A giant step forward for conservation – sorry, conservatories.

After our post earlier today called ‘Plan A on its deathbed’, it was nice of the Government to get around eventually to issuing statements about its new housing package, putting a little flesh on the bones after the confusion sowed by the Prime and Deputy Prime Minister as they toured the studios early this morning promising manna from heaven.

The official statement on the No 10 website lists the following initiatives:

Removing s.106 requirements for up to 75,000 homes on stalled sites. This sounds rather familiar and may have been announced before in a different form, but again real detail is missing here on how sites will be defined as ‘commercially unviable’ and how developers will prove that it is affordable housing requirements that make them so. No information is given as to how many affordable homes will be lost due to this.

New legislation for government guarantees for up to £10 bn housing projects including both housing associations and private developers. There is some mileage in this and this could be an important breakthrough in housing finance, but this is the kind of flexibility in government finances that is much disliked by the Treasury, so again we will need to se the Bill. The need for primary legislation will make this a slow starter.

What appears to an extra £300m in capital funding to provide up to 15,000 extra affordable (presumably ‘affordable rent’) homes and to bring 5,000 empty homes back into use. Given the 60% cut in housing capital in the Spending Review, this is a tiny reversal but an important U turn. And a nod in the direction of a Keynesian stimulus.

5,000 additional private rented homes through ‘Montague reforms’.  The key proposal was  another removal of s.106 requirements to provide affordable homes in developments.

More big developments to be fast tracked through planning, bypassing local councils and being dealt with by the Planning Inspectorate. Given the government’s supposed support for localism, and its objection to Labour’s arrangements for dealing with large infrastructure projects, this is really a bit rich. Hypocritically, Eric Pickles calls this ‘muscular localism’.  I call it no localism at all.

Finally the bit the BBC and ITV liked, giving home owners and others more freedom to do extensions overriding local planning requirements.

Housing commentators seem to have fallen over themselves to welcome the package, as if it is a relief to have something nice to say about the government.  Apart from the guarantees, which is a genuinely intriguing move, the rest can be summed up as ‘far too little far too late’. It proved once again we should never be fooled by early morning appearances on TV by Cameron and Clegg trying to make their initiatives sound rather more dramatic than they are.

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