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Peers take aim at starter homes policy as bill is scrutinised

Published: Thursday, 3rd March 2016

Peers from across the political spectrum queued up to voice concern over the government’s policy on starter homes this week during detailed discussion on the Housing and Planning Bill.

Ministers promised clarity soon on how the policy will be implemented.

Contributors to five hours of debate on Tuesday warned that the administration’s starter homes initiative would crowd out other forms of housing tenure and hamstring local authorities’ ability to provide for locally determined housing need.

Councils’ ability to choose a mix of home ownership tenures for planning obligations (i.e. shared-ownership or rent-to-buy) was completely fettered by the bill as drafted, complained Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tope.

Cross-bencher Lord Kerslake, former permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, noted that the starter home concept had gone from being an “interesting, innovative idea with some rather ambitious numbers attached to it to being the main source of new supply”.

Peers lined up to claim starter homes would be unaffordable for the majority of the population and risked distorting the housing market. The Upper Chamber heard that civil servants have so far been unable to finalise any sort of modeling on the effect of the legislation— financial, social or the impact on housing supply.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham warned : “For the whole of the next decade, if the government have their way, the affordable housing programme for those in the greatest need, who have least leverage in the market, whose need is highest, will have just one option, starter homes—which, we are told by Savills, will not benefit 90 per cent of them. What on earth do the government think they are doing?”

Government Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford denied the administration’s focus on starter homes was intended to be at the expense of affordable housing.

“The government is committed to investing further in the delivery of affordable houses and local authorities will still be expected to plan their housing development around the needs of their communities.

“However, our manifesto was clear that we would build 200,000 starter homes and this is central to our housing ambitions.”

She promised clarification soon on clause 4 of the bill which provides for a starter home requirement for new developments.

“We will publish details in a technical consultation shortly and will take into consideration all views so that we get this right. We want a degree of flexibility with the requirement to allow for exemptions and viability considerations.

“Once in place, local planning authorities will need to apply their plan policies including those on affordable housing in light of the legal starter homes requirement. We expect them to seek other forms of affordable housing, such as social rent, alongside the starter homes requirement where it would be viable to do so.”

She added: “Local planning authorities have the option to release more land for housing to ensure they are delivering as much housing of all tenures as is needed”.

Read the Lords Hansard report

Roger Milne