Right to Buy scheme set to be extended after the government secures historic agreement

On the 7th October, David Cameron announced an historic new agreement with housing associations and the National Housing Federation that is set to extend the Right to Buy Scheme to 1.3 million more families.

The Prime Minister explains:

“Some people said this would be impossible and that housing associations would never stand for it. Today we have secured a deal with housing associations to give their tenants the Right to Buy their home…That will mean the first tenants can start to buy their homes from next year.”

The Right to Buy is a scheme that allows families in social properties to become homeowners, and has already helped around 2 million families realise their dreams since its introduction under Thatcher.

By recycling the funds raised by selling off the properties towards replacement affordable properties, this agreement sets out to not only increase home ownership but also help those who need a new affordable house, thus increasing overall housing supply.

Communities Secretary, Greg Clarke says:

“We’re determined to ensure that home ownership is seen as a reasonable aspiration for working people…Today’s historic agreement with housing associations and the National Housing Federation will extend that offer even more widely, while at the same time delivering thousands of new affordable homes across the country”

Under the new agreement, every housing association tenant would have the right to purchase a home at Right to Buy level discounts (subject to the Right to Buy eligibility requirements). It is assumed that housing associations would sell the tenant the property in which they currently live.

Compensation would then be paid to the Housing Association by the government to reflect the discount that was offered to the tenant. The sales receipt would be kept by the housing association so that they can reinvest towards the delivery of new homes.

Housing associations would use sales proceeds to deliver new supply and would have flexibility to replace rented homes with other tenures such as shared ownership.

Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr said of the agreement:

“This is a great offer for housing association tenants. It is also a great offer for the country, as our proposal means homes sold will be replaced, delivering an overall increase in housing supply.

“This is an ambitious sector that last year built more than one in three of the country’s homes, matching each pound of taxpayers’ money with £6 of its own. We will build more.”

The Right to Buy is just one part of the Government’s wider programme to increase overall home ownership, with other schemes including the Help to Buy, Starter Homes, Right to Build and planning reforms to get more homes built on brownfield land.

It certainly seems as if there are enough schemes in place to address the mounting problems of home ownership and housing supply, but the question remains – how effective are they? Are they papering over the cracks, or providing a viable solution?

BT www.propertysurveying.co.uk 09.10.15

George Osborne announces plans to hand local councils the power to control business rates

Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester earlier this month, the Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans that will enable local councils to take full control of business rates.

At present, local councils keep up to 50% of the rates with the rest being sent to Westminster, who then redistributes them so that areas with fewer businesses do not miss out. Currently around £11.5 billion in business rates goes to Westminster, with around £9.4bn being redistributed in grants.

Described by the Chancellor as “the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living memory”, the plans will allow local councils to keep the rates that they collect from businesses as well as to set the level. It aims to provide local councils with the freedom to cut the tax, therefore encouraging companies to invest locally.

The plans, which will also allow areas with directly elected mayors to increase business rates if they invest the extra money into infrastructure schemes, has come under scrutiny from a number of critics.

Frances O’Grady, the Trade Union Congress General Secretary says:

“By devolving business rates without any national safeguards, regional inequalities will get wider. The communities that most need investment are often those with the weakest business revenue base”

Another critic, Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham took to twitter:

“Big contradiction at heart of Osborne speech. Says wants to close North-South divide. But then announces taxation reform that will widen it.”

However, the Chancellor backs his plan by saying to councils:

“Attract a business, and you attract more money; regenerate a high street, and you’ll reap the benefits; grow your area, and you’ll grow your revenue too”,

He goes on to explain that the changes, which are due to be in place by 2020 would mean cities and communities will no longer have to go to the government with what he described as a “begging bowl”.

– – –

Following on from our article about Britain’s ‘Rising Star’ high streets, business rates are often cited as one of the greatest obstacles to high street vitality – particularly as online competitors have no such burden. It is interesting therefore, to see Mr Osborne finally putting the power to control rates in the hands of local government, though it remains to be seen whether councils will use it to bolster their beleaguered coffers or to incentivise business on their ailing high street.

BT www.propertysurveying.co.uk 10.10.15

Housing Group Becomes the First to Use Drones in the Housing Sector

Walsall Housing Group has become the first housing association in the country to secure permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly drones over their housing stock. Though other authorities have ruled out using the equipment for cost reasons, Walsall have stated that they estimate the cost savings to be around £20,000 a year.

drone closeupThe move has led to a debate over the legal ramifications, with particular regard to the Data Protection Act 1998. Whilst the legal obligations on domestic drone users are fairly light and essentially extend to a requirement to use them in a responsible way which protects the privacy of others, the requirements on commercial use are more stringent.

The Information Commissioners Office’s (ICO) CCTV Code of Practice provides that as drones are privacy intrusive, justifications for their use are imperative. As such, a company or housing association will ideally need to undertake a ‘privacy impact assessment’ or similar to determine whether drones are appropriate, or whether another method would minimise the privacy impact. This would operate in much the same way as a risk assessment.

The same Code also offers several additional recommendations to ensure compliance with Data Protection:

  • Any data captured should be securely stored
  • Recording should be limited only to the defined purpose
  • Retained data should only be kept for its stated use
  • Consider ‘privacy by design’ – eg. Methods or technologies which allow restricted views or a specific focus.
  • Data access should be restricted to only those who need it
  • Consider ways to provide fair processing information to those likely to be affected.

drone flying inspectionThe guidance from the ICO indicates that Housing Associations, and all other companies looking to integrate drones into their processes, should be aware of the data implications. Whilst HAs like Walsall Housing Group evidently see a cost advantage, that net benefit may in some cases be eroded by the additional administration costs of satisfying their information obligations.

www.propertysurveying.co.uk

SRJ 19.10.15

High Court Quashes Planning Permission on Bias Grounds

Ref. Kelton v Wiltshire Council [2015] EWHC 2853 (Admin)

In this case, a judicial review was advanced by the claimant – a riparian owner 700 miles downstream – on the following grounds:

  1. Cllr Magnus Macdonald, who carried the deciding vote, should have been disqualified from voting on the Wiltshire Council Planning Committee. He was a director of Selwood Housing Association, an entity which had an interest in the affordable housing section of the 35 dwelling development in question. Cllr Macdonald received, as director, £3,000 per annum.
  1. Contamination was a risk arising from the specialist foundations required to make the development viable.
  1. The council’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening opinion for the development was flawed.
  1. Wiltshire’s conclusion that the development would not cause harm to heritage assets was flawed.

The Judge, Mr Justice Cranston, addressed each matter in turn, and his thoughts have been broken down below:

1 – Whilst Mr MacDonald had no direct pecuniary or proprietary interest in the planning application so as to be automatically disqualified from participating, the presence on the committee did raise the question of bias as defined by Lord Hope in Porter v Magill. Mr Justice Cranston summarised:

“Selwood, with Cllr Macdonald as a director, was not simply an affordable housing provider. Here it was the only provider which had been willing to give assistance on the scheme, had expressed a clear interest in delivering it, had been named by the applicants as their potential partner, and had written in support and attended the planning committee meeting when it was considered.

“In other words, its position was superior to that of any other interested providers of affordable housing because of its previous involvement and its prospects of winning the contract when the affordable housing part was tendered. Because of that, Cllr Macdonald’s private interests were engaged, as a director of Selwood, not just his interests in the cause of affordable housing. In all these circumstances it was wrong for Cllr Macdonald to have participated in the meeting.”

2 – The evidence demonstrated to Mr Justice Cranston’s satisfaction that the council’s decision on the matter of contamination was sufficiently well supported by the available information and that no significant effect was likely under the Habitats Regulations.

He stated:

“Insofar as a risk was identified in relation to the construction works, this was addressed with conditions which specifically address it.”

3 – On this point, he concluded that the screening could not be regarded as flawed.

4 – Mr Justice Cranston commented that “in my judgment there was ample evidence on which to base that conclusion and it was reasonable to reach it.” The officer’s report before the planning committee had concluded that developing the site would not harm the setting of the Bishopstrow Conservation Area or nearby heritage assets. This report was considered to be sound.

The result of these conclusions is that planning permission was quashed. Whilst points 2-4 were all disregarded, the presence of bias was sufficient to overturn the planning permission on the grounds of natural justice – nemo judex in causa sua (no one should be a judge in his own cause).

www.PropertySurveying.co.uk

SRJ

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chris_hunt“My surveying experience extends from a solid core of survey reports, like the HomeBuyers Survey and the House Purchase Survey, to a wide range of residential and commercial expert surveys, valuations and reports. I can highlight any and all issues and defects at your potential property purchase or your current home, making sure you have all the information you need to proceed.

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Surveyed Buildings
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west-yorkshire-101401_640Are you buying a new house or commercial property? Our Director will deal with you directly, giving free, impartial advice on choosing a survey. We quote flat fees, so time you need to discuss the building, structure and defects after the report is free. There are no hidden costs.

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Policy Exchange want new ‘Garden Village’ powers for Councils

garden-villageIn a paper by think-tank ‘Policy Exchange’, a new policy of devolved power to local authorities has been put forward, which would enable them to create ‘garden villages’ of between 1,500 and 5,000 homes…
To read the whole article, click here.

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Could the invasion of the Super Rat threaten your home?

ratHardly a week goes by without rats featuring in the news – restaurants being closed down, infested homes being evacuated etc. Recent weeks have been no exception and so called ‘Super Rats’ are now plaguing towns across the UK. Could your house be next?
To read the whole article, click here.