Housing – a fault line between London and the devolved bodies

Just days after the government's controversial localism bill, tenants in Wales and Scotland have received welcome news, writes Ed Jacobs.

Just days after MPs debated the provisions of the government’s Localism Bill, containing measures which ‘Inside Housing’ magazine has described as marking the “death of social housing”, social tenants in Wales and aspiring home owners in Scotland have received welcome news.

In Wales, an Assembly committee has used a report to support actions by the Assembly government to enable councils to apply to Welsh ministers to suspend right-to-buy in areas of greatest housing pressure, as outlined in a measure published in November.

At the time Plaid Cymru’s deputy housing minister Jocelyn Davies explained:

“The objective underlying the policy is to provide local housing authorities with a period of grace, when statutory rights are suspended, to enable the supply of affordable housing in the area subject to a direction to be increased by other means.”

Speaking for the Welsh Assembly’s Legislation Committee (No.2), the committee’s chair, Labour’s Val Lloyd, agreed with the need for legislation.

She said:

“The committee was pleased to see that steps are being taken to improve access to social housing in Wales. The majority of evidence received indicated a general support for the suspension of the right to buy and the need for legislation in this area.”

Meanwhile in Scotland, housing minister Alex Neil announced that funds for an affordable housing scheme are to double. Last year, the Scottish Executive launched the New Supply Shared Equity Scheme with government funding worth £2.5 million. The scheme involves housing builders prepared to take equity stakes jointly with the Scottish government in unsold or partially built new homes.

Government funding has now been doubled to £5 million, with buyers paying between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the purchase price on each property.

In announcing the move, the minister said:

“Key players from Scotland’s house-building industry embraced this new scheme when it was piloted last year. That is why the Scottish government is building on the success of the trial scheme by doubling the funding from £2.5 million to £5 million.

“We will continue to work with the housing industry to develop innovative ideas that will accelerate economic recovery, increase choice and opportunities for those looking for a home and support Scotland’s house-building industry.”

Speaking for the industry body, Jonathan Fair, chief executive of Homes for Scotland, said:

“Despite the challenging economic backdrop, the number of Scots aspiring to home ownership has increased by 20 per cent since 2007 but mortgage lending still remains heavily constrained. Following the success of last year’s pilot, we are delighted at the full launch of the New Supply Shared Equity with Developers initiative.

“Such support will not only assist our members to increase the production of desperately needed new homes, it will also help deliver the significant social and economic benefits which arise from them.”

The announcements today serve to highlight even further the differing policy paths being taken by Westminster and the devolved administrations.

In London, the Tory-led government has bucked its responsibilities for the provision of social housing following its decision to cut the budget for affordable housing by 60 per cent, preferring instead for the cost of future housing to be shouldered by social housing tenants themselves, through the introduction of new “affordable rents” of up to 80 per cent of the market value of a property; in stark contrast, Scotland and Wales continue to see social housing as an important sector in which government is obliged to play an active part in order to secure decent housing for those who need it.

It remains just one of many policy areas in which the differences of approach between London and the devolved bodies will grow ever wider, not least with elections to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast just a matter of months away.

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