Two of the Conservatives’ flagship housing policies have been dropped from a key government document, raising questions about the future of the plans.
The new “single departmental plan” published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) does not include a single reference to Starter Homes, which form a central plank of the Government’s commitment to increase home ownership, or of the planned extension of Right to Buy.
The document, which forms part of the guidance for civil servants working on housing, is in stark contrast to the previous plan published last year, in which the two policies featured prominently and were mentioned several times as part of the Conservatives’ housing strategy.
In the latest version, five specific pledges to boost home ownership, including delivering Starter Homes and the extension of Right to Buy, have been downgraded to a single-line promise to “increase home ownership through schemes including Help to Buy”.
Furthermore, a specific commitment to “increasing home ownership” has been absorbed into the broader aim of fixing “the broken housing market”.
Starter Homes are properties supposedly affordable to first-time buyers because they are offered at a 20 per cent discount.
Ministers had promised to build 200,000 of them by 2020 but The Independent revealed last month that not a single Starter Home has yet been built. This led to officials admitting the policy remained an “ambition” – but have now removed all mention of it from DCLG’s housing objectives.
The previous iteration of the departmental plan included a clear commitment to the policy. It said: “We are delivering a major boost to affordable home ownership with Starter Homes and extending Right to Buy to housing association tenants.”
It reiterated a pledge to build 200,000 Starter Homes, including 30,000 on brownfield land – former industrial sites earmarked for development.
References to the planned extension of Right to Buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants have also been quietly dropped from the latest document.
Whereas the 2016 document promised to “implement a voluntary agreement with housing associations and the National Housing Federation that will extend Right to Buy level discounts to 1.3 million housing association tenants, giving them the opportunity to buy their own home”, the latest version includes no mention at all of the controversial Right to Buy scheme.
The omissions will probably fuel speculation the Government is wavering in its commitment to two of its most contentious housing policies – especially given the delays in implementing them.
Amid widespread concern about the future of social housing, Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, admitted in October the Conservatives had “failed” on housing in recent years and promised a “complete rethink of our approach to social housing” in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
That revaluation could have consequences for the two policies not included in the latest DCLG plan, both of which are predicted to accelerate the loss of social housing – something highlighted by the Grenfell tragedy. The extension of Right to Buy is expected to lead to the loss of 75,000 social homes, while Starter Homes will be built at the expense of other types of affordable housing, including those for social rent.
Labour said the omissions in the new document showed the Government had “given up” on helping first-time buyers.
John Healey, the party’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “With home ownership at a 30-year low and the number of younger homeowners in free fall, the Government has now given up on first-time buyers.
“We need much more affordable housing for younger people looking to buy their first home but ministers have erased new housing for first-time buyers from the Communities Department’s official objectives.
“After seven years of failure on housing, the Conservatives have no plan to fix the housing crisis. Ministers should back Labour’s plan to build 100,000 FirstBuy homes linked to average incomes to give first-time buyers the chance to own their home.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government said the new strategy document was a “high-level summary” and did not reflect a change in policy.
A spokesperson said: “This single departmental plan is not an exhaustive list of all of the department’s policies. This is a high-level summary of our priorities and overall aims for the Government.”
The latest plan was published as ministers said the implementation of a third major Tory housing policy is to be be pushed back until 2019 at the earliest. Controversial measures introduced in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 will force local councils to sell off their most valuable council homes in order to fund the extension of Right to Buy.
Town hall leaders say the policy will lead to a huge loss of social housing at a time when waiting lists are already up to 10 years in some parts of the country, while housing charity Shelter estimates that up to 113,000 council homes could be sold off under the plans.
The policy had already been delayed until at least 2018 and Mr Javid confirmed last week that it will be pushed back again, until 2019 at the earliest. A government spokesperson said ministers were “considering” how to implement the policy.
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