What Will the Lords do With the Housing and Planning Bill?

One of the most important pieces of legislation to go through parliament in decades, the Housing and Planning Bill, is currently being examined in detail by the House of Lords.  How much impact will they have on this wide ranging and highly contentious bill?

You know a document is complicated when even its Explanatory Notes run to 62 pages.  The Housing and Planning Bill, introduced to Parliament in October 2015 and now going through the Committee Stage in the House of Lords, is one very complicated document indeed.  Within its 205 pages it seeks to introduce a huge raft of measures designed to tackle the ongoing housing crisis in England (the proposed legislation does not extend to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland).

In brief the Bill includes measures to: improve the delivery of new homes, particularly starter homes; tackle problems associated with rogue landlords and property agents; expand Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants; require local authorities to sell vacant high value housing; introduce mandatory rents for ‘high income’ local authority tenants; further streamline the planning process (and devolve more power in London to the Mayor); revise compulsory purchase rights; require public authorities to create reports on surplus land holdings (and create a power to direct them to dispose of land).  And there’s even more, you can read the Bill in its entirety here.

So, there’s a huge amount the Bill aims to tackle, and many of the measures have proven hugely controversial. Critics have accused the government of seeking to bring an end to affordable housing and of stealth social cleansing, an accusation that will particularly rankle those Conservatives with longer memories who recall the ‘homes for votes’ scandal of the 1980s.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition clashed over the Bill at PMQs today (Wednesday 10th February). David Cameron argued the legislation would enable two new homes to be built for every one sold off by London local authorities.  Jeremy Corbyn countered by saying measures in the Bill would lead to the loss of 180,000 affordable homes.  Even the Communities and Local Government Committee (with a Conservative majority, albeit a Labour Chair) has warned that the Bill could reduce the stock of affordable housing, and that the funding model by which local councils have to compensate housing associations with money raised from the sale of ‘high value’ council housing stock is “extremely questionable”.

Crossbench Peer (and Chair of the Peabody Trust) Lord Kerslake, has already said he will seek to introduce a number of changes to the Bill, which he says in its current form, “threaten[s] the future of social housing”, and he believes he has the support of Peers from both sides of the chamber.

With over 200 pages of detailed legislation to consider, with huge pressure from the government to ‘free up’ the housing blockage in England, and with equal pressure from a swathe of critics to oppose the proposed measures, the Lords really have their work cut out.  Whether they will be able to temper the Bill to balance the needs of so many competing priorities, and whether their revisions will survive the passage to Royal Assent, only time will tell.

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