Following the announcement of the successful bids from almost 150 housing associations, local authorities and house builders and other providers for a share of an estimated £1.8 billion investment programme, to deliver 80,000 new affordable homes under the Affordable Homes Programme, DMH Stallard is covering the key issues that successful bidders should consider. There will be an expectation that providers will deliver projects on time and within their allocated budgets, and bidders should consider to ensure that they can meet the terms of their funding contracts. In this week’s key issues, our team provide an update on the Localism Bill.

The Localism Bill completed the Committee Stage in the House of Lords in July, and has recently been re-printed.  This report focuses on progress made in relation to Parts 5 and 6 of the Bill, which relate to Planning and Housing.

The Government tabled 273 amendments to the Bill in the Commons. The Planning provisions of the Bill, now appearing at clauses 97-131, were relatively unaffected.  The most significant amendment was to enable local planning authorities to have regard to government funding (primarily the New Homes Bonus) or the Community Infrastructure Levy when considering planning applications.  The aim of the amendment is to ensure that financial benefits to a local authority resulting from the grant of planning permission are taken into account in those decisions.

In the Lords amendments were made to the Neighbourhood planning provisions, to deal with the removal of designation of neighbourhood forums, and to introduce the concept of a “business neighbourhood”, extending the right to vote in neighbourhood referendums to businesses, and setting out how referendums will be run in those areas.  The Enforcement provisions were also amended, to clarify that there must be deliberate concealment (not just inaction) to justify an order from the magistrates court authorising enforcement action after the time limits for enforcement have expired.

The Housing provisions now appear at clauses 132-172 of the Bill.  The clauses relating to the proposed flexible fixed term tenancies for new social tenants were amended to exempt those tenancies from the requirements to execute by deed if over 3 years and to register at the Land Registry if over 7 years, to reduce the administrative burden on social landlords (these exemptions already apply to secure and assured tenancies).  

The succession rules were also amended to enable landlords to reclaim social rented property that has passed to a successor from either 6 months after the death of the original tenant, or if the court so decide, 6 months after the landlord became aware of that death.  In addition, landlords will be able to recover social rented property through a ground for possession where there is no eligible successor to the tenant but someone inherits their estate.  There will be no statutory succession for shared ownership properties, as this could conflict with entitlements of beneficiaries under the deceased tenant’s will.

Changes were also made to Tenancy Deposit Protection provisions, to clarify certain elements of the legislation.  Finally, Fully Mutual Housing Co-operatives who are not registered providers of social housing are exempted from the licensing requirements for Houses in Multiple Occupation, providing they meet certain qualification requirements.

The Bill is now in the Report Stage, which is currently scheduled to conclude in October.  The Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework is now also out for consultation.  The aim of the reforms is to simplify the planning system and to give communities greater control over planning and housing decisions.  The challenge for the Government now is to ensure that the Bill and NPPF together produce a comprehensible system which delivers quicker and more certain outcomes, so as to stimulate development and ease the housing shortage.