The government published its housing white paper on Tuesday, 7 February 2017. Is it a case of here we go again? Stephens Scown’s head of social housing gives his views, commenting that the content of the white paper does not go far enough to support people who are looking for affordable homes in the South West.
Keith Wright partner and head of social housing at Stephens Scown LLP said: “There are people in the South West who desperately want to find a long-term home, but have simply been unable to afford it. We live in an area of lower wages so any announcements which will help more people buy their homes must be welcomed. However, the government has been promising for a number of years that it will increase housing supply by bringing in new funding and new grants for the provision of housing and primarily affordable housing. Its failure in recent years has been mainly because of the lack of joined up thinking between the providers of affordable housing and the government. While there is some news to be welcomed in this white paper, ultimately the government needs to do more to support long-term renting, affordable and secure rents.”
Commenting on planning issues highlighted in the housing white paper, Keith adds: “The planning system has not been designed with the need to provide low density housing on brownfield sites. Attempts to build on greenbelt sites have been resisted locally and now it appears that the government will continue to protect these areas save ‘for exceptional circumstances’.
“One of the main criticisms by developers has been the very slow and cumbersome planning process and the need for developers to provide ‘payment’ for planning permissions by way of obligations under section 106 agreements.”
In relation to the social housing sector, Keith comments: “The proposed extension of right-to-buy undoubtedly set back many social housing schemes because of the dramatic impact it had on budgeting and loan facilities between the banks and the affordable housing providers. Not only did they impose an obligation on right-to-buy, which encouraged some land owners to deny land to housing associations, but also the rent cut of 1% per year had a dramatic impact on the confidence of social landlords to proceed and develop their schemes. Financial viability had become a real problem.”
The housing white paper also talks about starter homes. Keith is sceptical, adding: “While it will be wonderful if the recommendations on starter homes help some people onto the housing ladder, very few people in the industry – myself included – believe that the idea will have any real affect on the market.”