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Conservatives line up to criticise Housing and Planning Act

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The Housing and Planning Act has been criticised by Conservatives, including the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Planning.

While James Cartlidge (South Suffolk MP) voted in favour of the legislation as it passed through parliament earlier this year he said he did not support many of its principles, particularly the emphasis on home ownership and the way the extended right-to-buy policy is to be implemented.

“However as a backbencher you have got to choose your rebellions carefully,” Mr Cartlidge told attendees at the launch of Localis’ Power behind the home report yesterday.

Mr Cartlidge, who is also a member of the Public Accounts Commission, said he would prefer the right-to-buy to be implemented through a shared ownership model.

While under David Cameron and George Osborne the government was focused on increasing home ownership, Mr Cartlidge welcomed the new administration’s apparent change in emphasis and willingness to look at a wider range of tenures to tackle the housing crisis.

“My point has always been many people can’t buy,” he said.

Mr Cartlidge also urged the government to be “braver” on tackling land-banking. LGC reported last week how the government is considering this.

Kensington & Chelsea RBC’s deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen (Con), also speaking at the event, said he had “not felt at all the need to defend the Housing and Planning Act” at any point in time.

When asked what one measure he would like the government to introduce Cllr Feilding-Mellen said he would like to return to a time before the last general election when the housing and planning system was much simpler.

One recommendation contained in Localis’ report was to give local authorities greater flexibility over the number of starter homes that should be built in an area.

Cllr Feilding-Mellen said it was “very hard to disagree” with that as the policy “doesn’t work” in his borough. He said the price of a one-bedroom flat in the cheapest part of the borough would only just about fall within the £450,000 London threshold.

“I really hope, and I am hopeful, that the housing minister will amend the rules around these proposals for starter homes,” said Cllr Feilding-Mellen.

While he would “sincerely love” the government to relax the housing revenue account borrowing cap for local authorities, he acknowledged the Treasury was unlikely to do that.

Cllr Feilding-Mellen said it often felt like central government “puts blocks and obstacles” in local government’s way so that it cannot build more homes. He said it was “not just a result of this Conservative government or the coalition government” but a longer-term problem.

Sutton LBC’s chief executive Niall Bolger said the “tinkering with the planning system” in recent years had been “a complete and utter waste of time”.

Mr Bolger said the government’s housing policies, including the extended right-to-buy, acted as a “disincentive” to local government to “be involved in the housing market”.

While the previous focus on home ownership was “worthy and good”, Mr Bolger added: “Some people cannot and will never ever afford to buy their own home and we need to make sure we are providing homes for these populations because it is a fundamental human right.”

He hoped the government’s housing white paper would show a willingness to “work in partnership with all parts of the public and private sector to tackle the housing crisis”.

All three participants agreed there was a case for building on green belt land. LGC revealed last month how the amount of green belt land had increased marginally over the past 10 years with most councils protecting their areas.

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