Kerslake leads Lords revolt over Housing Bill

The House of Lords has voted to give councils greater flexibility to choose other forms of affordable housing over the Government's proposed Starter Homes in new developments in a revolt led by former Civil Service chief Bob Kerslake. 

Under Lord Kerslake's proposed change to the Housing & Planning Bill, councils that can demonstrate local need for other low-cost home ownership options would be able to meet part - or all - of the requirement for Starter Homes with alternative forms of affordable housing.

The former DCLG permanent secretary, who is also chair of housing association Peabody and president of the Local Government Association, said the bill as it stands would hand the secretary of state the "quite unprecedented power" to refuse planning permission unless an application includes a specified proportion of just one type of housing - Starter Homes.

"This is a degree of centralist imposition that has never before been contemplated and its consequences are completely unknown," Lord Kerslake told the chamber.

He added that the requirement for Starter Homes - a completely new and untested product - will squeeze out other forms of affordable housing from Section 106 agreements.

"The issue with Starter Homes has never been about providing a new offer to young first-time buyers; it has been that we should not do so at the expense of those on lower incomes who are in even greater need," Lord Kerslake said.

"I have no doubt that Starter Homes will work well in some parts of the country; I am equally clear that in other areas they may not. In London, we know that Shelter has calculated that it will be possible to buy a Starter Home only with an income of £77,000 and a deposit of £97,000. At best, this applies to no more than 20 per cent of those in London who currently rent.

"One size does not fit all, yet this is what ​the Government are seeking to impose."

If Starter Homes prove to be the solution to local housing needs, councils will not need persuading to include them in developments, he argued.

Baroness Williams, parliamentary undersecretary of state for DCLG, said the amendment would undermine the Government's ability to meet a Conservative manifesto pledge to deliver 200,000 Starter Homes.

"We made this commitment to address the real and urgent problem of declining home ownership among the under-40s," she added.

"It is a groundbreaking move to require that Starter Homes will be built on all reasonably sized and viable sites, but it is necessary and justified to ensure that these homes are delivered, and delivered soon. We cannot wait for each of the 336 planning authorities to undertake local needs and viability assessments before action on Starter Homes is taken.

"The amendments would hit hardest the very people whom we are trying to help and first-time buyers would yet again see their chance of home ownership undermined."

However, the Lords voted 227-212 in favour of Lord Kerslake's amendment.

A second amendment was passed that would give councils with a local need for social housing the opportunity to reach an agreement with the secretary of state on the tenure of properties built as one-for-one replacements for vacant homes sold off to fund the extension of Right to Buy.

The Government also lost on the neighbourhood right of appeal over planning permissions that conflict with local Neighbourhood Plans.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Parminter tabled an amendment to implement the right of appeal in parish councils and neighbourhood forums.

"Our central contention is that we do not believe that local communities will go to the trouble of putting forward Neighbourhood Plans if they know that a local planning authority can drive a coach and horses through everything they have submitted by reaching a decision that conflicts with what is in the Neighbourhood Plan," she said.

Peers passed two other amendments tabled by Baroness Parminter. One would introduce tougher environmental standards for new homes; the other would require all sites to have sustainable urban drainage to make homes more flood-resilient, removing the current exemption for small developments. 

The bill will now return to the Commons for MPs to consider the changes. 

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