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Government guilty of "short-termism", according to Libdem leader Tim Farron

Week in Westminster

Published: 12 February 2016 | Author: Michelle Vosper

The government are guilty of “short-termism and a lack of long-term thinking”, according to Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron. Opening a debate on housing, Mr Farron said that housing was a key priority for his party and criticised the Housing and Planning Bill for “tinkering around the edges in an attempt to increase supply”. While Mr Farron agreed that there is a place for Starter Homes, he highlighted three “fundamental flaws”: that they will not be kept affordable in perpetuity; that they will be instead of and not in addition to other forms of affordable housing; and that they will be exempt from the community infrastructure levy and section 106 requirements. Responding to Mr Farron’s calls for the government to prevent homes that are sold under the Right to Buy being privately rented, housing minister Brandon Lewis said: “it is absolutely right that they should have the same rights as any other home owner…what [Mr Farron] seems to be asking for with the Right to Buy and, to an extent, in the arguments that he made about Starter Homes, is second class home ownership, and I do not support that”.

Following an inquiry into the Right to Buy for housing associations, the Commons CLG committee published its report expressing concerns over how the scheme would be fund. On Starter Homes, while recognising the government’s aspirations in respect of the scale of the scheme, the committee does not believe Starter Homes should be built at the expense of other forms of tenure if there is a local need for affordable rented accommodation. The committee chair Clive Betts made a statement on the report to Parliament. In conclusion he said: “The Committee members were absolutely at one on this. We support the aspiration of home ownership—how could we not when we are homeowners ourselves? People would look at us askance if we came to a different view. We did not say that we were against the right to buy; rather, we raised a number of fundamental questions about how it could be funded. We would like the Minister to provide in response the information, the evidence and the facts and figures to back up the government’s policy so that we can have a better view as to how it will work in practice.“

The Housing and Planning Bill was debated for the first time at committee stage in the House of Lords. The session focussed on Part 2 of the Bill covering rogue landlords and property agents in England”. Government amendments were made in respect of banning orders and the use of information in the database for rogue landlords and property agents. The next committee session will not take place until 1 March.  

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn concentrated solely on housing issues during prime minister’s questions. Mr Corbyn raised issues around the lack of housing options with young people “suffering from unrealistic house prices and uncapped rents”; falling home ownership and whether replacing homes hold under right to buy on a like for like basis; government policy on supported housing, and the decent homes standard within the private rented sector.

It was the DCLG’s turn to take oral questions this week. Some of the subjects covered included a number of questions affordable housing; the level of home ownership; house building; and Help to Buy and Right to Buy schemes.

Answering a parliamentary question on the forthcoming stamp duty surcharge on second homes, Treasury minister David Gauke confirmed the final policy design of this proposal will be confirmed at Budget 2016.

The Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee has backed proposals to levy a 3% supplement on the purchases of additional residential properties (such as buy-to-let properties and second homes) over £40,000. However, while agreeing the general principles of the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Amendment)(Scotland) Bill, the committee has emphasised the need to balance the interests of first-time buyers with the needs of those who rent their homes, and with the interests of house builders and investors to protect the supply of new homes. The committee has therefore called for the introduction of a relief on bulk purchases of six properties or more. The committee also noted concerns about the potential impact on the private rented sector, and recommends that the Scottish government closely monitors the impact of the supplement on rent levels.

And finally, the Welsh government announced an additional £7 million for their Land for Housing scheme which provides recyclable loan funding to registered social landlords to purchase land to build new homes.