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A Good Day to Bury Planning News? MHCLG Releases Discussion Paper on 'The Day of BREXIT Headlines'

In what is either a case of really unfortunate timing, or extreme sneakiness,  yesterday the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) released a discussion paper on revisions to shared ownership. The same day as Boris Johnson announced his decision to suspend parliament -  thus stealing all of the headlines in one fell swoop*.

The discussion paper, which can be found here, seeks views on a number of proposed reforms to the shared ownership system, including:

  •  reducing the increments of equity that can be purchased at any one time from 10% to 1%, to make it easier for owners to buy more equity in their homes;
  • developing new savings products to help shared owners to buy more equity in their home at any amount (e.g. above £250) at any time.
  •  removing the 'pre-emption clause' from the standard model lease, which gives the landlord the exclusive right to market the property for the first 8 weeks of sale - to make it easier for the shared owners to move house.
  •  instead, landlords would be provided with a time-limited Right of First Refusal to enable them to repurchase the home to resell as shared ownership if there is local demand; and
  •  introducing a standard model lease that would apply to all providers of shared ownership housing. 

Whilst these proposed reforms are interesting in themselves, what is even more intriguing are the hints that the discussion paper provides about the Johnson Government's prospective planning agenda and priorities. 

In the early part of the paper it states:

"9. A major reason for opposition to the building of new homes across the country is because existing communities cannot see how new homes will benefit the community, in particular how they will be affordable for local first-time buyers. By contrast, when this link is clear support is high, with almost 3 in 4 (73%) people in England support the building of more affordable homes in their local area. 

10. Local people should have confidence that they will benefit from local housing development and so we intend to ensure that more homes are built and sold at prices that local residents can afford. We want to ensure people are not priced out of the areas where they have developed roots. This will benefit first-time buyers across the country and particularly those living in areas which are least affordable, and help to build support for development. 

11. We want to look at all of the ways to support the delivery of more homes, including how the planning system could help bring forward additional sites for homes that local aspiring first-time buyers can afford to buy

12. This already happens with homes provided for shared ownership or for sale at a discount of at least 20% for local first-time buyers. This could provide a foundation to build on, exploring how to most effectively deliver these homes at a greater scale to ensure communities benefit now and that these homes continue to be affordable for future generations. We will set out further details soon. "

The parts that peaked my interest are highlighted in bold.

Reading between the lines, it looks as if the current focus on housing delivery is here to stay.  The emphasis on products for first time buyers, is also notable. This  is likely to tie in with the long awaited Starter Home Regulations, expected in the Autumn, and can be seen as an attempt to attract younger voters to the Conservatives, who do not have voter demographics on their side**.

The rhetoric around overall housing numbers is also notable, with promises of more housing as a whole, not just affordable housing, and the need to deliver 'at scale'. 

The promise of 'further details' in the near future is one that I am a smidge skeptical about. The Secretary of State did say in a recent interview with The Times that "In the months to come I will also be looking at unlocking brownfield land, increasing housing in town centres and reforming the planning system to increase housing delivery" but the Government does have to get through September first.... and it looks as if a good chunk of that  will be spent preparing for an 'emergency' trip to the RCJ ....

* Honourable mention to Mischon de Reya for attempting to steal them back by swiftly applying for an emergency injunction to stop him

** Generalising wildly, Conservative voters tend to be retired and property owners. Younger voters (even those in their forties) tend to sway towards Labour and the Lib Dems - a trend which is even more notable amongst those who have yet to get onto the property ladder.

A "discussion paper", published today, says the government is proposing "a new national model for shared ownership to help aspiring first-time buyers."

A statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said that, whereas currently homebuyers following the shared ownership route can only increase their equity in chunks of 10 per cent — so called ‘staircasing’ — the government wants to cut this to one per cent.

The discussion document says the government also wants "to look at all of the ways to support the delivery of more homes, including how the planning system could help bring forward additional sites for homes that local aspiring first-time buyers can afford to buy".