Dartford Borough Council – Labour Motion on the proposed Housing and Planning Bill Speech by Cllr Jonathon Hawkes – Leader, Dartford Labour
We are – on all sides of this chamber – concerned about the availability of housing and particularly affordable housing in our Borough. It is rightly a priority for us because residents tell us that the lack of affordable housing in Dartford is one of their biggest concerns. Residents in Dartford see new developments springing up but how many of those homes will be genuinely affordable for local people?
The Housing and Planning Bill is currently at its third reading in parliament. Should this bill become law then it not only risks delivering a hugely damaging impact on the availability of affordable housing in our town but also threatens the ability of this council to take measures to deliver more.
The government may be trying to cast themselves as ‘the builders’ but their record over the last five years tells a very different story. Home ownership has fallen every year since 2010 and we now have the lowest number of genuinely affordable homes for two decades.
That situation is likely to be made worse by the Housing and Planning Bill. Because far from easing the affordable housing crisis we see in Dartford, this bill will not offer any help to most people in our town who are currently struggling to buy their own home. The bill risks causing a significant loss of affordable homes in the local community and by handing a wide range of powers over planning back to the government it weakens this council’s ability to provide the mix of housing we need and robs local people of their say in the planning process.
We are all familiar with the long standing practice of using Section 106 to deliver affordable homes within new developments and this council has a policy to seek 30% affordable housing on all new developments in urban areas and 50% in rural areas- a policy which is I believe is supported on all sides of the chamber. The Housing and Planning Bill is going to put a stop to that. Because this bill sets aside developers obligations under Section 106 and instead legislates for the provision of so called ‘starter homes’ – to be sold at 80% of full market rate.
The government are trying to pass this off as providing affordable homes, but the fact is that in Dartford you would need to earn a salary of £52,000 to afford one of these starter homes. Mr Mayor, that’s totally out of reach for many young people and families in Dartford. For those already struggling to get on the housing ladder, starter homes are a non starter and are nothing less than an attack on the aspirations of those who simply want a home to call their own. And when that comes at the expense of genuinely affordable homes then no wonder Shelter are predicting the loss of 180,000 affordable homes across the country over the next five years.
The impact of this bill on social housing stock is also extremely concerning. Extending the right to buy to housing associations is not a bad idea in itself, but the way this bill
proposes to implement it risks reducing the level of social housing in the borough. Asking Housing Associations to sell their stock at significantly below market rate provides one problem. The absence in the Housing and Planning Bill of a one for one replacement policy compounds it. And then – on top of that the government are going to reimburse the housing associations by forcing councils to sell their highest value properties then you are left with a mess of a policy that poses huge risks to the level of social housing in the Borough.
The ability of the government to raid our housing stock speaks to another major concern of this bill. The Housing and Bill is no friend to local authorities – this one or any other across the country.
The government talk about localism and devolution but their actions here are in total contradiction to their words. Members should know that at its heart, the Housing and Planning Bill is a centralising and anti council piece of legislation.
It means that the government can impose starter-home obligations on developers
It means that the government can suspend our local plan
It means they can direct us to change our local plan and also neighbourhood plans at Parish level.
It means the government can overrule this council and grant planning permission directly for any development that they deem is linked to major infrastructure projects - undermining the ability of local people to have a proper say about what happens in their borough.
The bill takes power directly away from local people and places it in the hands of central government. I don’t believe anyone in the chamber would think that is a step forward.
Mr Mayor, it may be case that the council believes it can withstand the negative and reductive impacts of the bill. Labour believes that question should be answered and that is why our motion tables what we feel are important and supportable resolutions so this council can properly consider how this bill will effect the housing mix in Dartford and our continued ability to influence that through a planning process that is under attack from the government.
Because Mr Mayor, This isn’t localism – it’s the abandonment of localism and attacks everything this council values – its an attack on our ability to make our own decisions, a threat to the ability to provide local solutions to local needs and undermines the principle that those who know this town best – its people and elected representatives – should determine the policies we need. Mr Mayor, I move the motion and ask for Councillors on all sides of the chamber to support.