Tag Archives: James Brokenshire

Spring Statement

Garden communities set to bloom

By Vivienne Shirley, Senior Consultant

In a busy month for the Secretary of State for Communities, James Brokenshire has announced a new garden communities programme to provide tailored advice and potential grant funding to help get garden village and town projects off the ground.

Councils, as well as developers that have express local authority support, have been invited to bid for spots on the programme, which defines garden towns as developments of more than 10,000 homes and garden villages as those between 1,500 and 10,000.

While no new funding has so far been committed, the announcement is designed as a “further step” in the government’s existing garden communities programme. The initiative has already supported 23 garden communities that have the potential to provide more than 200,000 homes by 2050.

Like these 23 communities, successful applicants to the new scheme will receive a “tailored package of government support that includes resource funding, expert delivery advice from Homes England and cross-government brokerage to resolve barriers to delivery”, in an expansion of the current programme.

James Brokenshire said: “This plan is about the government working with councils and developers to get great homes in keeping with beautiful areas in England.

“We want to help local authorities build strong and vibrant communities where people want to live, work, and raise families.”

Reception from the sector

Though the government’s support for garden communities has been broadly welcomed, the response to its new initiative has been tempered with caution. Jason Lowes, partner at planning consultancy Rapleys, has pointed out that garden communities are “by their nature a long-term solution and only part of the picture”.

Whilst there is no doubt that garden communities offer certain advantages over smaller-scale developments – such as the opportunity for strategic infrastructure planning and chance to minimise the impact of new homes on existing communities – smaller developments on green belt or urban sites are also important. As well as being far faster to deliver, these can give people the chance to live close to their family, friends and jobs.

Meanwhile the importance of ensuring garden villages are planned for properly was highlighted by Victoria Hills MRTPI, Chief Executive of the RTPI, who stated: “We have seen too many large developments in the wrong place with no proper strategic planning… Central and local government must put proactive planning at the centre if they are serious about making a success of developing new garden villages and housing at scale.”

Indeed, without proper planning, the government could end up with a host of Ebbsfleet Garden Cities on its hands – the Kent new town beset by delays that has been labelled ‘unsustainable, fractured and incoherent’.

Where’s the money?

No new money has seemingly been set aside for the programme yet, and that will be the real test of the government’s commitment to garden communities.

As Kate Henderson, chief executive of the TCPA, noted: “The autumn budget is an opportunity for the government to be bold and brave in its commitment to unlocking the delivery of new garden communities.”

Following the recent disappointing Social Housing Green Paper, MHCLG will need to prove that it is serious about tackling the housing crisis with funding and decisive action, rather than just warm words. Otherwise, Brokenshire’s latest announcement risks looking like no more than a PR stunt.


Voluntary Right to Buy - Daniel Fryd

Is Right to Buy heading in the wrong direction?

By Daniel Fryd, Senior Consultant

Just when it looked like ‘Voluntary Right to Buy’ was firmly buried in the long grass, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire dug it out earlier this month and announced £200m to revive it as a new pilot scheme.

The new scheme allows housing association tenants in the Midlands to register online to buy their home at a discount, with places allocated through a ballot closing on September 16.

While the news will certainly be welcome to a select few Housing Association tenants in the Midlands, its use in actually helping solve the housing crisis is much more uncertain.

The ‘dream of home ownership’

Right to Buy has long been touted by the Conservatives as a way to increase social mobility and provide social housing tenants with a route into ownership. Since 2010, the policy has allowed almost 94,000 households to buy up the council homes they have lived in at a discounted rate.

Voluntary right to buy (VRTB) for housing association properties was then put forward as a Conservative manifesto commitment in 2015. Since then, every Housing Minister has remained conveniently quiet on the policy, making no commitments while it largely faded from public consciousness.

It comes as a surprise then that the VRTB scheme, which can only assist the decline in social housing stock, has suddenly reappeared now: in the same week as a Social Housing Green Paper which allocated no new money for social housing and set no target for future housing numbers.

Over 66,000 council homes have been sold through RTB since 2012 with only 17,000 replacements, so new homes are desperately needed – not a further sell-off.

Government has stated money from homes sold under the pilot will be given to councils to fund one-for-one replacements, but councils are likely to be dubious given they have barely been able to replace 25% of the stock that has been sold off. Early reports from Inside Housing suggest around 3,000 homes will be sold across the Midlands under the Pilot, so there will be plenty of replacements needed.

Hope for council homes

It is not all bad news however. MHCLG released a wider consultation alongside the Social Housing Green Paper on allowing councils to set all RTB discounts locally and keep 100% of receipts from homes sold. This would allow councils across the country to reduce the discount and could help them lower demand if they need to retain some of their stock.

Following publication of the new NPPF, the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap is also being raised “in areas of high affordability pressures” by up to £1bn over the three years from April 2019. This could give London councils under severe housing pressure like London Borough of Waltham Forest more capacity to replace homes sold under RTB.

The government has also abandoned the “high-value asset levy” policy, meaning councils will no longer have to worry about selling off their most valuable homes in the future, with little prospect of replacing them.

Moving ahead

145,000 new affordable homes are needed every year by 2031, according to the National Housing Federation, so each of these new policies are a positive step towards achieving this. Schemes like VRTB, meanwhile, will not help achieve this. It might even hinder it.

Which is why the government’s decision to press ahead with the VRTB pilot at this time seems bizarre. The Social Housing Green Paper’s new ‘1% ownership’ scheme for council tenants would have been the perfect replacement policy for Government to offer tenants as an opportunity to own their home.

Brokenshire is pressing ahead, however, and the pilot scheme will run until spring 2020 when MHCLG will decide whether to roll the scheme out to the rest of the country.

If the Midlands councils involved really can find a way to replace every single home they sell by 2020, then perhaps the scheme will prove itself successful. If not, the Government should muster the courage to chalk the policy up as a failure and get on with the job of building more homes, not selling them off.

Social Housing Green Paper

Social Housing Green Paper introduces League Tables and “springboard”

By Kasia Banas, Consultant

Following months of delays and anticipation, a ‘new deal’ for social housing residents has been launched by the Secretary of State for Communities, James Brokenshire. But despite a raft of new Ministers working on the plan and promises from former Communities Secretary Sajid Javid that the paper would deliver “more of the right homes built in the right places”, the announcements in today’s paper have fallen somewhat flat with housing associations.

Launching the paper yesterday, James Brokenshire said that “Providing high quality and well managed social housing is a core priority for this government”, and that the “green paper offers a landmark opportunity for major reform to improve fairness, quality and safety for residents living in social housing across the country.”

Key proposals in the green paper include:

  • A league table for Housing Associations, with performance indicators ranking how well they handle repairs and complaints.
  • A shared ownership scheme that would allow tenants to buy as little as 1% of their property each year
  • Measures to make the complaints process more efficient and give tenants more tools in dispute resolution and compensation seeking, such as new mediation opportunities
  • New powers for the Regulator of Social Housing to ensure quality and good management of social homes
  • Dropping the proposals to introduce fixed term tenancies and letting councils “to continue to have choice” over their use of them

In their efforts to support more people into home ownership, the government is proposing a policy that would allow new buyers of shared ownership homes to staircase up their ownership in purchases of just 1% of their home each year.

This commitment may however be slightly at odds with the government’s objective of addressing social housing stigma, as it could be seen to reinforce the perception of home ownership being superior to living in social housing. The new shared ownership scheme could also be the first step in the government’s move away from the ‘voluntary right to buy’ proposals, on which there continues to be a deafening silence.

Expanding supply

Elsewhere the Social Housing Green Paper scrapped plans to make councils sell off their highest value homes, as well as removing Lifetime Tenancies for social tenants. It is also proposing raising the housing borrowing cap for local authorities and reforming Right to Buy receipts, so they can be held for longer than the current three years and used alongside the borrowing cap increase.

Reception from the sector

The sector was quick to react to the announcements, with David Orr at the National Housing Federation endorsing the government’s proposals, while others including Shelter and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have been less flattering. The lack of any actual commitments to new funding for affordable homes, or a target on how many new homes are needed, have been the main criticisms levelled at the government today.

Despite the government’s refusal to commit to build more affordable homes, the need for them is apparent than ever. More than 66,000 council homes have been sold under the Right to Buy scheme since 2012, while just 17,911 replacements have been started or acquired, according to Local Government Association statistics.

Cllr Judith Blake, Local Government Association Housing spokesperson, said: “This green paper is a step towards delivering more social homes but it is only a small step, compared with the huge and immediate need for more genuinely affordable homes.”

The publication seems to suggest that priority has been given to stronger resident involvement, protection for tenants and tackling stigma over increasing supply of low-cost rented homes. It is quite a departure from the paper’s initial objective, outlined by then Housing Secretary Sajid Javid, who said that central to the paper would be finding a solution to getting “more of the right homes built in the right places”. This is likely to be a result of the many personnel reshuffles in the Ministry since the announcement of the green paper in September last year.


The release of the green paper starts a consultation process on the proposals that will run until 6 November 2018. In addition, another consultation has been launched into how councils spend the money from Right to Buy sales to boost council housing numbers, with proposals to simplify the process councils undergo to replace properties sold under Right to Buy and build the affordable homes their communities.


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Theresa tasks Brokenshire to fix Broken Housing Market


Former Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire MP has today been confirmed as the new Communities Secretary.

The Old Bexley and Sidcup MP replaces Sajid David, who has moved to replace Amber Rudd as Home Secretary.

Brokenshire resigned from his role as Northern Ireland Secretary earlier this year, ahead of an operation to remove a tumour on his lung.

He returns to Government tasked with delivering on Theresa May’s pledge in March 2018 to “tackle one of the biggest barriers to social mobility we face today: the national housing crisis.”

In a year that has already seen MHCLG lose Alok Sharma MP as Housing Minister and Marcus Jones as Local Government Minister, he will be tasked with bringing stability to a department which has seen all too much change.

He will face a significant inbox including the revised National Planning Policy Framework which is being consulted on until 10th May, the Social Housing Green Paper, the Grenfell inquiry and the Letwin Review.

Brokenshire was born in 1968 in Southend-On-Sea and went to school Loughton, Essex before attending graduating in Law from Exeter University.

When the Conservatives won the 2010 general election, Brokenshire was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary for Crime Reduction, although in May 2011 was transferred to Parliamentary Under Secretary for Crime and Security, before being appointed Minister for Security and Immigration in February 2014.

Brokenshire actively campaigned for the U.K. to remain inside the European Union, and on housing issues consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life and for charging a market rent to high earners renting council homes.

In a tweet this morning, Brokenshire said: “Honoured to have been asked by the Prime Minister to serve as Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government. Looking forward to taking the Government’s agenda forward especially on building the homes our country needs.”

Chelgate Local has been providing strategic communications advice to residential and commercial developers for 30 years. It’s working on 30 projects across London, Home Counties, East Anglia and the East Midlands which could provide 92,000 new homes.

To discuss how we could help your business navigate the planning system then get in touch with David Mills at dmills@chelgate.com or 020 7939 7949.