And Then There Were None

On Tuesday 3 May, Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Housing and Planning responsible for driving the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill through Parliament, rejected 12 of the 13 amendments proposed by the House of Lords. Financial privilege, a convention that deters peers from voting against the Government’s Budget, was invoked in six of the amendments refused, relating to local authorities retaining a percentage of funds from the enforced sale of high-value council housing rather than it all going to central government, the income threshold at which a household will incur market rents, and the limits to the increase in that rate.

The Minister’s party backed him up, and the following day, Wednesday 4 May, after a warning from Lewis about the Government’s mandate, the House of Lords failed to insist on all but two of their amendments: no. 108, on carbon compliance for new homes, and no. 110, on sustainable drainage systems, and proposed five new amendments in lieu: no. 10B, on the provision of other forms of affordable housing besides Starter Homes; no. 47B, on local authorities retaining part of the proceeds from the sale of high value council homes to build replacement affordable housing, including, according to amendment no. 47C, homes for social rent; as well as no. 97B, on neighbourhood right of appeal against planning permission, and no. 109B, on affordable housing contributions to small scale developments.

These amendments were sent back to the Commons the following week, and on Monday 9 May they rejected them again, while conceding new amendments to energy performance and drainage. Tuesday they were back with the Lords, who withdrew new amendments no. 10B on Starter Homes, no. 97D on neighbourhood planning, no. 108 on carbon compliance and no. 110D on sustainable drainage, but narrowly insisted on proposed new amendment no. 47E on the proceeds of high value council housing. On Wednesday the Commons again, and for the last time, rejected amendment 47E, and later that same day, after a further warning from the Prime Minister, the Lords finally withdrew the last of their 13 amendments. The following day, Thursday 12 May, the Bill received Royal Assent.

The week-long stalemate between the House of Commons and the House of Lords is known in Parliamentary parlance as ‘Ping Pong’; but rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic would be a more accurate description of its bearing on the outcome. If the two Houses had not reached consensus over the final text of the Bill before the State Opening of Parliament on 18 May, the Government could have invoked the Parliament Act and forced the Bill through in its original form, without any of the Lords amendments. The Minister had hinted as much with his repeated reminders to the Lords that the Bill was part of the Government’s election manifesto and therefore had a democratic mandate.

So now, after 6 months of debate – first through its two readings in the House of Commons, then a month in the Public Bill Committee, then again in the report to and final reading in the Commons, then for two readings in the House of Lords, a further month in Committee, another report to and final reading in the Lords, back again to the Commons, and then back and forth between Lords and Commons – the Housing and Planning Bill has not changed in any significant way since it was first read in the House of Commons on 13 October, 2015.

Against hopes if not expectations, the Right to Buy will be extended to housing associations, adding to the 40 per cent of council homes lost to Right to Buy that are now being rented out by private landlords.

On the pretence of paying for this, local authorities will be forced to sell council homes that become vacant if they are deemed high value according to a threshold that is still to be determined by secondary legislation, but is thought to be around £400,000 for a 2-bedroom home in London, and will apply to nearly 113,000 council homes in England.

A total of 214,000 households earning over £40,000 in Greater London and £31,000 in England, rather than the originally proposed £30,000, will be forced to pay market rates to stay in their council homes, but these thresholds will now be based on the incomes of the main two household earners, not include child or housing benefits, and be raised in line with inflation, with a taper of 15p in every pound over the threshold rather than the proposed 20p.

Secure tenancies will not be passed from parent to child as they once were, and new council tenancies will be for 2-5 years.

The obligation to build state-subsidised Starter Homes for sale at 80 per cent of market rate on 20 per cent of new housing developments will be an enforceable duty that supersedes any requirement to build affordable housing, including homes for social rent, under Section 106 agreements, but their resale after 5 years at full market price will now be regulated by a taper to be determined, once again, by secondary legislation.

And finally, planning permission in principle will be granted to any housing development on sites entered on a statutory register of brownfield land that will include existing local authority housing estates.

Following Royal Assent the Housing and Planning Act is the new law of the land, to be implemented by central and local government, and enforceable by the cops and the courts. So much for Parliamentary democracy.

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