolk Council believes that it is imperative that the Government undertakes full, properly lengthy (i.e. at least 6 weeks’ in duration to allow for taking responses to Cabinet) and public consultation on the secondary legislation, and then also allow proper time for the Government to consider the responses lodged and make any adjustments to the legislation before enacting it.

3.2 It is also important that consultation on secondary legislation is co-ordinated wherever practicable, to enable all consultees to have as full an understanding as possible of the consequential impacts and the overall outworkings of the Bill. Given the considerable scope of the Bill, and the intention to make additional significant changes to the housing and planning systems announced by the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement in November 2015, the risk of unintended consequences and anomalies across all the secondary legislation is potentially high, and co-ordinated consultation will help consultees to identify potential problems and suggest solutions.

Starter Homes

4.1 The Council is supportive of measures that will enable additional housing to be delivered, and recognises (as is obvious to all) that there is an affordability crisis. Measures taken to make housing more affordable to buy and rent are therefore welcome, and in principle the Council welcomes the Starter Homes initiative. On this point, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement announcement of a package of substantial funding support to help deliver 400,000 Starter Homes is warmly welcomed.

4.2 However, the Council does have some concerns about some of the potential implications of the Starter Homes proposals, particularly on the potential delivery of affordable rented properties, and these are set out below.

i) If, as suggested by the Government, Starter Homes are to be classed as form of affordable housing, and there will be a requirement for a proportion of all dwellings on sites above a certain threshold to be Starter Homes, there could be significant impacts. If Starter Homes can be counted as part of the policy-compliant affordable housing, then many developers will doubtless seek to provide a higher proportion of Starter Homes than Affordable Rented homes (as this will be less costly to them). This would inevitably lead to a reduction in the delivery of Affordable Rented properties, but without a significant reduction in the need for such properties (as identified through the Council’s Strategic Housing Market Assessment and Housing Register) – in other words, Starter Homes are unlikely to be affordable for many who currently can only afford Affordable Rent prices.

ii) If there is a significant delivery of Starter Homes, this would have benefits (in terms of additional new housing being delivered, more New Homes Bonus money for Councils, enabling more people to buy their own home etc). However, if all Starter Homes are exempt from paying CIL, this is likely to lead to an increase in the infrastructure "deficit" for a given area, and it is not easy to identify alternative sources of funding to bridge this gap. Government is asked to give this matter some consideration.

Custom-Build

5.1 By virtue of the amendments generated by the Bill (and the resulting words introduced into the Self-Build Act) the Council considers that there may be the possibility for a mechanism to be brokered that would enable the Self Build and Custom – Housebuilding Act to be used as a means of circumventing the obligation to pay CIL or other S106 contribution on a "standard" allocated development site.

5.2 The method would see a landowner and or builder using the register of potential self-builders to establish a level of need. The need would be translated into a cell or cells within a development area whose status would allow CIL/S106 exemptions. As things stand there would appear to be no impediment to a landowner (that might include a developer/housebuilder) from selling the identified land to self-build or custom builder clients but subject to an agreement as to the choice of builder or construction partner for the custom build. The practice would need to be underpinned by a different pattern book and a subsidiary or "arms-length company" being set up to assist the process. The Government is asked to legislate carefully in this area to try to avoid such a scenario, and the details of the secondary legislation will be critical to minimise the number of potential loopholes.

December 2015

Prepared 10th December 2015