NHC Hosts Gavin Barwell White Paper Q&A

The Housing and Planning Minister, Gavin Barwell, visited Gateshead on Thursday, February 23rd as part of a Housing White Paper Q&A Roadshow. The NHC hosted the Gateshead stop of the nine-location tour where Mr Barwell met with NHC members, developers, councillors and other experts to discuss efforts to ‘fix the broken housing market’.

Speaking to a packed audience  at The Sage, the Minister highlighted the four key aspects of the White Paper and specifically referenced the importance of the work of the NHC Commission for Housing in the North, speaking repeatedly about the challenge of setting national policy for diverse regional housing markets and the importance of a place-based approach.

Representatives from a broad range of organisations then questioned Mr Barwell on issues from the continuing challenge of regeneration, to streamlining planning, to rent certainty after 2020.

The issue of land banking came up in several questions and the Minister reiterated the White Paper’s commitment to not only publish registers of who owned land but also of what options were held on land.

One of the major recurring topics was the proposed Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap and its impact on supported housing and high rise properties in particular. Attendees expressed concern that the LHA cap was too blunt an instrument to use when rates vary so hugely across the country. The Minister acknowledged that the very term ‘supported housing’ actually covers a broad range of housing offers and  indicated that supported housing providers potentially “hold the whip hand” on the issue as the Minister wants them to build and will thus be open to their suggestions for change.

One delegate brought up the question of how the industrial strategy links with the White Paper, adding that there are increasing numbers of businesses wishing to relocate to their local area that saw the available housing offer as an obstacle. Mr Barwell was keen to encourage creativity in bids from local authorities noting that the Government has vast powers to alter or suspend planning obligations which could boost housing supply.

The Minster also answered questions on housing density and the Nationally Described Space Standard, particularly concerns from some in the room that it would see a return to cramped homes. The Minister responded that the reason the Government were looking at the National Described Space Standard was to boost home ownership among those – especially in London or other large urban areas – who do not require a great deal of space. He reiterated that there would be ‘no race to the bottom’ on space standards and noted the work undertaken by Pocket Living in London around smaller, more affordable apartments for first time buyers.

Commenting on the roadshow, Mr Barwell said “We’ve set out lasting reforms that will get more of the right homes built in the right places.  But the challenge of increasing supply cannot be met by government alone. That’s why I’m visiting different parts of the country, listening to views from experts across the housing industry and discussing how we can work together to fix our broken housing market.”