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Housing Bill focus on ownership threatens affordable homes supply

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Plans to reform the planning system to boost housebuilding have been met with widespread opposition from local government and warnings it will exacerbate the shortage of affordable homes.

The government published it’s heavily trailed Housing and Planning Bill on Tuesday afternoon.

The legislation would force councils to sell off their most expensive properties to fund an extension of the right-to-buy to housing association tenants and hand the government power to intervene in authorities that do not have a local plan in place.

The bill will also remove councils’ power to insist on particular tenures of affordable housing in planning agreements and redefine affordable housing to include starter homes - properties sold at a 20 per cent discount to first-time buyers aged under 40.

Speaking ahead of the publication of the bill prime minster David Cameron said his government  would “do everything it can to help people buy a place of their own”.

A Conservative party briefing on the changes said some councils had been “unrealistic” in demanding tenures or levels of affordable housing that were not financially viable and that this prevented development. It argued that by introducing more flexibility the policy would mean more affordable housing would be built that would otherwise have been the case.

However, Local Government Association housing spokesman Peter Box (Lab) rejected the accusation that the planning system was a “barrier to development” and said a “blanket national policy” was not the answer.

Meanwhile, a report by the housing charity Shelter said starter homes, which can sell for up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 outside, including the discount, would be unaffordable to families on average incomes in 58% of local authority areas.

The 20% only has to be applied on resale for the first five years; after that sellers can sell the home for its full price.

Stephen Tapper, neighbourhood planning spokesman for the Planning Officers’ Society, told LGC the change would “almost certainly disadvantage people” on the housing waiting list by reducing the supply of affordable housing for rent “in the short term at least”.

The bill will also make permanent temporary permitted development rights, allowing offices to be converted into homes without planning permission

Claire Kober (Lab), London Councils’ executive member for infrastructure and regeneration, said: “Permitted development rights prevent boroughs insisting on an affordable housing contribution, meaning that much-needed low-cost homes for rent or ownership agreed through the planning process will not be delivered.”

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