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Mark Hook: One size does not fit all when it comes to planning

Cllr Mark Hook is the Leader of Gosport Borough Council.

Let me congratulate our newly elected leader, Boris Johnson, with his energetic style of management, along with the many new faces in the cabinet looking to bring in additional successful measures beyond what have achieved to date.

From a local Government perspective, there are many things I and my colleagues would like to see happen. We are told the times of austerity are over, yet the shackles and financial burdens we find ourselves under make it difficult day by day to deliver the ever-increasing demands placed on us by central Government and to meet the expectations of the public. Much has already been said and written, issues such as care of the elderly, education, education, education, combating crime and disorder, employing 20,000 new police officers, the work carried out by the NHS and its funding streams. Yet there are many other topics which need careful consideration.

One concern is the National Planning Policy Framework.

The NPPF contains all the matters of Standard Methodology, Affordability Uplift, and the Housing Delivery Test, and is used to determine how many residential dwellings each local authority will have to deliver over a given period to meet the Government’s housing target – currently set at 300,000 dwellings per year. That Standard Methodology is largely based upon household and population projections.

When first devised, these projections generally supported house building approaching the Government’s 300,000 annual target.  However, things have changed following the result of the EU Referendum and those projections have substantially reduced the required number of additional houses needed using the Standard Methodology. Some have suggested the number could even be as low as 159,000 per year. The Government has thus far wanted to stick with the 300,000 target, irrespective of what their own Standard Methodology says.  I believe this has put the Planning Inspectorate in a bit of quandary.  On the one hand they have the Government telling them to allow development, and on the other they are obliged to take account of Local Plans that have the backing of communities through statutory consultation and approved by the Secretary of State.

However, when we look at my district, Gosport, which is currently 72 per cent built on, 12 times the national average, it is unsurprising we have very little available space left. We can help deliver housing numbers through the many brownfield sites left vacant through the reduction in the Armed Forces over the past four decades but what we need is to bring prosperity back into the Borough.

Regarding the remaining areas we have, we need to ensure there is sufficient green open spaces and strategic gaps between settlements. What we do have left, we need for employment as we have a job density of only 0.51, the seventh-lowest in the country. Yet the people of Gosport have a great work ethic with over 20,000 people out commuting daily to work with a struggling road network trying to cope to meet the demand.

With what little space we have available to build on, I would like to see jobs being created and delivered, bringing with it the economic prosperity to our town. People should be able to live, work and play to give them a better quality of life instead of the need to commute, spending hours on the roads adding to congestion, pollution, and poor air quality. People are reliant on the motor car as we don’t have a railway station, although there is heavy investment in public infrastructure through bus transport which helps. You see one size does not fit all.

These problems are not ours alone. Neighbouring authorities are having to look at where they can build houses, even suggesting building in strategic gaps creating urban sprawl, which should be resisted at all costs to ensure we keep the identity and sovereignty of our own communities. However, under the current NPPF it is extremely difficult to meet the demands placed upon us.

So what is it that we would like our Government to do? What is it that we would say to our new energetic leader? We would say please be understanding that some authorities’ needs are different from others. Some authorities are full to capacity and need to deliver improved services for the residents already living there.

In looking for a way through this, we might be able to offer the new Prime Minister with a fragile minority administration a possible way out. The NPPF provision contains, I would contend, unintended consequences. In places like Gosport, and other similar local authorities where there are unique and peculiar circumstances, local considerations are such that the Standard Methodology involving top-down housing targets is counter-productive.  What we therefore need is some flexibility from the Government that will allow local authorities more discretion over housing numbers provided they have a robust case.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Sean Woodward: How Spitfires are helping the Council Taxpayers of Fareham

Cllr Sean Woodward is the Leader of Fareham Borough Council.

Spitfires have come to the rescue of Fareham Borough Council. Five of the iconic World War Two fighters fly from Solent Airport in Fareham and fuel sales for pleasure flights are reaping thousands of pounds in revenue for the benefit of Fareham council taxpayers. And wise business investment by the Conservatives is sparing Fareham households massive annual council tax rises.

Out of an annual Borough Council spend of £47 million, less than £7 million comes from council tax. So 85 per cent of what we spend includes our trading activities, among them a portfolio of mainly local commercial property that brings in millions of pounds in rent.  For example buildings housing B&Q, Dunelm, Halfords, PC World, etc belong to the Council. Without this income, our council tax, currently almost the lowest in the country, would need to be far higher.

At Solent Airport £30 million has been spent so far on infrastructure and new commercial buildings such as the newly-extended Fareham Innovation Centre, which is already 70 per cent full. Airport operations provide a financial return to the Council, flight movements have increased to 30,000 annually and hundreds of new jobs have been created at what is the Solent Enterprise Zone with many more to come.

I have been Leader of Fareham Borough Council now for 20 years. We have a good record of being a prudent, low taxing Council with excellent services. For the future, we promise more of the same.

Challenges facing the Council include top-down housing figures demanding at least 520 houses per year. I never thought we would see the John Prescott form of meting out housing numbers from a Conservative government.  Something I very much hope the new Johnson team will reverse.  We have never seen much more than half those numbers built in the Borough and they are well above our objectively assessed need.

Westlake Legal Group spitfire-225x300 Sean Woodward: How Spitfires are helping the Council Taxpayers of Fareham Local government Local Elections (general) housing Fareham   Ironically while our housing numbers are high our ability to issues planning consents from new homes has been halted by an EU court judgement on nitrates which has stopped any councils in South Hampshire from issuing planning permissions. This is due to the effects of excessive nitrates on the Solent.  Even though some 80 per cent of the issue is run-off from agriculture. Our huge challenge is to develop a mitigation scheme that developers can pay for to reduce the level of nitrates getting into the Solent special protection area. This will require the cooperation of DEFRA (Natural England), the Environment Agency and the water companies. As Fareham is part of the eleven councils forming the Partnership for South Hampshire we are working together to find a solution.

We must deliver a new community called Welborne of 6,000 new homes in North Fareham. As this requires a new motorway junction it is held up by Highways England. We hope to see a planning committee consideration in the autumn.  We have around 3,000 families in need of affordable housing and Welborne will go a significant way over the next 25 years to provide new homes for Fareham people.

As a Council, we will be free of single-use plastics by next year. This is something of great concern to our residents and rightly so having seen the damage caused to our oceans by the fallout from these products.

Town centres are suffering in the light of the switch from conventional retail to online. While Fareham has suffered less than most it is still suffering. We have developed a vision for our town centre to revitalise it with the addition of leisure and housing.  That means us working with the private owners of the shop units to encourage re-use or perhaps conversion to housing.

We have for many years run one of the country’s largest community gardening competitions – Fareham In Bloom. We are successful in repeatedly winning South and South-East England In Bloom with gold for the best large town/small city. We aim to continue to fill Fareham with flowers and enjoy huge community and business support in this work.

We are providing a £10 million+  refurbishment of Ferneham Hall, our entertainment complex which has served our residents well for over 30 years. This will provide an 800 seat auditorium and community facilities. This comes after the recent completion of a second £9 million leisure centre in the west of our Borough. We are all about providing our people with the highest quality services at the lowest possible cost.

Earlier this year we saw some 1,400 good Conservative Councillors lose their seats through no fault of their own. They were swept away by our government’s failure to deliver an exit from the EU.

We distinguish ourselves from such failure by working locally, delivering InTouch newsletters to all of our residents at least quarterly on local successes and issues and working within our wards helping our constituents.  It is by keeping in touch all year round at not just at election time that we hope we can continue to weather national storms.  But we never take anything for granted especially the electors. We do of course live in hope that our new Prime Minister will help with bringing about national enthusiasm for the Conservative cause again.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andrea Jenkyns: Help to Buy largely helped the better-off – instead let’s support those who really need it

Andrea Jenkyns is MP for Morley and Outwood.

Conservatives have traditionally been the party of homeownership, and Margaret Thatcher’s idea that owning one’s home gives them a sense of independence and a stake in their country it is still more than valid. While the Housing Act 1980 gave five million council house tenants the right to buy their own houses, it is now difficult for part of the population to secure their first property. We have just chosen a new Prime Minister in Boris Johnson: this is an unmissable opportunity to be the party that champions home ownership and puts in mechanisms to help people get on the property ladder, whatever their background.

There is a link between homeownership and social mobility, and these two are enshrined in the conservative ideas that hard work pays off. To regain our mantle as the party of homeownership, we need to again make it possible for people on lower incomes to have the opportunity to own their own home. Currently, it is too difficult for the aspirational working class to save enough money to buy their first home, especially if they do not have parents who can help them with a deposit.

I would like to see the introduction of a new housing strategy in the form of a ‘Social Mobility Housing Policy’. This would be aimed to help both those in social rented housing, who are unable to save for a deposit. and those in the private rented housing sector, who pay much higher rents than those in social housing and also struggle to find ways to save up to buy a house.

Government schemes to promote home buying have been successful but they are not reaching a large part of the population who aspire to own their own homes. The average household income of those benefitting from Help to Buy is £52,000.

The National Audit Office found that 60 per cent of those using the scheme could have already afforded to buy. Rather than enabling those who otherwise couldn’t afford it onto the property ladder, for many it simply helped them to buy a bigger house, sooner.

In my constituency of Morley and Outwood average pay is £26,500 but first-time buyers need to stump up nearly £25,000 for a deposit. Unsurprisingly, this is the main obstacle to owning their home.

I recently asked the previous Housing Minister what assessment he had made of the effectiveness of the Help to Buy scheme in supporting less well-off people to buy a home. He said that the scheme helps those who cannot raise a large deposit, with over half of buyers putting down only a five per cent deposit to purchase their home.

What about the hard-working families who can’t even raise this whilst they are paying rent each month? They remain stuck in the private rented sector feeling unsettled about whether they can put down roots and start a family. Millions of them could afford the mortgage repayments, which are on average less than private rents in every region, but they are held back by the initial, prohibitive deposit hurdle.

With Help to Buy coming to an end in 2023, we should now be planning a wider range of homeownership models that support families who couldn’t otherwise afford it onto the housing ladder.

One model that inspired me when I was PPS to the Minister of State for Housing, was a Rent to Buy Scheme, where tenants save to buy the home they are renting. Unlike other schemes, it doesn’t require an upfront deposit but rather takes into account the renters’ earnings and potential to save. Under the model, tenants move into a brand new, privately financed home, pay an affordable rent (80 per cent of market rent including service charges) and benefit from a long-term tenancy of up to 20 years. This enables them to put more money aside each month towards a deposit whilst they can settle in a house they know they will one day own. When they are ready to buy, they are further supported by a gifted deposit worth ten per cent of the property’s market value.

To significantly increase homeownership, we must support innovative schemes like this that really tackle the barriers for those who are less well-off. I hope that the new Prime Minister will make home ownership a priority.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andy Street: What the West Midlands wants from the new Government

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

In the few days since he entered Downing Street, British politics has been re-energised by Boris Johnson. From his speech on the steps of Number 10 last Wednesday to his appearances in Parliament and across the country during the following days, the Prime Minister’s words have brought a sense of optimism that engages people.

And that optimism is being built upon an emerging ambitious agenda for our country. Here in the West Midlands we need to seize and shape the energy of the new Government to support our plan to deliver the renewal of our region.

By working together we can unleash the potential of our people to achieve future success. My top ten ambitions for this Government are:

1. Policing: We all know that crime, violence and anti-social behaviour have ruined too many lives here. So, I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s pledge to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers, and was pleased that he chose to come here, to the West Midlands, to reinforce that commitment. Our communities want to feel safe and live crime free – this is the first test of Government. These extra officers will go a long way to making that happen. In May, our region will elect a new Police and Crime Commissioner. We need our first Conservative PCC to ensure the Government’s commitment is backed by a local drive to put more resources onto the frontline.

2. Infrastructure: Here we know that improvements in transport infrastructure help spread access to opportunity, as well as encouraging inward investment into isolated communities. For us, that already means re-opening train stations that have been dormant since Beeching, expanding our Metro network and identifying strategic road investment. That’s all good, but there is now the prospect of a game-changing investment in our public transport infrastructure. The Prime Minister talks of doing for city regions what he did for London – that’s music to our ears!

HS2 plays a central role in this too – not as a competitor for investment but as a driver of it. A recommitment to it, possibly alongside the Leeds to Manchester high speed line is essential to raise our productivity, ignite our regions and keep us competitive on the world stage.

3. Community revival: In tandem with infrastructure, the economic face of our forgotten communities – their town centres and high streets – are also key to revival. The Prime Minister’s £3.6billion pledge to revitalise 100 towns and cities across the UK chimes with the concerted approach we have taken to help high streets across the West Midlands’ seven boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

However, these ‘forgotten towns’ also suffer from skills gaps. Impressive pilot schemes to better equip people for working life, from apprentice funding to digital retraining, need to now be delivered on a greater scale. We must ensure our young people can’t fall through the gaps in the system, as all the evidence suggests that the opportunities 16 to 17-year olds are offered determine the rest of their lives. The ‘Forgotten Towns’ fund should be for them too.

4. Education: The new Government’s intention to ‘level up’ educational funding across the nation will help give more of our young people opportunities. I know this pledge will be particularly welcome in Solihull, where this issue is acutely felt.

5. Health: the commitment to our NHS is vital, building on that of the previous Government – and that means getting key projects like the new Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Sandwell completed. It also means exploiting technology to prevent disease and as the country’s 5G tested we stand ready to lead that charge.

6. Housing: Meeting the UK’s housing needs provides a massive challenge, and I welcome the Prime Minister’s call for more investment to improve quality of life and drive growth. We are already showing strong growth in house building, and we lead the nation on reclaiming derelict brownfield sites.

However, more must be done to encourage developers to include more affordable housing. Of the 14,500 homes built in the West Midlands last year, only 18 per cent fell into the affordable bracket. Regions like ours need an Affordable Housing Deal to address this – possibly on the GLA model.

Of course, measures to tackle the problem of homelessness go hand-in-hand with this issue. It is now clear that freezing housing benefits since 2016 has contributed to homelessness in the West Midlands. There should an increase in the local housing allowance element of Universal Credit, to stop people falling behind on their payments and being evicted. Losing a private tenancy as a result of getting into arrears is the most common reason to become homeless.

7.  Equality: With such a diverse population, inclusivity is one of the central themes of the Urban Conservatism we are creating in the West Midlands. Serving every community is vital – whether geographic or demographic – which is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s clear commitment to championing equalities.

8. Innovation: Securing the industries and jobs of the future is also critical. I have been heartened by the new Prime Minister’s clear belief in the power of technology to create real opportunity and it was great to see him identify battery development as an example. As the age of electric motoring dawns, the automotive sector can transform both our economic and environmental future. So, we must back JLR, the new National Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry and reclaim the title of ‘Motor City’ for the electric era. Key to this is our aim to open a Gigafactory in the West Midlands, to manufacture the batteries needed to power next generation vehicles.

The West Midlands was the first region in the UK to draw up a Local Industrial Strategy, setting out a roadmap for growth over the coming decades. At its heart lies clean growth, a key part of responding to the Climate Change crisis. The Industrial Strategy is perhaps the real legacy of Theresa May’s Government and must be built upon.

9. Brexit: We must honour the decision of the British people on Brexit and back the new Government’s efforts to secure a better deal for our nation and region, as the evidence is clear that a No Deal would be damaging to our manufacturing and exporting region.

10. Devolution: Finally, if we are serious about supercharging our regions and rebalancing the economy, the principles raised in Michael Heseltine’s recent Empowering English Cities report must be addressed. Our regions need a single pot of funding, where we can decide on our own priorities. The West Midlands should also be able to retain some of the taxation raised here to build a more sustainable local economy.

The new Government faces many challenges, but our new Prime Minister has spoken to the issues that matter to us here in the West Midlands. I look forward to us locally playing our part in delivering on them.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Joe Shalam: Modern employers are learning the Bournville lesson – better housing for workers benefits them, too

Joe Shalam is Head of Financial Inclusion at the Centre for Social Justice.

In-work poverty has been described as ‘the problem of our time’. But making progress in tackling it will only be achieved if the true complexity of poverty is taken into account. While income is critically important, raising wages above an arbitrary poverty threshold, as has been prevailing wisdom for many years, simply does not account for range of issues that serve to hold people back.

For example, at the Centre for Social Justice we hear increasingly regularly from our alliance of 350 poverty-fighting charities about the ways insecure, cramped or otherwise inadequate housing is undermining people’s ability to address the problems in their lives: be that their family instability, their reliance on alcohol to get through the day, or the barriers they face progressing in work and boosting their earnings.

The CSJ’s Housing Commission has therefore called on the Government to dramatically increase the supply of truly affordable homes, so that more people have a stronger foundation from which to escape poverty and thrive. Yet, as the Commission argues in its latest interim report, the Government will not be able to achieve this alone. Business and philanthropy can play a role, too.

Looking at history we are reminded of this. One often celebrated example is George Cadbury, whose enterprising family give their name to the Victorian chocolate brand still enjoyed by millions today.

Cadbury was no ordinary chocolatier. An enthusiastic social reformer in the Quaker tradition, he and his brother sought to offer workers an alternative to the life they had come to expect in the rapidly industrialising and grimy cities of 19th Century England. So they founded a village, named ‘Bournville’ for its quaint French twang and proximity to the Bourn river, providing garden cottages in sharp contrast to the neighbouring city slums.

Still, Cadbury was a businessman. He knew that an inadequately housed workforce was an unhealthy and unhappy workforce. As such, they were also less productive for the company – particularly when stricken by what he described as the ‘evils of modern, more cramped living conditions’.

This fact remains as true today as it was then. While we have come a long way since the familiar slums of Dickensian Britain, the housing crisis gripping parts of the country is having a profoundly negative impact on businesses, the wider workforce and their families.

The report reveals that half of UK companies with 1,000+ employees say that housing issues are adversely affecting the wellbeing of their staff, compounded by long commutes to work and rising housing costs.

The economic consequences of an increasingly overburdened and low-morale workforce are also emerging. We found that a shocking two-in-three companies are concerned about how the affordability of housing is impacting their business. And 43 per cent of employers say that housing issues are having a negative effect on their business’ productivity.

Yet the report also reveals that, like Cadbury, employers today are responding to these pressures in innovative and impressive ways.

Take Nationwide, for example, who are proceeding with a multi-million pound not-for-profit housing development in Swindon. Drawing inspiration from Bournville, where ‘Ten Shilling Houses’ were offered to the workforce beyond the Cadbury payroll, Nationwide’s Oakfield development aims to provide a high proportion of affordable homes and lease these without giving preferential treatment to employees.

Elsewhere, Pret a Manger recently opened the Pret House in Kennington. Building on their long-established homeless trainee scheme, they recognised that even the most supported trainees on the programme were suffering as a result of returning after a day’s work to the chaotic ‘temporary’ accommodation they had been placed in by local councils.

As Nicki Fisher, the Pret Foundation’s head of sustainability, told us, ‘If you can imagine, having to get up at 5am after spending a night in a homeless shelter, where they’re often very crowded, very noisy, quite chaotic… we were starting to see a couple of people dropping out because it’s just very difficult to maintain coming to work normally every day’. The Pret House provides a safe and secure home for trainees to return to, thanks to a number of conditional ground rules.

We also looked abroad for inspiration. The expansion of technology firms in coastal areas of the US has resulted in the creation of new jobs in cities with limited housing, such as Seattle and San Francisco. This has contributed to steep increases in housing costs. Companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft are responding by investing millions of dollars in affordable housing programmes.

In partnership with the Mayor of Seattle, Microsoft alone has pledged $500 million for programmes supplying ‘housing that is within the economic reach of every part of the community, including the many dedicated people that provide the vital services on which we all rely’.

Where employers are leading the way in championing housing support, they should be recognised and supported to do more. Schemes like private tenancy deposit loans, on the familiar model of a season ticket loan, are relatively inexpensive for businesses, but can be life changing to those unable to afford the (sometimes eye-wateringly expensive) upfront costs of rented accommodation. The Government should be rewarding the companies that offer this type of support with a new ‘Housing Confident’ accreditation.

The Government could also be better at harnessing employers as fuel in the engine of housing supply, by setting up an Innovation Fund in Homes England to support more not-for-profit developments that don’t fit the conventional mould. And it should do more to facilitate ambitious partnerships between both public and private employers to secure new investment in affordable Build-to-Rent developments, with thriving and mixed communities of working families.

In short, though there have been profound changes to our society, economy and labour market since Cadbury first set eyes upon the Bourn, the same level ambition is already being displayed by some employers today in seeking to improve the workforce’s housing conditions and address poverty in its true complexity. For all the government can do, we should also aim to unlock the spirit of Bournville and extend the ‘opportunity of a happy family life’ that he believed everyone deserves.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Rosalind Beck: The Government’s war on landlords will only make the housing crisis worse for the lowest-paid.

Dr Rosalind Beck is a doctor of Criminology and a Conservative Party member in South Wales.

The Channel 5 series ‘Nightmare Tenants; Slum Landlords’ shows the devastation nightmare tenants in the private rented sector (PRS) cause to landlords, housemates and neighbours across the country. A wide variety of cases is presented each week.

In a recent episode, a tenant went on the rampage in a rented flat causing tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage. The programme shows other tenants hurling abuse at neighbours, wrecking properties with cannabis factories and building up thousands in arrears. Those who trusted the tenants with their property are often left in tears, with their finances in tatters, including this week the parents of an autistic child.

On the other hand, the programme-makers seem to have stalled in their quest to find examples of ‘slum landlords,’ and have included none in recent episodes.

Clearly, there are far more rogue tenants than there are rogue landlords. However, one would imagine the inverse to be true, judging by the Government’s determination to go ahead this week with the scrapping of Section 21 notices; something that will play right into the hands of the type of tenants seen in the programme.

For the uninitiated, Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, is the notice for what is widely portrayed as a ‘no-fault eviction.’ The phrase implies that the tenant has done nothing wrong, whilst the truth is that although landlords are unable procedurally to give a reason, in 84 per cent of cases possession is sought for non-payment of rent and in 56 per cent of cases, damage to property is a factor.

In addition, although it is seen as a ‘two month’ notice, in reality it often takes at least six months. A typical timeline is:

  1. Landlord often waits until the tenant has got into at least two months arrears.
  2. Landlord gives tenant two months’ notice.
  3. Tenant doesn’t leave at the end of the notice period.
  4.  Landlord applies to the courts and waits another month or two to get a date.
  5. The judge awards 14-28 days extra time in the property.
  6. Often the tenant remains.
  7. Bailiffs are instructed and depending on workload, another delay of a month or more ensues.
  8. Tenant is evicted by a bailiff.

Invariably, during this process the tenant is not paying rent and often damages the house.

The idea that Section 21 is an easy option for landlords to quickly gain possession on a blameless tenant is therefore pure fantasy.

However, whereas Section 21 typically takes more than six months, the only alternative, ‘Section 8’ can take closer to a year, as spurious defences and counter-claims are allowed (tenants have been known to damage the house and then allege disrepair), which lead to adjournments.

Very worryingly, in addition to scrapping Section 21, another suggestion given to Government has been to ‘port’ over the conditions under which a Section 21 can be served, to an amended Section 8. The Welsh Assembly is also actively considering this. This could mean, for example, that the fact there was no proof a tenant had received a copy of a certificate (even if they had) could give a non-paying tenant a lifetime tenancy in a property owned by someone else who is paying the mortgage and all other costs. This is bizarre, absurd and contrary to all natural justice; and it would not surprise me at all if it slipped through as an ‘unintended consequence.’

This is not only relevant for landlords. A reason why people in general should be concerned about this, is that Section 21 was the key element in the Housing Act which gave landlords and lenders confidence they could get a property back when they needed to.  Abolishing it will take tenancy law back to the last century, when the absence of adequate means of regaining possession caused the PRS to shrink from comprising 90 per cent of all housing to just nine per cent. Housing quality was also poor.

The English Housing Survey, just out, has found that these days 83 per cent of private tenants are satisfied or very satisfied with their housing; compared to 80 per cent in the social sector. Why would the Government interfere with the excellent progress that has been made in housing quantity and quality, by taking this regressive step to shrink the PRS?

An estimated 150,000 more households will be needed in the coming year. Who will provide the homes for them? Not private landlords.

Where is the estimation of the effect this will have on homelessness levels?

The risk of facing one of the nightmare scenarios described above, with the process of getting rogue tenants out having been made much more difficult or even impossible, will especially deter those with only one rental property – around half of the country’s two million landlords. I have advised my brother, now that he has retired, to leave empty the extra property he purchased when he moved for work. As I told him, when faced with potentially losing control over his asset, it is not worth the extra income of a few hundred pounds a month.

Is this what the Government wants? Empty houses?

Even in terms of gaining votes, the Government is following a reckless agenda. The National Landlords Association found that 85 per cent of landlords – and their families – will vote against parties proposing to remove Section 21. This could be a huge factor in marginal constituencies.

In light of all this, we can only hope that Boris Johnson not only retains Section 21 – to scrap was an ill-considered attempt by Theresa May to establish a legacy – but in fact, improves on it so that landlords can get swifter justice.

One should not forget that although the private and social housing sectors together house nearly half of the population, it is private landlords who now provide the essential safety net for the lowest-income tenants and who house 10 out of 11 homeless people.

If the hostile environment for landlords persists, they won’t for much longer.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Lack of affordable housing in new developments near future Herndon Metro station sparks debate

Within the last five years, more than 500 residential units have been proposed at the door of the future Herndon Metro Station, which is on track to open by the end of 2020. In all three place-making projects that were recently approved by town officials, there are no affordable or workforce housing units.

Comstock’s downtown Herndon redevelopment project — which has 273 apartments — and Penzance’s mixed-use development less than one-tenth of a mile from the future station — which has 455 residential units — will not have any ADU or WDU units. Stanley Martin’s Metro Square project — which has 64 two-over-two condos — also has none. Prices for those units start at $679,990.

Newly elected town council members Cesar del Aguila and Pradip Dhakal are currently mulling ways to create more new affordable and workforce housing. They plan to discuss policy instruments with the county’s Board of Supervisors, the town’s legal staff, and other town and county officials to decide next steps.

“If we do not interfere now and talk to builders, it will be very difficult to manage later. This is the time for the change,” Dhakal said. “We need to work with the county and work independently as a town to see what we can do.”

It’s unclear if the town has enough workforce housing to meet the demands of people who work within or near the town’s borders. The number of residential units in Herndon is expected to increase by 30 percent over the next 25 years, according to county data. Major growth is anticipated in Herndon’s transit station areas.

Unlike Fairfax County, the Town of Herndon does not the statutory authority to mandate the inclusion of workforce or affordable housing units. But now, as the Silver Line trains approach, some local elected officials are pushing for the town to explore ways to include workforce units in new developments at a critical juncture in the town’s history.

Policy options could include seeking state-enabling legislation to create an ADU and WDU program for the town — likely modeled after the county’s program.

Others are looking to dip more into the county’s penny fund — which includes tax dollars from town of Herndon residents and has historically been used to preserve and promote affordable.

But some caution that a WDU and ADU program managed by the town could be too cost-inhibitive.

Melissa Jonas, chairwoman of the Town of Herndon’s Planning Commission, said seeking such a change would likely require a town charter amendment, state-enabling legislation, the creation of a housing office, and other administrative requirements that could result in a “net zero” win for the town.

“It’s not easy and it’s not cheap,” Jonas said.

Jonas, who has worked with the county on numerous affordable housing initiatives, notes that affordable housing is a region-wide challenge that cannot be addressed in isolation of other issues and initiatives.

In the past, the town has leveraged its relationship with the county — which has the administrative and financial resources to maintain and preserve older affordable housings units — to ensure inclusion and housing affordability are a priority in the town. Town officials have also made an effort to educate the town’s planning commissioners about housing affordability issues as new applications cross their desk.

The town’s comparative advantage lies in finding other ways to ensure projects are affordable — including working with places of worship to pursue creative new projects on unused land, increased transparency about development approval timelines, and decreased the cost of doing business in the town.

The county currently provides most of the funding for the town’s housing rehabilitation specialist, who finds ways to preserve and rehabilitate current affordable and workforce housing units. The county also provides administrative support for housing vouchers and other federal programs.

Projects like the units set aside for lower-income households at Herndon Harbor House II are a good start to ensure housing affordable is a central part of community planning. That retirement community was partly financed by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

Dhakal says that’s not enough and Del Aguila says that a town-led ADU or WDU program is “the right thing to do.”

“This initiative will provide several benefits: positively impact the future of many people [and] families by providing an option for home ownership in Northern Virginia,  improve the quality of life for people in our town… and create opportunities for financial security for more residents,”  he said.

Not everyone on the council is convinced of the need to enable the town to regulate affordable housing, including town councilmember Signe Friedrichs.

Friedrichs says there is a lack of consensus on whether or not there is enough affordable housing in the town and that the county is better positioned to manage housing affordability programs. Instead of managing its own program, the town should work with the county to maintain and improve affordable housing options.

“I moved to Herndon partly because it was affordable, and I hope it can stay that way while also improving its housing stock. But I also hope we can maintain, improve and possibly expand our workforce and affordable housing without also increasing our budget, the cost of which would cause people to move out of town,” Friedrichs said.


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Adam Honeysett-Watts: After three years of gloom under May, it’s time for fun with Johnson

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector. 

Before this leadership election got underway, I wrote that the next leader must be able to tell the Tory story – of aspiration and opportunity – and identified Boris Johnson as the person best-positioned to do that.

Having previously supported David Cameron and then Theresa May, I like to think I back winners – at least, in terms of those who reach the top. That said, while the former will be remembered for rescuing the economy – while giving people the power to marry who they love and an overdue say on Europe – the latter, much to my disappointment, has no real legacy. Johnson should avoid repeating that mistake.

His final column for the Daily Telegraph, ‘Britain must fire-up its sense of mission’, was jam-packed with the kind of Merry England* (or Merry UK) optimism that we experienced during the Cricket World Cup and that the whole country needs right now: “They went to the Moon 50 years ago. Surely today we can solve the logistical issues of the Irish border”. Quite right.

You’ve guessed it, I’m chuffed that Conservative MPs, media and members supported Johnson’s bid to become our Prime Minister. I’m looking forward to May handing him the keys to Number Ten and him batting for us after three, long years of doom and gloom. Sure, optimism isn’t everything – but it can set the tone. A detailed vision must be articulated and executed by a sound team.

Whichever side you were on before the referendum (or are on now), in the short term, we need to redefine our purpose, move forward with our global partners, unite the UK – and defeat Corbynism.

Mid-term, we should invest further in our national security and technology, improving education and life chances and encouraging greater participation in culture and sport, as well as boosting home ownership. Plus the odd tax cut here and there would be well-advised.

However, we must not put off having debates – for fear of offending – about controlling immigration and legalising drugs, and about funding for health and social care, as well as protecting the environment, for these issues matter and will matter even more in the future.

We should also avoid the temptation to ban political expression, alternative media and sugary foods, and celebrate instead free speech, press freedom and the right to choose.

Again, I look forward to Johnson peddling optimism and hope that people get behind him, because, ultimately, he will write our next chapter – and if we jump onboard and provide support, much more can be achieved by us all working together.

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Chris Philp: Cut Stamp Duty – and unleash a new Home Ownership Revolution

Chris Philp is has served as PPS in the Treasury and MHCLG, and on the Treasury Select Committee. He is MP for Croydon South.

One of the signal achievements of the Thatcher Government was the home ownership revolution. Millions of people were able to buy their own home for the first time – through right-to-buy and a more dynamic housing market generally. Sadly, much of that good work has been undone in the years since.

Home ownership rates have fallen from a high of 71 per cent in 2005 down to 63 per cent today. The falls are especially acute amongst those in their 20s and 30s, where home ownership rates have almost halved since the early 1990s. No wonder we have trouble getting younger people to vote Conservative.

Home ownership is an inherently beneficial thing. Those who own their own home enjoy secure tenure and lower housing costs than those renting. Over the long term, it is financially better to own rather than rent – even if house prices do not rise faster than inflation. And owning a property gives people a real sense of a place they can call home. It is no surprise, then, that 86 per cent of the public aspire to own their homes. Given only 63 per cent actually do, around a quarter of our fellow citizens wish to own their own home but do not. We should help them.

Stamp duty is a major barrier to buying a home. It is a cash cost that cannot be mortgage-funded. Given that up-front cash costs are the biggest impediment to buying, this is serious. Stamp duty acts as a barrier for buyers of all kinds, which means housing stock is not freed up by downsizers and there are negative effects on labour mobility.

It should be a legitimate – and popular – objective of public policy to help prospective home buyers. In the last ten years, owner occupiers have been crowded out by financial investors and second home buyers, often from overseas, who have superior financial firepower. They currently make up around a quarter of all residential sales, and even more of new build sales. The Government has already recognised this by abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers purchasing properties under £300,000 and cut it by £5,000 for those buying at under £500,000.

We need to do more. As I and Guy Miscampbell set out in a new report for Onward, the Government should:

  • Abolish stamp duty entirely for all purchases of a main home under £500,000.
  • Halve current rates of stamp duty for purchases of a main home over £500,000.

This would abolish stamp duty for nine out of ten owner-occupiers and save a family buying an average priced London home £13,000, or half of a five per cent deposit. The cost of this policy is £3.3 billion. But it would help more people buy their first home, and make moving house – for a new job, to downsize or to upsize – much easier. For the most expensive properties, where stamp duty is currently charged at a marginal rate of 12 per cent, it is likely that transaction volumes are being suppressed. Halving stamp duty for those properties should result in a positive Laffer effect, due to an increase in transaction levels.

But any new policy should be fiscally responsible. To fund the £3.3 per year billion cost, I propose a number of smaller tax changes, where there is broad public support for taxation and a clear case for action:

  • Introduce a one per cent annual tax on the value of homes left empty for more than 6 months in a year, raising £645 million.
  • Increase the current three per cent stamp duty surcharge on second homes and investment properties to 5 per cent, raising £790 million.
  • Introduce a further three per cent stamp duty surcharge of non-UK resident buyers of residential property, raising £540 million.
  • Introduce an extra higher band of council tax at a £1,700 per year council tax premium for the 0.4 per cent most expensive properties, raising £173 million.
  • End all council tax reliefs for vacant and second home property, raising £75 million.
  • Create a new eight per cent (up from five per cent) stamp duty band for the portion of commercial property purchases over £1 million, raising £682 million.
  • Levy stamp duty on residential properties transferred by selling the company that owns them via transparent ownership rules (which would also help combat money laundering), raising £175 million.
    Double the Annual Taxation on Enveloped Dwellings, raising £140 million.

These measures taken together will help first time buyers, down sizers, upsizers and people moving home to help their job. It will tax overseas investors (usually from the far east) who are treating UK homes as a financial asset and crowding out first time buyers with their superior financial firepower.

Tilting the playing field back towards UK-resident first time buyers and owner-occupiers is the right thig to do. The new Government should use the coming autumn budget to do exactly that.

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Paul James: I’m proud of what we achieving in Gloucester. But more incentives are needed for new housing.

Cllr Paul James is the Leader of Gloucester City Council.

This year’s local elections nationally were pretty disastrous by any standards. We were fortunate not to face the ballot box in Gloucester this year, but we are already preparing for our electoral test in 2020. From my reading, there were some clear lessons from May’s results – and not just that we need to sort out Brexit! Those councils where there is clear leadership, a sense of purpose, and a track record of delivery – and where they campaigned strongly and effectively – managed to hold back the national tide. South Gloucestershire and Swindon are two good examples local to us.

We hope by next year the national backdrop, with a new Leader and Brexit resolved, will be more positive, but in these turbulent times, we cannot rely on this. We have now been the Administration on Gloucester City Council for 15 years – initially as a minority administration, but more recently as a majority. Despite being in control for this long, we have no shortage of ideas on what we still want to achieve, and our next manifesto will be full of bold new policies.

Every council and the area it serves is different. For some places, a low council tax, running a tight ship, emptying the bins, and keeping the streets clean is enough to secure electoral success. In Gloucester and many other places, it isn’t. There is a lot to do in our community leadership, and place-shaping roles and a more active approach is required.

We are very proud of the regeneration which has taken place in Gloucester over the last 15 years, with almost £1 billion of investment attracted to what is a relatively small city. But none of it comes easily, and there is still a great deal to do. High costs, such as archaeology and decontamination, and relatively low property values sometimes means that schemes can struggle with viability without public sector intervention. Our approach, including using the Council’s assets and the strength of its covenant, has been recognised with several awards this year – including Local Authority of the Year in the South West Property Awards and winner of the Innovation in Property and Asset Management category in the MJ Awards. Our striking new bus station/transport hub, funded with the help of Government, has also been widely praised, including by the RICS.

The changing world on the high street adds a new layer of complexity to our regeneration plans, but I believe we are at the forefront of repurposing our city centre to make it a community hub, not just a retail hub. The £5 million revamp of our main public space, Kings Square, which is due on site this Autumn, is at the heart of this – as are efforts to promote our unique heritage. A few weeks ago, I visited Roeselare in Belgium, which is held up as a great example of reinventing a city, and was pleased to find many of the actions they are recommending – like free wifi, and not charging cafes for tables and chairs on the highway – we are already doing.

Housing, as in many places, is a big issue for us. We are keen to deliver as the need is high, but issues around viability can hold back inner-city schemes while greenfield sites move ahead – something the next Prime Minister, in my view, needs to address. There need to be incentives for building new homes. The New Homes Bonus must not continue to be eroded, and the constraints on small urban local authorities should be recognised. The obsession in some quarters of focusing on the South East needs to be replaced by a more balanced approach.

Regenerating sites and buildings is important, but we should never forget that people matter most. The relationship a council has with its communities is vital, and as a council, we have worked hard to move away from the traditional top-down style of decision-making, and adopted a strength-based approach to working with our residents on what’s important for them. Working with partners across the public and charitable sector, our co-funded “community builders” have supported residents to start park runs, knitting groups, help their neighbours, and build countless connections. Our long-term commitment to this approach over the past seven years have brought benefits to health and well-being, social isolation, community safety, and the environment. Our next step will be the establishment of a Community Interest Company to roll out the community building programme to every ward in the city.

Gloucester is also the first district council in the country to devolve budget from our streetcare contractor (Amey) to a community social enterprise to maintain their own green spaces, creating jobs for local people and fostering pride in the area.

We are dealing with homelessness too. Our rough sleeper count has declined, thanks to the active approach we have taken with our partners of engaging, supporting, and enforcing. We have also just acquired an additional 48 units of temporary accommodation to avoid sending those in most need outside of the city, which comes at a high human cost as well as financial cost.

In recent weeks, we have joined with other councils in declaring a climate emergency. This was done on a cross-party basis, but needs to be backed up with action. Putting the environment at the heart of everything we do is not only right, but it’s good politics.

The Gloucester of today isn’t what some people would view as natural Conservative territory – we have pockets of deprivation and a diverse population. But we have no no-go areas, and I believe we are the natural home for community activists. Byron Davis and Fred Ramsey, our candidates in two by-elections set to take place on 25th July, are a testament to this. Our councillors and candidates are representative of the city as a whole. I’m particularly pleased the Chairman of the local Polish Association has been selected as one of our candidates for May 2020.

We work closely with our friends at Conservative-led Gloucestershire County Council – not just sharing services, but sharing a top post (our Managing Director is also a Commissioning Director of the County Council) and now sharing offices, enabling us to market our former offices in three Dockside warehouses for regeneration.

I am proud of what we have achieved, as the Administration and our position is a world away from when I was first elected in 1996, and the Conservative Group was made up of two councillors. But we are not and cannot be complacent. Our focus never moves away from delivering for our residents. I hope this will be recognised in May next year.

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