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I make no apologies for returning to the issue of London, because that is where housing need is sharpest and where the affordability crisis is most severe.
I find myself in the rare position, for one night only, of being in some harmony with Westminster City Council—a rare thing indeed. Its policy and scrutiny committee’s report on the Bill is deeply fascinating. It makes it clear—in moderate tones, but its content is unmistakable—what it thinks about the Bill and how it will impact on housing supply. Following on from a point made by my hon. Friend the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, it says:
“The Bill is largely a framework”,
which I think is a euphemism for, “We have no idea how most of it is going to work.” That point of view was spelled out more sharply by the Public Accounts Committee—whose Chair is not in her place at the moment—which absolutely stripped away the pretence of the calculations on which high-value sales have been predicated. Westminster City Council itself, however, is clear that the Bill will have a severe impact on housing and that it will also have wider implications, which I will address in a moment.
We do not know what the redefinition of sales from “high value” to “higher value” will mean for local areas. When Shelter did its initial calculation, it found that Westminster was likely to have to sell off 76.3% of its council properties as they became vacant. That would mean a sale rate of 246 a year. We do not know—as we keep saying about this Bill—what the new calculation will mean. The Minister has offered no calculations. The council’s latest estimate, however, is that it will need to sell 200 high-value voids a year in order to fund the right-to-buy housing association properties and that that will be worth £100 million year.
Here is the rub: not only will that reduce the stock and have massive implications for meeting housing needs, but it will simply displace costs into other areas of public expenditure. Westminster City Council has said that that will result in additional costs of £1.5 million a year for temporary accommodation for homeless families. The local taxpayer already has to fund temporary accommodation to the tune of £4 million a year above what the Government pay. An extra £1.5 million will be needed to meet some of the costs of homelessness that will result from the fact that the council will not be able to place people with housing need in its council or housing association stock because it will have been sold off in order to fund the right to buy.