BORIS Johnson described today’s Queen’s Speech as “radical” but for the housing sector it offers a rather more routine outlook on the Government’s forthcoming policies and agenda.
As expected, Brexit and the NHS were the biggest two major themes, with housing almost coming in as glorified footnotes; social housing all the more so.
Homeownership sits at the heart of the Government’s programme, but the speech also heralds measures aimed at the private rented market. These are set out in greater detail in the Government’s background briefing notes.
The Renters Reform Bill is supposed to deliver a “fairer and more effective rental market”. This will, it is claimed, seek to increase the security or private tenants by offering them greater protection and the ability to hold their landlords to account. On the flipside, it aims to offer landlords stronger rights to gain possession of their property when they have a “valid reason” to do so.
The proposed bill also includes a so-called life time deposit, which it is said will make it easier for tenants when they move. The bill will also seek to improve standards in the private rental market, both in terms of the quality of housing and the professionalism of landlords and lettings agencies.
In reforming the rental market, the Government has also confirmed its intent to abolish so-called no-fault evictions under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. This has been welcomed by many, but other industry figures – not all in the private rented sector – have expressed concern that this measure could backfire and drive up homelessness.
Meanwhile both a Building Safety Bill and a Fire Safety Bill will be published to address issues and concerns that have arisen in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and its aftermath. Between them, these bills will seek to implement the recommendations of Dave Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations, and bring forward the implementation of the “most urgent” recommendations from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will make a welcome return to Parliament.
More generally on housing, the Government pushes ahead on measures to support homeownership. First among these, the plan is to launch a consultation on so-called First Homes. The proposal is that such homes will be sold at a 30% discount, secured in perpetuity through a covenant, and aimed at local people and key workers.
The Government’s agenda also includes a commitment to renew the Affordable Homes Programme administered by Homes England, and to revise shared ownership to make it simpler and more transparent.
Alongside these measures, the Government also puts forward a Planning White Paper setting out proposed reforms of the planning system, and sets out a £10 billion Single Housing Infrastructure fund to support the delivery of new homes with things like GP surgeries, schools and roads.
Proposed reform of leasehold is another measure the Government will pursue.
There’s also a commitment to end rough sleeping within the life of this Parliament, with investment set to continue in “key rough sleeping interventions”.
When it comes to social housing, however, the cupboard remains essentially bare of details. Yes, the package announced today promises the appearance of Social Housing White Paper setting our measures to “empower” tenants, and the vague statement to “support the continued supply of social homes”.