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Clause 5 - Modification or discharge of affordable housing requirements

Part of Growth and Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 27th November 2012.

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Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Labour, Greenwich and Woolwich 10:45 am, 27th November 2012

My hon. Friend makes a good point and he will have noticed that in the scenario I painted, I did not depict a wicked developer seeking to exploit loopholes; I painted a picture of someone acting in good faith who was prevented from proceeding on the basis that he had originally intended by economic circumstances. I did not spell them out: it may have been a change in the market or it may have been the difficult of getting a mortgage. There are all sorts of relevant factors.

I depicted a scenario in which someone had in good faith applied for property, but had then found that that was not possible and had used the clause 5 opportunity, which at a stroke had killed the rural exceptions policy. I talked about how landowners will, inevitably, take a different view of releasing land at below market value and how housing associations and others involved in providing housing in rural areas will be wary about coming forward with schemes if they can simply be transformed overnight into market housing at a stroke of the Planning Inspectorate’s decision-making. The third impact must also be considered: why on earth would a local authority in a rural area, or a national park authority, ever consider granting consent for an exceptions policy again? They will obviously draw conclusions and say, “This is not a safe policy. The whole purpose could be subverted and we could end up with this property not being available for a forester who is needed to help the local economy. Instead, it will be a comfortable holiday home for someone who has bought it on the open market and just comes here a few weeks a year.” That is exactly the problem that many such areas fear.

The consequence would not just be to destroy the policy, but also to halt the supply of affordable housing, because there will no longer be an incentive to use the mechanism to provide it. Nothing is less likely to help growth than that message. Although the issue is small and discrete, it illustrates how dangerous the clause is. In microcosm, it reflects how the whole Bill has been put together in a hurry, without provision being made  for all sorts of serious long-term consequences that might do immense damage. The Bill also entirely fails to meet its supposed objective of stimulating growth.

I put it to the Minister that unless my scenario is incorrect, on which I await his reply, he has a problem. I hope, in response to the evidence that he heard—he was there when Dr Stone gave evidence—that he will accept amendments 50 and 51 or propose an alternative and possibly more elegant means of achieving the same impact. I am the first to agree that my amendments were put together in a hurry; I do not apologise for that because I am responding to a Bill that was put together in a hurry.

My amendments may not be the most satisfactory and elegant. I will be the first to acknowledge that and not to persist with them, if the Minister assures me that he recognises the problem and will act on it by introducing, on Report, an alternative amendment to close this very dangerous loophole. Otherwise, the clause will destroy a useful and effective planning policy that has delivered many homes in rural areas for people in need over many years, and has achieved cross-party support.