May ‘must repeal right to buy law to meet housing pledge’

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Oct 05, 2017
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The prime minister has allocated an extra £2 billion to affordable housing schemes

Times Photographer Jack Hill

Theresa May’s pledge to build a “new generation of council housing” will only work if existing laws are repealed, lawyers have argued.

May announced the allocation of an additional £2 billion to affordable housing schemes in her speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

However, legal experts said that parliament must overturn so-called right to buy legislation if the Conservative’s proposals were to make a dent in the housing shortage.

“While this announcement is incredibly welcome in the context of massive under-supply in the housing market, it will only really work if it is combined with repeal of the right to buy legislation that has effectively decimated council housing stock since its introduction, and will continue to do so,” said Jeremy Raj, head of the London residential property department at the national law firm Irwin Mitchell.

Raj blamed right to buy laws for taking away the best housing stock from local councils, meaning that “effective planning and management has become impossible”.

He added that previous attempts by ministers to impose “punitive increases in the tax regime and browbeating of the house building industry … was never going to have the desired effect.

“To be fit for purpose, the sector requires a carefully considered blend of public and private sector activity with provision for age-appropriate stock plus strong rental and buy-to-let markets to complement the home ownership, council housing and housing association models.”

Others assessed the practical ramifications of May’s announcement. Alex Ground, a partner at the London law firm Russell-Cooke, said: “The first big issue will be getting new additional land to deliver these new council houses on.”

She pointed out that while councils can acquire sites through compulsory purchase orders, “experience tells us this should not be main way of bringing in those sites as it will take too long”.

Ground continued: “The focus has to be on using land already held by the public sector and there has to be a renewed emphasis from the top down that a significant amount of those already owned public sector sites need to be released for these new homes.

“Without the drive and leadership from the top that such sites must be found it will be challenging as different public sector departments otherwise may resist their land holdings being released.”

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