Housing crisis – back to the future

Posted by Guthrie McGruer on

One of the common complaints of having up to 1000 television channels to watch is that there is nothing ever worth watching. So as I idly flicked though Sky's current offering in search of entertainment after a hard day at the office. BBC Parliament live would not normally be top of my expectations so imagine my surprise at becoming gradually hooked on the second reading of the Housing and Planning Bill, in the House of Lords. Not for everyone I know, but the Bill is of particular interest to planning lawyers as it may transform the work we cover particularly in relation to affordable housing.

One of the most controversial initial proposals was to require social housing landlords – "registered providers" in the jargon – to allow some of their stock to be subject to the right to buy. That has now become a voluntary arrangement  and there is currently a pilot scheme with a small number of housing associations. The new Bill proposes that councils must sell high value council houses to fund the discounts being offered to housing association tenants. But there is little enough housing stock available for those who cannot afford to buy and a sell off of what exists without any guarantees of building replacement homes will only exacerbate an existing crisis, goes the argument.

So it was with some surprise that in the live televised Lords debate last night a Conservative peer, Lord Horam, suggested that local authorities should be able to borrow in order to build new council housing for rent. The government of course caps such borrowing but that should be relaxed in his lordship's view, notwithstanding the increase to the public sector borrowing requirement (PSBR). The likelihood of that happening is pretty remote to say the least but it does raise a refrain that has been recurring  since the right to buy first appeared in the early 1980s – how do you replace affordable rented housing which has been bought out . And it is not just replenishing "lost" stock but increasing that stock to contribute to the ever growing need for housing that lower income households can afford. That is the challenge their lordships were grappling with and it's an even bigger problem than finding something to watch on the box on a wet Tuesday night in January.      

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Photograph of Guthrie McGruer

Head of the firm's Planning team based in Oxford, Guthrie undertakes advocacy in planning inquiries and is skilled in negotiating consents with planning authorities.

Guthrie McGruer
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