Last week, I gave evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee on our work to tackle the housing crisis in Lambeth and the appalling plans in the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill. We have already made our position on this Bill, and in particular the impact of extending Right-To-Buy to housing associations, very clear and I was glad to take the opportunity to inform the committee of its potential impact on Lambeth residents.
The deal reached by housing associations with the government to extend Right-To-Buy to their properties was done without proper scrutiny by Parliament and will greatly hamper the availability of affordable housing in Lambeth. Forcing Lambeth to sell over 120 council homes a year on the open market (over three-fifths of which will be family sized homes) will actually make the prospects of the 21,000 people on our waiting list worse, not better. It will see Lambeth Council receive a bill at the start of each year for these forced sales which will go to central government. This marks a departure from the important principle of general taxation to pay for the public services we all share: instead we are taxing a public authority like a council to pay for a private individual to enjoy the right to buy their own home. While I have no problem with people exercising their Right-To-Buy, this deal simply undercuts the chance for more people to have an affordable home in Lambeth.
The true impact of Right-to-Buy is in the utter failure of successive governments to replace the homes sold. Currently, almost 4,000 across London are sold each year and only 600 are replaced. The deal with housing associations offers no guarantees that these homes sold will be replaced by homes in London, let alone in Lambeth and it is likely they will be built in areas where costs are much lower. This might suit housing associations but will do nothing to help our residents. The concerns were also echoed by representatives from Conservative councils from outside London as well, reflecting the difficulties faced by councils of all parties by this policy.
The problems are compounded by the lack of flexibility around funding replacement homes. At the moment with the receipts from the sale of council homes, councils have to spend them within 3 years, which is very difficult when you consider the timescale of construction and regeneration projects in general. And government rules mean that we can only use 30% of the money from a sale on a new home, which is incredibly restrictive when you take into account the high costs of building homes in London (and that these are already lower sale receipts due to Right-To-Buy discounts).
In Lambeth, we’re determined to lobby against this Bill and to continue to do what we can to deliver more affordable housing. That’s why I met with the Minister responsible for the Bill, Brandon Lewis MP, on Wednesday, to repeat the concerns I gave to the select committee. And that’s why we’ve created Homes for Lambeth, a council-owned company that will allow us to invest in schemes that deliver affordable social homes for the people of Lambeth, rather than simply delivering profits to developers. Homes for Lambeth will allow us to meet our commitment to provide 1,000 homes for social rent across the borough by 2018 and we will continue to do our bit to tackle the housing crisis, despite the actions of this government.
Cllr Lib Peck
Leader of Lambeth Council