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Architects protest over Housing Bill

Flickr/ Scott Wylie
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Campaign group Architects for Social Housing (ASH) demonstrated outside Parliament yesterday against measures included in the Housing and Planning Bill

The group says that the bill, which received its third reading in parliament yesterday afternoon (5 January), is ‘one of the most dangerous and far-reaching pieces of legislation to be passed in this country in a long time’. Among those to have thrown their weight behind the campaign is architect Peter Barber and Claire Bennie, formerly of Peabody.

The protestors gathered with other housing campaigners and trade unions outside Parliament to demonstrate against what it says would be a ‘social engineering’ law that would kill off social housing.

A statement from ASH said: ‘During its passage through the House of Commons Public Bill Committee, over 150 written submissions were made to Parliament voicing concerns about its legislation and their consequences. None of these altered the contents of the bill in any meaningful way up to the report stage. Instead, the government has responded by making plans to fast track the bill into law.

‘When the democratic process fails, as it so clearly has here, it is our duty to take other measures to make ourselves heard.’

Speaking before the event ASH co-founder Simon Elmer, told the AJ: ‘We are hoping to put pressure on MPs – particularly Tories,’ he said. ’The bill puts so much planning power in the hands of the secretary of state; it really goes against the idea of localism.’

ASH says that the bill would replace the obligation for councils to provide homes for social rent with one to build ‘starter homes’ for sale. This, it says, effectively means ‘offering state subsidies for private investors, who may then sell their assets at full market value within five years of their purchase’.

The group also says that extending right-to-buy to housing association tenants will further reduce the number of social homes available.

And it objects to plans to force households with a joint income of more than £30,000 (£40,000 in London) to pay market rents, along with the phasing out of secure long-term tenancies for social housing tenants.

Yesterday, prime minister David Cameron accepted an amendment to the bill by Tory London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, committing councils to build two replacement homes for every one sold off under the extended right-to-buy scheme.

Statement in full from Architects for Social Housing

The Housing and Planning Bill is one of the most dangerous and far-reaching pieces of legislation to be passed in this country in a long time, yet its true impact has been unreported in the mainstream press and is largely unknown to the people it will most affect. 

Far from addressing the so-called housing ‘crisis’, the bill has been designed to bring about the end of social housing in this country. To call it a Housing Bill doesn’t do justice to the real scope of its ambitions. The intrusive new measures it introduces for monitoring social housing tenants, and its centralisation of power in the secretary of state, makes the bill a social engineering plan that will have catastrophic consequences for the people of Britain.

If this bill had been written to do what the government is presenting it as doing – helping people to get on the property ladder, freeing up existing social housing for those most in need, cutting bureaucracy on planning permission – it would merely be a deeply misinformed piece of legislation that has taken no account of existing conditions in housing. But it isn’t that. It is, in fact, an extremely subtle and duplicitous piece of legislation that in almost every aspect does something very different, and sometimes the direct opposite, of what it is claiming to do. If passed, the Housing and Planning Bill will:

1. Replace the obligation to build homes for social rent with a duty to build discounted ‘starter homes’ capped at £450,000 in Greater London and £250,000 across the rest of England, in effect offering state subsidies for private investors, who may then sell their assets at full market value within five years of their purchase;

2. Extend the Right to Buy to housing associations without any provision for their replacement with like for like, effectively overseeing the further decline in the number of homes for social rent;

3. Compel local authorities to sell ‘high value’ housing, thereby exploiting London’s exaggerated property values either to transfer public housing into private hands or to free up its coveted land for property developers;

4. Force so-called ‘high income’ tenants (with a total household income over £30,000 in England and £40,000 in London) to pay market rents, targeting low-paid working families, those on the minimum wage or claiming disability allowances who cannot afford either to pay to stay in their existing homes or to exercise their right to buy;

5. Grant planning permission in principle for housing estates designated as such to be redeveloped as ‘brownfield land’, a term usually used to describe former industrial or commercial land that requires cleaning up, but applied here (as it has been by the Housing and Planning Minister and the Conservative candidate for London Mayor) to the communities that live on these estates;

6. Phase out secure tenancies and their succession to children and replace them with two-to-five-year tenancies, after which tenants will have to reapply, with such tenancies also being applied to tenants who have been ‘decanted’ prior to the demolition and redevelopment of their estates.

Rather than alleviating the housing ‘crisis’, either by building genuinely affordable homes or by increasing provision of social housing, the bill seeks to use that crisis for political and financial ends. On the one hand it forces local housing authorities to implement Conservative housing policy, and on the other it takes planning power away from those authorities. Both these hands will be wielded by what, if the bill is passed, are the new and punitive powers of the secretary of state, not only against the people who rely on social housing for a home, but also against the councils and housing associations that provide them.

There is absolutely nothing in the bill for the provision of social housing. Instead, it introduces legislation by which existing social housing is to be either sold into private ownership or demolished to make way for new developments. The bill’s model of home building is driven by state subsidised incentives for private investors that will increase, rather than check, existing speculation on the property market. Under the tattered banner of austerity, the Housing and Planning Bill is in reality legislation for the social cleansing of London in particular, and more generally for the further dismantling of the welfare state by this Conservative government.

During its passage through the House of Commons Public Bill Committee, over 150 written submissions were made to Parliament voicing concerns about its legislation and their consequences. None of these altered the contents of the bill in any meaningful way up to the report stage. Instead, the government has responded by making plans to fast track the bill into law. When the democratic process fails, as it so clearly has here, it is our duty to take other measures to make ourselves heard.

The bill receives its third and final reading in the Commons on Tuesday, 5 January, 2016, after which it passes to the House of Lords. Numerous groups from the housing sector, the trades unions and beyond will be demonstrating from 1pm at the Houses of Parliament against the Housing and Planning Bill and for secure and genuinely affordable social housing for all. Please join us.

Supporters

  • Architects for Social Housing
  • Barnet Housing Action Group
  • Basingdon and Southend Housing Action
  • Brick Lane Debates
  • Brighton Benefits Campaign
  • Brighton Homelessness Action Group
  • Brighton and Hove Left Unity
  • Brighton People’s Assembly Against Austerity
  • Brixton Rebels
  • Case Central Brighton
  • Coalition of Resistance: Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay
  • Class War
  • Communities Against Gentrificleansing
  • Corbyn Community Dorset
  • Coventry Momentum
  • Digs Hackney Renters
  • Dorset People’s Assembly
  • Fairhazel Cooperative Ltd
  • Fight for Aylesbury
  • Focus E15 Mothers
  • Fred John Towers
  • Green Citizen Engagement
  • Hackney Solidarity Network
  • Haringey Left Unity
  • Homeless London
  • Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
  • Housing Bill Action
  • Jewish Socialists Group
  • Kennington Park Estate TRA
  • Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group
  • Lambeth Housing Activists
  • Lewisham Green Party
  • London Coalition Against Poverty
  • London’s Young Workers Need Homes
  • Love Activists Brighton
  • Momentum Barnet
  • Momentum City of London
  • Momentum Oxford
  • No Fixed Abode Anti-Fascists
  • Norfolk People’s Assembly
  • Not Just One Mum Camden
  • Occupy Barnet
  • Occupy Democracy Brighton
  • Our Grahame Park
  • Our Tottenham
  • Our West Hendon
  • Our Whitefield Estate
  • Oxford People’s Assembly
  • Oxfordshire Anti-Bedroom Tax
  • Oxfordshire Unison Health Branch 
  • Oxford University Socialist Worker Student Society
  • People’s Housing Conference
  • Peter Barber Architects
  • Radical Assembly
  • Radical Housing Network
  • Red Labour Reading
  • Reclaim Hackney
  • Reclaim Tower Hamlets
  • Rent Control for the UK
  • Revolutionary Communist Group
  • Rural Urban Synthesis Society
  • Save Central Hill Community
  • Save Cressingham Gardens 
  • SolidariTEA Southwark
  • Southwark Defend Council Housing
  • Southwark Green Party
  • Streets Kitchen
  • Sussex Defend Our NHS
  • Sweets Way Resists
  • Take Back the City
  • Thetra Tulse Hill TRA
  • Trade Unionists for Housing
  • Unite the Union
  • Wandsworth Green Party
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