5 January 2016

Southwark's Scrutiny Committee warns of 'devastating impact' of Government's Housing Bill



Southwark’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee has warned that the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill would have a ‘devastating impact’ on Southwark.

The Scrutiny Committee has investigated the impact of the Government’s proposals to introduce right to buy for housing association tenants, which will be funded by forcing councils to sell off vacant properties in “high value” areas. The Committee has warned that the impact of the proposals in Southwark would be to “significantly reduce our housing stock, damage our ability to build much needed new homes and could indirectly lead to an increase in homelessness and overcrowding.”

The Scrutiny Committee conducted a series of interviews with housing officers, Chief Executives of major national housing associations, the Cabinet Member for Housing and Former head of the Civil Service and current Chair of the Peabody Trust Lord Kerslake.

The Scrutiny report outlines a number of risks arising from the proposals, including home building and provision in the borough and the financial impact of the council’s housing budget. It is estimated that 30% of council homes in Southwark could be lost through the forced sale of high value council homes, and the report warns that because the Bill does not include any ring-fencing of funding or replacement homes to a particular area or local authority, “It is unlikely Housing Associations will build enough replacement homes in our borough and probably not in our city”.

The report also warns that the Bill could result in increased levels of homelessness and overcrowding, due to fewer council homes being available for Southwark residents. The Committee has outlined a number of recommendations to protect the interests of council and Housing Association tenants, and the council’s ambition of building 11,000 homes, including an exemption for newly built council homes.

Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Gavin Edwards, said:

“Southwark is at the heart of the affordable housing crisis in London, with thousands of residents on the council’s housing waiting list and a population predicted to grow by 21% over the next 10 years. But at a time when the council is embarking on the most ambitious council house building programme in the country, these proposals could have a devastating effect on council housing in our borough.

“The Government’s own analysis has shown that for every 9 council homes sold under council home “Right to Buy” policy, post 2012, only one new home has been built. There is a real danger that the council’s ambition of building 11,000 new council homes could be eroded by the forced sale of new council homes.

“The Scrutiny Committee is calling for an urgent review of the council’s housing investment programme to determine the impact of these proposals, and for the cabinet to continue lobbying the Government to rethink these policies, which will inflict unjustifiable harm on Southwark residents.” 

The full report is available online: http://moderngov.southwark.gov.uk/documents/s58360/Right%20to%20Buy.pdf