Demonstration outside Parliament kicked off at 1pm today
Peter Barber Architects and the lobby group Architects for Social Housing are set to take part in a protest against the Housing & Planning Bill outside Parliament today.
Around 50 resident, activist and political groups - including RUSS, the community land trust project designed by Architype and Jon Broome Architects - were due to stage the rally from 1pm as the bill, which they describe as “one of the most dangerous and far-reaching”, receives its third reading in the Commons.
They described it as duplicitous legislation which rather than tackling the housing crisis was “designed to bring about the end of social housing in this country”. The bill paves the way for the extension of the right to buy to housing associaiton properties and the redesignation of affordable housing to include the government’s “starter homes” for sale, as well as giving planning approval in principle to brownfield sites. Housing minister Brandon Lewis said when the bill was laid in parliament that it was a historic moment “kick-starting a national crusade to get 1 million homes built by 2020.”
However, in a statement the housing activists said: “The bill’s model of home building is driven by state-subsidised incentives for private investors that will increase, rather than check, existing speculation on the property market.
“Under the tattered banner of austerity, the Housing & Planning Bill is in reality legislation for the social cleansing of London in particular, and more generally for the further dismantling of the welfare state by this Conservative government.”
The groups warned of “catastrophic consequences” and called for “secure and genuinely affordable social housing for all”.
Architects have already spoken out about their fears that the bill is a retrograde step for everyone apart from investors. In a comment piece for BD, Julia Park of Levitt Bernstein criticised it for doing nothing to tackle the issues underlying the housing crisis.
The Housing & Planning Bill is one of the most dangerous and far-reaching pieces of legislation passed in this country in a long time, yet its true impact has been unreported in the mainstream press and is largely unknown to the people it will most affect. Far from addressing the so-called housing ‘crisis’, it has been designed to bring about the end of social housing in this country. To call it a Housing Bill doesn’t do justice to the real scope of its ambitions. The intrusive new measures it introduces for monitoring social housing tenants, and the centralisation of power in the Secretary of State it will effect, makes the Bill a social engineering plan that will have catastrophic consequences for the people of Britain.
If this Bill had been written to do what the government is presenting it as doing – helping people to get on the property ladder, freeing up existing social housing for those most in need, cutting bureaucracy on planning permission – it would merely be a deeply misinformed piece of legislation that has taken no account of existing conditions in housing. But it isn’t that. It is, in fact, an extremely subtle and duplicitous piece of legislation that in almost every aspect does something very different, if not the direct opposite, of what it is claiming to do. If passed, the Housing & Planning Bill will:
1) Replace the obligation to build homes for social rent with a duty to build discounted ‘starter homes’ capped at £450,000 in Greater London and £250,000 across the rest of England, in effect offering state subsidies for private investors, who may then sell their assets at full market value within five years of their purchase;
2) Extend the Right to Buy to housing associations without any provision for their replacement with like for like, effectively overseeing the further decline in the number of homes for social rent;
3) Compel local authorities to sell ‘high value’ housing, thereby exploiting London’s exaggerated property values either to transfer public housing into private hands or to free up its coveted land for property developers;
4) Force so-called ‘high income’ tenants with a total household income over £30,000 in England and £40,000 in London to pay market rents, targeting low-paid working families, those on the minimum wage or claiming disability allowances who cannot afford either to Pay to Stay in their existing homes or to exercise their Right to Buy;
5) Grant planning permission in principle for housing estates designated as such to be redeveloped as ‘brownfield land’, a term usually used to describe former industrial or commercial land that requires cleaning up, but applied here (as it has been by the Housing and Planning Minister and the Conservative candidate for London Mayor) to the communities that live on these estates;
6) Phase out secure tenancies and their succession to children and replace them with 2-5 year tenancies, after which tenants will have to reapply, with such tenancies also being applied to tenants who have been ‘decanted’ for the purposes of the demolition and redevelopment of their estates.
Rather than alleviating the housing ‘crisis’, either by building genuinely affordable homes or by increasing provision of social housing, the Bill seeks to use that crisis for political and financial ends. On the one hand it forces local housing authorities to implement Conservative housing policy, and on the other it takes planning power away from those authorities. Both these hands, the one compelling, the other taking, are wielded by what, if the Bill is passed, will be new and punitive powers of the Secretary of State, not only against the people who rely on social housing for a home, but also against the councils and housing associations that provide them.
There is absolutely nothing in the Bill for the provision of social housing. Instead, it introduces legislation by which existing social housing is to be either sold into private ownership or demolished to make way for new developments. The Bill’s model of home building is driven by state subsidised incentives for private investors that will increase, rather than check, existing speculation on the property market. Under the tattered banner of austerity, the Housing and Planning Bill is in reality legislation for the social cleansing of London in particular, and more generally for the further dismantling of the welfare state by this Conservative government.
During its passage through the House of Commons Public Bill Committee, over 150 written submissions were made to Parliament voicing concerns about its legislation and their consequences. None of these altered the contents of the Bill in any meaningful way up to the report stage. Instead, the government has responded by making plans to fast track the Bill into law. When the democratic process fails, as it so clearly has here, it is our duty to take other measures to make ourselves heard. The Bill will receive its third reading in the Commons on Tuesday, 5 January, 2016, after which it passes to the House of Lords. Numerous groups from the housing sector, the trades unions and beyond will be demonstrating from 1pm at the Houses of Parliament against the Housing & Planning Bill and for secure and genuinely affordable social housing for all. Please join us.
Architects for Social Housing
Barnet Housing Action Group
Basingdon and Southend Housing Action
Brick Lane Debates
Brighton Benefits Campaign
Brighton Homelessness Action Group
Brighton and Hove Left Unity
Brighton People’s Assembly Against Austerity
Case Central Brighton
Coalition of Resistance: Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay
Communities Against Gentrificleansing
Corbyn Community Dorset
Digs Hackney Renters
Dorset People’s Assembly
Fairhazel Cooperative Ltd.
Fight for Aylesbury
Focus E15 Mothers
Fred John Towers
Green Citizen Engagement
Hackney Solidarity Network
Haringey Left Unity
Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth
Housing Bill Action
Jewish Socialists Group
Kennington Park Estate TRA
Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group
Lambeth Housing Activists
Lewisham Green Party
London Coalition Against Poverty
Love Activists Brighton
Momentum City of London
No Fixed Abode Anti-Fascists
Norfolk People’s Assembly
Not Just One Mum Camden
Occupy Democracy Brighton
Our Grahame Park
Our West Hendon
Our Whitefield Estate
Oxford People’s Assembly
Oxfordshire Anti-Bedroom Tax
Oxfordshire Unison Health Branch
Oxford University Socialist Worker Student Society
People’s Housing Conference
Peter Barber Architects
Radical Housing Network
Red Labour Reading
Reclaim Tower Hamlets
Rent Control for the UK
Revolutionary Communist Group
Rural Urban Synthesis Society
Save Central Hill Community
Save Cressingham Gardens
Southwark Defend Council Housing
Southwark Green Party
Sussex Defend Our NHS
Sweets Way Resists
Thetra Tulse Hill TRA
Unite the Union
Wandsworth Green Party
A version of this story first appeared in Building’s sister publication, BD