For years we have heard repeatedly, claims that the promise of “one for one” replacement of new homes for those sold under the right to buy would not be met – indeed would not get anywhere near being met. As I said at the start of the week those claims may be sincere, due to the complexity of this subject, but I believe them to be based on a misinterpretation of the evidence. They fail to allow for the three year time lag which the Government quite reasonably permits. They also miss the point that the replacement social housing can be funded by councils but provided by housing associations. Again that flexibility is quite reasonable. Somebody in overcrowded or temporary accommodation will not be too fussed about bureaucratic distinctions.
Finally, the back up arrangement is often overlooked. Councils must use it or lose it when it comes to the money. If they fail it doesn’t mean the building won’t happen. It means that the Homes and Community Agency or the Greater London Authority will make it happen instead.
This week I have tried to get a more accurate indication of how those councils with a housing stock are coping. Three years can be a short time in the planning system but the new rules on the revived right to buy are about to start biting for the proceeds from sales in 2012/13. From the tally provided by councils who sent figures to me there were 3,747 sales in that year. The figures they have provided state that 2,454 replacement homes have already been built and a further 2,454 are due this year bringing a total of 4,967. That is with me tending to interpret their projections on the conservative side – for instance when they offer rather imprecise timescales. Of course plenty of caveats apply. It is early days. There is great variation in performance. Yet I think there is enough evidence to say that most councils will succeed, many will greatly surpass expectations and that for the minority who fail they have some explaining to do.
This does not mean that the process is perfect. Some extra flexibility could be due. I have previously called for a right to shared ownership. At present the system is rigged against shared ownership. Reforms should provide proportionate discounts in line with the right to buy. But what about further boosting shared ownership with the replacement properties? At present they have to be for social rent or affordable rent. Yet why not allow some to be for shared ownership? Eligibility could be restricted to council tenants who would wish to vacate their existing property to take up the offer – or those on the waiting list.
Then we could have a “right to buy somewhere” policy. The new homes could be sold to existing council tenants who could use their discount for the new property and vacate their existing home.
This would widen choice for council tenants and for those on the waiting list there would still be an extra property being freed up.
I would also allow council discretion to restore derelict council properties that have been empty for several years. Under the New Homes Bonus restoring these properties counts as ” new homes” – so why shouldn’t they also count as replacements under the right to buy?
The Government must go further and faster to make home ownership affordable and to ease the housing supply. We can already see that an encouraging start has been made – despite the sniping from ill informed critics.