The Government last night successfully rejected the amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill introduced by the House of Lords. In a five hour debate covering all aspects of the wide ranging legislation, Housing Minister, Brandon Lewis argued against amendments on Starter Homes, neighbourhood rights of appeal against planning applications and also on zero carbon compliance standards and Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) which would increase the regulatory burden on developers.
On some issues members of the House of Lords who successfully amended the Bill previously have tabled some similar amendments to those rejected in the Commons. Most notably, Lord Kerslake’s amendment to effectively give planning authorities discretion over their Starter Homes requirement, defeated in the Commons, has returned in a different guise, this time focusing on giving councils the opportunity to call for different forms of low cost home ownership within the Starter Homes requirement.
The Lords’ amendment to introduce a neighbourhood right of appeal has been rejected by the Commons. Baroness Parminter has, however, re-tabled a similar amendment albeit one that only encompasses made neighbourhood plans and not emerging neighbourhood plans.
The Lords amendment to re-introduce the implementation of the carbon compliance for new build homes was rejected by the Commons. However, Baroness Parminter has this morning tabled a motion insisting on the House of Lords amendment to introduce the standard from April 2018.
The Lords amendment on Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) was also rejected in the House of Commons. This amendment has also been re-tabled by Baroness Parminter.
The Bill now goes back to the House of Lords for further amendment and negotiation. It may subsequently go back and forth between both Houses of Parliament in a process called ‘ping-pong’. The deadline ministers are working to is the Queen’s Speech on 18 May but it is expected that the Government will force the Bill through via lengthy sittings of both Houses to finalise the provisions of the Bill before that cut-off.
The House of Lords is due to consider the Bill again this evening where it is expected that some of the re-tabled amendments will be passed and return to the House of Commons.
As referenced above, the Lords amendment to effectively make the Starter Homes requirement discretionary was formally ‘disagreed with’ in the Commons and has been removed from the Bill. Lord Kerslake has this morning introduced a new amendment, this time to the Bill’s new provisions on rural exception site exemptions from Starter Homes requirements, to introduce a catch-all exemption for local authorities if they ‘can demonstrate a need for other kinds of low cost home ownership in its area…’
This is a similar amendment to a previous one that Lord Kerslake was successful in with in the Lords which would have ultimately given local authorities discretion as to whether they implement the Starter Homes requirement. The new motion would allow local authorities to consider other forms of low cost home ownership alongside Starter Homes in meeting the Starter Homes requirement. The full text of the new Motion B1 can be found on page 3 here.
Brandon Lewis rejected the Lords amendment to introduce a 20 year, 1% per annum taper on the face of the Bill, arguing that such a long-term commitment would not be attractive for first-time buyers in their twenties or thirties looking at the possibility of not being able to fully realise the benefit of the discount until they are in their 50s. He also argued that the flexible operation of a taper is best dealt with through regulations informed by consultation with developers, lenders, local authorities and others. The minister mentioned that the HCA may be a suitable third party to benefit from the receipt of unrealised discounts during the discount period. So far no member of the House of Lords has re-tabled an amendment in relation to the taper.
In lieu of the Lords amendment, the Government successfully amended the Bill to include reference to a taper, the detail of which is to be determined through regulations. This section of the debate can be read here. There are currently no new amendments from the Lords on this matter.
With regards to the relative costs to developers of providing Starter Homes vs other forms of affordable housing, the minister said in the debate that developers could deliver an additional ‘5% or even 10% more affordable housing’ if building Starter Homes. (Hansard, 3 May 2016, Col.66)
The minister criticised the Shadow Housing Minister, John Healey for not taking part in the debate other than from a sedentary position. He called into question his opposite number’s record in government, quoting a house building figure of 88,000 and comparing it to the ‘181,000 new homes built’ last year. (Hansard, 3 May, Col.107)
Peers had speculatively used the Bill to introduce new measures to force developers to provide on-site SuDS solutions. Brandon Lewis urged members to reject the Lords amendment, using many of the arguments provided to Government by HBF:
Lords amendment 110 seeks to remove an automatic right to connect to the public sewer for surface water, unless a sustainable drainage system forms part of a development and is constructed in accordance with non-statutory technical standards and the planning permission. However, the proposed new clause, as currently drafted, is unnecessary and unworkable. First, it makes the right to connect conditional on complying with the terms of a planning permission that may not actually provide for such a drainage system. That might be because it is not viable or because there are on-site constraints.
Secondly, the new clause presumes that a process exists that determines whether or not a development is permitted to connect to the public sewer, where there is none. Thirdly, making the right to connect conditional on planning permission leaves open a number of issues, including what happens when connections are needed and where there is currently no requirement for planning permission to be obtained at all. That might include situations where water sewerage companies are exercising their statutory obligations to drain an area effectively.
Finally, the new clause, which would increase red tape and barriers to development, has no transitional arrangements and industry, especially smaller housebuilders, will struggle to respond without time to prepare, leading to delays in house building.
Following interventions from Rebecca Pow MP (Con, Taunton Deane) and Anne Marie Morris MP (Con, Newton Abbot), both of whom raised concerns about flooding and existing drainage schemes, the minister said that while disagreeing with amendments that would increase burdens on house builders or be unworkable for those building new homes, he is happy to work with the Lords and others to address issues for rural areas highlighted by Pow and Morris. He continued, ‘the government is doing some work on this, and are reviewing how the [existing] policy is working’. Rebecca Pow welcomed the possibility of ‘future deliberations and review’.
Roberta Blackman-Woods, speaking on behalf of the Opposition, was sympathetic of the Lords amendment, claimaing ‘almost all the environmental organisation and organisation concerned with flooding supports the amendment’ (Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, RIBA, Rivers Trust, Water UK, RSPB, Angling Trust, the Chartered Institute of Ecology).
Following the amendment’s rejection in the House of Commons, it has now been re-tabled in the Lords by Baroness Parminter.
Zero carbon compliance
Again, members of the House of Lords had used the opportunity of the Bill’s passage through Parliament to introduce additional environmental measures in new build housing. The minister reported to the House that the Government was ‘unconvinced by amendment 108 [zero carbon compliance]’. He argued that it would increase the construction costs for home builders by an average of more than £3,000 on a semi-detached home, and place a regulatory burden of around £200m per year on the industry. He went on:
We cannot accept the amendment. It would tip the balance, driving some small home builders out of the industry altogether and making housing development unviable in some areas. We already build some of the most energy-efficient homes in the world as a result of the tough building regulation standards we set in the last Parliament. In fact, there has been a 30% improvement on the standards before 2010, reducing energy bills by around £200 annually.
The minister quoted a press release by FMB in which it stated that the amendment ‘threatened to perpetuate the housing crisis’.
Opposition spokesman, Roberta Blackman-Woods claimed that comments by the HBF and FMB at a Built Environment Select Committee contradicted statements made by the minister, stating ‘the standards… had industry wide support’. This was not under consideration at the time of the Committee hearing in question. HBF has today written to a selection of peers to correct this misrepresentation of the industry’s collective view ahead of tonight’s debate in the House of Lords.
Blackman-Woods continued, the cost of building to zero carbon standards is ‘now probably only £1,500, not the £3,500 the minister mentioned’.
Tom Brake (Lib Dem, Carshalton and Wallington) quoted the Labour frontbench’s claim that costs were now likely to be £1,500 ‘and likely to fall even further’, adding that the savings over the lifetime of the property would amount to more than £3,000.
Following its rejection by the House of Commons, the same Lords amendment has this morning been re-introduced by Baroness Parminter.
Neighbourhood right of appeal
The Government opposed the Lords amendment introducing a new neighbourhood right of appeal in instances where a planning application for new homes does not accord with an emerging or made local plan. The minister spoke in favour of the power of neighbourhood planning and spoke to their weight in law but argued that the amendment does not represent the best way of ensuring local voices are heard in the planning process. He said ‘even in a limited a form, a neighbourhood right of appeal could affect housing supply and reduce confidence in the system’.
In lieu of the Lords amendment, the Government successfully amended the Bill to ensure that in areas where a neighbourhood plan is in place the local authority must (a) set out how the plan was taken into account in making a recommendation to Committee, and (b) identify any points of conflict with the plan.
Baroness Parminter who tabled the original Lords amendment has this morning tabled a similar amendment which does now exclude emerging plans from consideration, meaning that only areas with a made neighbourhood plan would have the right of appeal.
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