Kate Davies, the Chief Executive of the Notting Hill Housing Trust, offers her reaction to Strong Foundations, the Conservatives housing policy.
What is good about the new housing green paper?
The idea that local people, rather than central planners should determine what is built locally:
- Abolish the regional planning system and regional housing targets, and incentivise new house-building by matching local authorities’ council tax take for each new house built for six years – replacing existing HPDG grant.
- Allow the creation of Local Housing Trusts with new freedom to develop homes for local people, as long as there is strong community backing.
- Make pre-application consultations between developers and local people mandatory for major applications.
- Scrap Home Information Packs (HIPs)
More creative thinking about the supply of new homes:
- Review the rules on empty properties to encourage more to be let or sold.
- Broaden access to the database of surplus public sector land
- Enable councils to revise local plans to protect Green Belt land and
prevent eco-towns, and reverse the classification of gardens as
Give existing social tenants more opportunities to move and gain assets:
- Pilot ‘Right to Move’, to allow social tenants to move from their
current property and one bought for them to rent anywhere in England.
- Re-introduce a comprehensive national mobility scheme for social
tenants wishing to move.
- To incentivise good behaviour (paying rent, being a good neighbour)
offer social tenants a 10% equity share in their social rented
property, after five years, which can be cashed in when they leave the
social rented sector.
- Get greater private sector involvement in shared ownership, ensuring
shared ownership buyers are not treated as subprime
Energy efficiency measures:
- Fund £6,500 of energy efficiency improvements to every home – costs
recovered automatically through household energy bills over the next
- Ensure gas and electricity bills allows customers to compare their
usage with average households of a comparable size.
- Support the 'Merton Rule' which gives local authorities the powers to
set renewable and low carbon energy targets for new development.
What is bad or missing?
The main problem is that this is very much a housing policy. It should have addressed welfare dependency in social housing. One of the biggest challenges that social housing policymakers and providers face in achieving this aim is making the right links between housing, social and economic policies. Policies to tackle the very high levels of economic inactivity among social tenants and to ensure that the social support that many social housing tenants need is provided in ways that aim to reduce dependency must be an integral part of social housing policy rather than developed independently.
The other problem is that while giving existing tenants more rights – to move and be given equity – those who cannot access social housing feel hard done by and are effectively worse off. Unless the Conservatives are going to give everyone who wants one a social tenancy this could continue the unfairness in the current system.
The Green paper proposes to:
- Instigate a formal review of waiting lists policy.
- Review the use of the private rented sector, and
- Implement a range of policies to address homelessness.
These reviews could result in a fundamental change to the way social housing is handed out, which I believe is essential. Current approaches are not only unfair; new social housing is very costly for the taxpayer. The Conservatives have yet to say whether they back fundamental reform, or whether they just want to build more social housing. In a period characterised by few homes being built, mortgages being unattainable for many first time buyers and public spending being under tremendous pressure, we need to be more radical, I would say.