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Housing and Planning Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:23 pm on 2nd November 2015.

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Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak 6:23 pm, 2nd November 2015

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the smart move for the Government would be to split the proposals in two. There are some welcome measures in the planning section that could even be strengthened, and they could then go back to the drawing board with their housing proposals. That would allow the Secretary of State perhaps to recover some of the nice guy image to which my right hon. Friend John Healey referred. That might be the way forward.

According to the Government’s own statistics, rough sleeping is up 55% since 2010, but looking around our towns and cities that seems like an underestimate to me. Many of us will have come across parents with young children at our advice centres who are living either in hostels or in entirely inappropriate accommodation. We have a crisis, and not just in London. I know the Chancellor is not very good at recognising the impact of his policies on real people, but I urge Ministers to look at the Shelter analysis of their starter home plans. It shows that a family on the Chancellor’s national non-living wage will be able to afford a starter home in only about 2% of local authorities across the country. That will not work. Lord Kerslake has pointed out that the Government’s definition of starter homes stretches the definition of affordable housing beyond breaking point.

I do not understand the obsession with selling off council and housing association properties when there is such a housing crisis. I understand the aspiration of tenants to be homeowners, but I wonder why Ministers think that that aspiration does not extend to tenants in the private rented sector. Why are there no rights for those who rent in that sector?

As I have said, I welcome part 2 of the Bill, especially the action on rogue landlords and letting agents. I particularly commend the banning orders in clause 13, the database of rogue landlords and the rent payment orders. I also welcome part 5 and the more stringent “fit and proper” test for landlords, and, of course, clause 86, which offers a way forward at the time when the deterrent costs of court action often result in rogue landlords getting off scot-free. It could go further, however. This is about identifying and finding not just unfit landlords but rogue developers and people who exploit permitted development rules daily in my constituency and elsewhere, destroying the family homes we need and creating ugly, often unsafe, HMOs in communities that do not want them and do not need them. This is all done in pursuit of the vast profits they can extract through exorbitant rents and non-existent maintenance and repairs.

If the Bill was strengthened to protect family homes and to tackle unsafe extensions and breaches of permitted development rules, the Secretary of State would have some prospect of regaining his good guy reputation. As it is, the first part of the Bill is a mess and mistake and the second part simply does not go far enough.