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Lib Dems call for new housing revolution

by Steve Beasant on 11 March, 2018

The Liberal Democrats are calling for a major overhaul of the powers of local councils to meet the goal of ensuring that everyone in Britain has a home.

The package, passed by the party at its Spring Conference in Southport, calls for new powers that will see local authorities able to build and invest in more affordable and social housing. This includes greater access to borrowing for local authorities, strengthened powers to bring empty homes back into use and the power to direct the use of otherwise unwanted public land. Alongside measures to allow local government to abandon Right to Buy and to require that profit from council house sales is invested in new social housing.

These proposals would empower local communities to provide the affordable and social housing that Britain needs and tackle the housing crisis head on.

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson, said:

“Having a place to call home is a basic human right. In the face of a national housing crisis we are failing as a country to fulfil that right. It is clear that the private sector cannot be relied upon to deliver affordable homes for those struggling to get on the housing ladder.”

“Social housing is one of the pillars that underpin our welfare state. It is a vital safety net for tens of thousands of families who cannot afford to rent privately, let alone ever buy their own homes. We need local government and housing associations to provide new social housing directly.

“The Tories seem content with presiding over an end of social housing. Their ideology is ownership, they don’t believe we need social housing at all.”

“We need to move away from providing shadowy land banking and towards greater housing provision. That is why the Liberal Democrats are empowering local councils and communities to provide the housing that is needed.”


The full motion as passed by conference reads:

F4 Local Government and Housing

Conference notes:

A.That the concept of a ‘house’ as a home now too often takes second place to the idea that the prime use of a ‘house’ is as a financial asset.

B.The important role that local government has in delivering housing through its roles in the planning system, in social housing and in delivering housing benefit.

C.That peak house building was achieved in 1968 – the consequence of decades of low home building is the current shortage of housing, including the 125,000 children currently homeless.

D.The number of homes that have been lost from the social housing sector, 330,000 in the 13 years of the last Labour Government, as Right to Buy took social housing away and allowed much smaller levels of social home rebuilding.

E. That Conservative and Labour Councils are undertaking vast development projects, such as the Haringey Development Vehicle, the Sunderland Development Vehicle and the Heygate Estate in Southwark, which mean social housing is under threat and creates ‘ghettoisation’ of council estates and developments.

F. That the Liberal Democrat controlled Sutton Council has developed a fully council owned development company which is delivering more social and affordable homes.

G.The Scottish and Welsh Governments have changed the law to abolish the Right to Buy.

H.Many councils are borrowing heavily to invest in commercial property as local authorities are failing to deliver the number of social homes required.

I.That modest income earners in the private and charity sectors have little opportunity to enter into shared ownership schemes.

J.That many young people are unable to afford to buy their own homes and end up being part of ‘Generation Rent’.

K.Recent investigations by the Liberal Democrats have identified empty residential properties in many areas.

L.That many development projects fail to deliver the proportion of affordable housing agreed at the planning stage.

M.The recent dramatic rise in the number of rough sleepers.

Conference believes that:

i) Having a decent, warm, appropriate home in a clean, safe and well-managed neighbourhood is a basic human right that could and should be readily afforded in a country as wealthy as the UK.

ii) For many people home ownership is appropriate but for others it is neither appropriate nor affordable, and in some cases is not desired.

iii) The concentration on the role of housing as financial assets has led to the creation of a situation where ‘house’ prices have moved far faster than wages for decades and where young people have been priced out of the market for home ownership.

iv) There is a fundamental difference between affordable housing (which delivers housing that key and public sector workers can afford) and social housing (which delivers housing which anyone can afford).

v) While much private rental property is of a good quality there remain significant problems in the private rental sector; in addition, it is not the appropriate housing type for some groups of people, in particular for families with school-age children.

vi) The current powers for local government to provide new social housing directly, to bring empty housing back into use, to enforce planning requirements for social housing and to plan for the provision of social and affordable housing are inadequate.

vii) Empty Dwelling Management Orders have not proved effective in bringing large numbers of empty homes back into use.

viii) Younger and single people have little access to social housing, which is contributing to the rise in rough sleeping.

Conference condemns:

a) Housing developments that put residents under threat, without consultation, where private

developers are being given large swathes of land and property.

b) The practice of ‘poor doors’ on housing developments, where social tenants are segregated within developments, which encourages ‘ghettoisation’.

Conference reaffirms:

c)Liberal Democrat policy to build 300,000 houses a year by 2022.

d)Liberal Democrat policy to allow councils greater freedom to borrow for the provision of social housing, including scrapping the housing borrowing cap.

Conference calls for:

1.Local Authorities to be able to borrow from the Public Works Loan Board to buy land for housing and to build both affordable and social housing on the same terms they are currently borrowing to purchase commercial property.

2.The development of housing cooperatives for the social rented sector to give power to tenants to run their own estates.

3.Local government to have the power to abandon Right to Buy, depending on local need.

4.The EDMO legislation to be reviewed, for the powers for local government to compulsory purchase empty properties to be strengthened and for the process for compulsory purchase to be streamlined.

5.Local government to have the power to direct the use of publicly owned land before disposal (including land owned by the NHS and Ministry of Defence), including to require its use wholly or partly for affordable and/or social housing.

6.  Receipts from the sale of council housing to be used for the provision of new social housing by local government including meeting the needs of rough sleepers.

7. Legislation against ‘poor doors’ and similar segregation of social and affordable housing residents in new developments.

8.  Redevelopments not to result in the reduction of social housing.

9.  A right to return for all residents on the same terms as their pre-regeneration tenancy.

10. A provision for shared ownership units to be built into development projects.

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