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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 6:45 pm, 3rd May 2016

The most astounding thing about the Government’s proposals is that we are expected to make decisions about them today without any idea of the costings. When the Minister came to the Communities and Local Government Committee, he said the Government would produce costings in due course—I think he actually said spring was the likely time. Well, here we are in the spring, and I have not seen any figures.

It is astounding that we should hear from the Government over and over again that the sale of a, now, higher-value council home will pay for the replacement of that home, the replacement of a housing association property that is sold and the £1 billion fund for remedial work on brownfield land. If the Government are clear that that is what their policies will do, will they please show us the figures? If they are clear that that is what will happen, they must have the figures to have made their promises on. Or are they simply telling us they believe that that is how things will work out, but without any clear evidence to support that?

That is a matter of great concern. It was a concern to the Select Committee, which, having heard the evidence, correctly said:

“We have not seen evidence that the Government has fully costed the proposals and we call on it to do so as a matter of urgency.”

That was agreed at the beginning of February; we are now three months further on, but we still have no figures. The Public Accounts Committee made exactly the same point in its report, and it seemed a very reasonable point, regardless of whether we think the PAC should look at policy before or after it is implemented. The Committee said:

“The Department should publish a full impact assessment containing analysis in line with the guidance on policy appraisal in HM Treasury’s Green Book, to accompany the proposed secondary legislation”.

When will we see the figures? We have not got them for the Bill. Will we have them before any secondary legislation comes before the House for approval? Will the Minister make a firm promise that that will be the case? He referred to further secondary legislation on higher-value council homes. Will these proposals be thoroughly and properly costed before we reach that point? This is a serious matter—the right of the House to have information before it passes legislation.

Let me come now to starter homes. Again, it has been a little hard to understand how the Government’s policy will work. When the Minister came before the Communities and Local Government Committee, he said that local authorities meeting developers to discuss section 106 agreements would have discretion over what mix of affordable housing would be built. Can we have some clarity on that? Will starter homes take absolute priority, with local authorities having no choice but to build them to hit the Government’s 200,000 target, and if there is a bit of money left, perhaps putting one or two affordable homes for rent on the site? Or will local authorities, as they are currently allowed to, come to their own view about section 106 agreements and about the right mix of affordable homes on the site, whether that means starter homes—now defined as affordable homes—homes to rent or shared ownership? What is actually going to be the case?

What about areas of land in my constituency where there is no requirement for any affordable housing at present because the sites are not considered to be viable, yet viability is an important test under the national planning policy framework guidelines that local authorities have to work to? Will the Government insist that starter homes are built on a site where it is not currently considered viable to have any section 106 provision for affordable housing? How is that going to work—or will there be local discretion in that regard as well? We need some clarity.

We also need clarity about the replacement of the higher-value council homes as to precisely what sort of homes they will be replaced with, how that will be defined, and what the negotiation process between Government and local authorities will look like. Will it be a case of starter homes at all costs, or are we going to be in a position where affordable homes to rent can be part of the replacement situation, going back to “like-for-like”?

The Chartered Institute of Housing produced evidence to the Select Committee in which it estimated that during the course of this Parliament there would be 300,000 fewer social homes to rent than there were at the beginning. The Minister likes to take credit for the previous coalition Government having built more council homes than were built under the Labour Government, but let us get to the point: during this Parliament, will there be 300,000 fewer social homes to rent, not just council homes but housing association properties, as the Chartered Institute of Housing has estimated? The Government disagree with that figure, but will they say what they expect their policies to produce by the end of this Parliament?