In readiness for this summer's Olympics in Rio, the House of Lords and the House of Commons have been practising their ping-pong (or whiff-whaff according to Boris Johnson) using the Planning and Housing Bill as the ball.
There are still a number of planning matters over which the Houses cannot agree. On 9 May the House of Commons considered the amendments proposed by the House of Lords on 4 May and roundly rejected them, batting the Bill back to the House of Lords for further consideration yesterday afternoon.
The areas of disagreement, in relation to the planning aspects of the Bill, concern the Government's proposals to: mandate local authorities to require 20% of all homes in new developments as starter homes; increase the period for repaying discount, on a sliding scale, from five to 20 years; introduce a neighbourhood right of appeal where applications do not accord with an emerging or adopted neighbourhood plan; restrict permission in principle to housing-led development; require developers to make affordable housing contributions on small-scale developments (ten units or fewer) and on developments in certain rural areas; require developers to provide sustainable drainage systems in new developments; and require all new homes in England from 1 April 2018 to meet a new carbon compliance standard.
With the exception of the proposal to introduce a neighbourhood right of appeal, it is likely that the other proposals from the Lords will have the support of local authorities who will want, principally, to retain greater flexibility to address their affordable housing needs.
The amendments proposed by the House of Lords relating to starter homes are supported by the Local Government Association which argues that 'giving councils discretion over the number of starter homes built in their area alongside affordable homes to rent is critical for ensuring that new housing meets the specific needs of the community'.
Addressing the Lords yesterday on his amendment to the requirement to provide 20% starter homes, Lord Kerslake said 'Before we lock ourselves into a rigid, inflexible, national solution that risks setting local authorities up to fail, I ask Ministers and this House, even at this very late stage, to consider a more localist, market-responsive approach.' However following a detailed debate on the merits of the proposal, the Government's manifesto commitment to starter homes and the constitutional role of the respective Houses, Lord Kerslake reluctantly withdrew his amendment saying that 'I entirely understand and respect the constitutional issues at stake here. This House is clearly a revising and improving Chamber and, ultimately, the other place will prevail.'
Labour Peer, Baroness Hollis of Heigham, said that 'it is the worse Bill that she has seen in in 25 years'. 'It is a skeleton Bill in which we do not know the detail; this will be carried out by regulations'. 'This is a half-baked, half-scrutinised, quarter-digested Bill.'
On 9 May Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis, said on the motion relating to starter homes that “it is beyond astonishing that the upper House should try to amend a measure that has received such a clear message of support from this elected Chamber, and in respect of which we have an election mandate to help young people”.
The road to Royal Assent for this Bill has been bumpy and despite the best efforts of the House of Lords, it seems increasingly likely that the will of the House of Commons will prevail. The Bill needs to be passed before the Queen’s Speech on 18 May. If this doesn't happen then it would need to be reintroduced in the next session starting the process again.
Who knew that whiff-whaff, sorry ping-pong, could be this interesting?