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Inquiry criticises housing reform

An independent inquiry has called for the release of more public land, changes to the NewBuy scheme and criticised government plans on planning reform.

The Housing Voice Independent Inquiry calls for an “emergency programme” and a “step change in leadership” to respond to the crisis in affordable housing.

The report says relaxing s106, as the government did last week, is a “controversial step” that sends out the message that “new homes for those on low to middle incomes are an unaffordable luxury in the current economic context”.

It continued: “This works contrary to the evident need for more affordable housing and any hoped for rebalancing of the economy.”

The inquiry also said that “greater responsibility should fall to local political leadership”, and that policy needed to “recognise explicitly the responsibilities of local authorities in delivering housing outcomes and strategies”.

By contrast, the government’s housing reforms last week were widely seen as a restriction of local authority.

The Housing Voice campaign was established in 2011 to champion affordable housebuilding, and says the country faces a housing shortage of 750,000 by 2025, while 1.8m households remain on waiting lists.

On the panel was Mark Pawsey MP, a member of the Communities and Local Government select committee, who recently penned an article for CN on the government’s housing reforms.

Also involved were the National Housing Federation, the Trades Union Congress and UNISON.

Some of the recommendations:

  • A housing minister that attends Cabinet, and a housing policy “hard-wired” into growth plans.
  • Enhancing powers for local authorities and increasing borrow headroom, as well as removing uncertainty by stating that debt caps won’t be reduced in future.
  • Landlord accreditation, licensing or registration schemes for local government, more protection for private rented tenants and new forms of tenure like co-operative housing and mutual retirement housing.
  • UK adoption of European accounting conventions, with recourse to European financial institutions and the lifting of HRA borrowing caps. The report claims £9.5bn in Bank of England asset purchases could be used to provide cheaper borrowing to affordable housing providers.
  • Increasing the Homes and Communities budget for this year by £3bn over the next three years and earmarking at least £5bn of quantitative easing funding to buy low-interest housing association bonds – a move Housing Voice says could lead to 60,000 new homes.
  • Replacing NewBuy with ‘AllBuy’, creating and applying a national mutual mortgage insurance scheme to all purchasers, providing indemnity coverage up to £250,000 to fortify housebuilder credit.
  • Accelerating the release of public land at significantly reduced costs or longer payback periods, or linking new development land to be linked to local needs.

Construction union UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy today said there was “an absolute moral obligation to tackle this housing emergency”.

“And it makes economic sense”, he continued: “Invest in construction and we will see growth. Invest in social housing and we will also see wider community and social benefits.”

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