Government’s 'feeble' new housing policies widely derided as inadequate

Radical new policies failed to materialise in the long-awaited housing white paper

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 07 February 2017 16:16 GMT
Ministers say they want to get more houses built
Ministers say they want to get more houses built (Getty Images)

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The Government’s new housing policies have been derided as “feeble” and “the bare minimum” by a wide range of groups after they failed to live up to promises of radical action.

Earlier briefings to some journalists of a major policy shift failed to materialise in the White Paper, which was released on Tuesday by the communities secretary Sajid Javid.

Though critics were not united in what policies they wanted to see from the Government, observers from across the political spectrum said the paper was a disappointment or “missed opportunity” to fix the crisis.

The white paper contained mostly tweaks to the planning system, most notably a requirement for councils to keep an up-to-date local plan to meet housing demand.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, said the plan was “feeble beyond belief”.

“Really, is this it? When the housing minister himself admits the Government’s record on housing is ‘feeble’ and ‘embarrassing’ we’d hoped for better. In fact we needed better,” he said in his response to the papers launch in the House of Commons.

“His statement this afternoon will desperately disappoint millions of people struggling month to month with the cost of the housing crisis.”

Though Communities Secretary Sajid Javid accused Mr Healey of playing “political games”, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron echoed the same sentiments as the Labour shadow minister.

“I think he flatters himself that even on a quiet news day this would have deserve headlines,” he told Mr Javid. “This is an unambitious and disappointing paper.”

Green party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the policies were a “slap in the face for the millions of people in this country desperate for bold plans to reduce rents and make their housing affordable”.

Dan Wilson Craw, director of Generation Rent, a tenant pressure group, said policies on new longer tenancies only reached the “bare minimum”.

“Sajid Javid has the right analysis about the plight of renters, but his white paper has failed to offer us anything of substance,” he said

Ben Southwood, head of research at the free market Adam Smith Institute, criticised the paper for not making changes to the planning system and described it as a “missed opportunity”.

"Like many others, we’re disappointed: there’s very little today that tackles the green belt, height restrictions, or perverse incentives that make people oppose development.

Sajid Javid said not enough homes were being built
Sajid Javid said not enough homes were being built (House of Commons)

“But it would be a mistake to let that blind us to the steps forward in this, small as they may be.”

The Institute of Directors, a business lobby group, said the policies contained in the paper were not radical enough.

“We sympathise with anyone trying to reform the planning system, as even minor changes provoke howls of outrage, but we needed more from this White Paper,” Dan Lewis, senior infrastructure policy adviser at the IoD said.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England was one positive voice in support of the policies.

Labour derided the plans as a 'white flag'
Labour derided the plans as a 'white flag' (House of Commons)

“The Government has made a good start in this White Paper and Ministers should be congratulated for listening,” Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the CPRE said.

“It is vital that we build more homes, but it is also essential to do so in ways that have popular support. The focus on brownfield development and other measures in the White Paper will help with that agenda.”

Under the white paper’s policies ministers want to require councils to come with a local plan to meet housing demand in an area, give them more powers to speed up developments, and require developers to use land more efficiently.

Crucially, the Government’s long awaited housing white paper includes measures that would effectively scrap the Coalition 2010 housebuilding planning framework and return to a system that bears stronger similarities to the one they inherited from Labour in 2010.

Other measures included in the white paper include a stipulation that “starter homes” be reserved for people with incomes of below £80,000 and an unspecified push to encourage longer-term tenancies in the rental market.

Councils will be allowed to issue “completion notices” requiring a construction produce to be completed within two years of construction starting. They can currently require that it be completed within three years. The Government will also stipulate that homes are built at a higher density where there are shortages – meaning taller blocks rather than detached houses with big gardens in those areas.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Walk down your local high street today and there’s one sight you’re almost certain to see. Young people, faces pressed against the estate agent’s window, trying and failing to find a home they can afford.

“With prices continuing to sky rocket, if we don’t act now, a whole generation could be left behind. We need to do better, and that means tackling the failures at every point in the system."

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