Policy will not cure affordable housing ills, says former top civil servant

David Cameron’s flagship starter homes housing policy has been branded as ‘Orwellian’ by his former head of the civil service.

Under the plans, which were a centrepiece of the prime minister’s speech at last week’s Conservative Party conference, developers will be able to meet their affordable housing requirements by selling cut-price homes instead of supplying rented affordable properties.

Lord Kerslake, who retired from the civil service in January, criticised the policy when he spoke at a Housing Forum event on Friday.  

He said: “Starter homes started out on sites that could not be unlocked. We are now moving to a very different model of affordable housing which is Orwellian in its redefinition of the word.

“With the best will in the world, there may be more access to home ownership for particular income groups but they are not in any sense affordable.”  

Kerslake, who is chairing the London Housing Commission for the IPPR think tank, also told the event that he had a “number of significant issues” with what he described as the government’s decision to prioritise expanding home ownership over increasing supply.

“I don’t think there is a short-term route to increase home ownership, it’s about increasing supply,” said the peer, warning that the government’s strong pro-home ownership stance risked “destabilising” broader efforts to increase supply.

Kerslake, who is also chair of the Peabody Trust, has previously criticised the government’s push to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants.

He also questioned whether the redevelopment of London’s council estates could deliver a dramatic increase in housing supply.

“It’s a beguiling vision but timelines to do that are very long,” he said.

Tory London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith backed a drive to regenerate the capital’s housing estates in his keynote speech at the party’s conference.  

In addition, Kerslake repeatedly urged the government to relax its existing controls on the planning fees that cash-strapped council planning departments can charge.

“Giving flexibility on fees would enable them to retain capacity and skills,” he said, adding that the quid pro quo would be a more responsive approach from local authority planning departments.  

But he said increased supply need not result in watered-down quality.

The event was held to help shape the forum’s response to the London Housing Commission.