Planning Minister provides some clarity on starter homes

Giving evidence to the DCLG Select Committee last week about the Housing and Planning Bill, which is currently at committee stage, Brandon Lewis reiterated the Government’s aim to increase the supply of starter homes, delivering 200,000 by 2020.

The general aims to increase the supply of new homes to meet historic demand and to bring some stability to the housing market have been widely welcomed by the industry. The provision of starter homes, to be sold at 20 per cent below the market price to first-time buyers under the age of 40, will address the ‘lost generation’ of home buyers, is laudable.

The Government is using the Bill to provide these starter homes by placing an obligation on local authorities to require a proportion of starter homes to be provided on all “reasonably-sized” sites.

Brandon Lewis was at lengths to stress that the process of agreeing planning obligations would change little as a result. He said: “What we are saying is that on reasonably-sized sites we want to see starter homes delivered.”

He went on to say that how that is achieved and what mixture of tenures to be contained within the s106 agreement would remain a matter for negotiation between town halls and developers.

However, secondary legislation will be introduced to define the proportion of starter homes that local authorities will be required to provide on the different sized sites and in different areas. Also, there is a provision in the Bill which would enable the Secretary of State to require all applications for residential development above a certain size to include a planning obligation securing a certain proportion of Starter Homes.

A month after the publication of the Bill, developers and planners are grappling with the implications of the various provisions. The Minster’s comments last week at the Select Committee hearing have done little, if anything, to clear the fog of confusion.

It looks as though developers will have to provide some starter homes on sites above a certain limit, which will vary regionally. This may well be part of the affordable provision, which already varies from authority-to-authority. Clarification will come in secondary legislation at some point, but we don’t know when. That is all clear then.

What is clear is that these starter homes will reduce the numbers of new homes for rent coming to housing associations, which are already under threat from right-to-buy and reducing social rents. However, again, the numbers and actual impact are difficult to predict, let alone plan for, due to a general lack of detail.