Government plans to slash requirements on developers to build affordable homes amount to a betrayal of more than a million families on housing waiting lists and will be “devastating” to rural communities where young people already struggle to find places to live, campaigners have warned.
The CPRE countryside charity said that the proposals being considered by housing secretary Simon Clarke would “turbocharge the conversion of the countryside into a millionaires’ playground of second homes and weekend retreats”.
Meanwhile, environmentalists voiced dismay at suggestions that an effective moratorium on developments near fragile wetlands could be lifted.
A letter leaked to The Times revealed that Mr Clarke is proposing to increase from 10 houses to 40 or 50 the maximum size of a developments which can be built without any requirement on builders to include affordable homes.
Housing charity Shelter said the move would cut the number of affordable homes delivered under the rule by 20 per cent – or more than 560 properties a year.
The cut would come at a time when 1.2m households are on waiting lists for social housing in England and just 6,051 affordable properties were constructed last year.
The charity’s director of campaigns Osama Bhutta said prime minister Liz Truss had no right to “betray over a million households stuck on social housing waiting lists by slashing the already tiny number of social homes that get built”.
“The government should be doing all it can to build the stable, genuinely affordable homes this country needs, but it’s doing the opposite,” said Mr Bhutta. “The government must change its mind, it can do it now or do it after grasping the anger of millions of people.”
And CPRE CEO Tom Fyans warned: “Housing sites in rural areas are typically small, which means the supply of affordable and social homes could be choked off altogether.
“It would consign thousands of key workers and young families to the margins of society, turbocharging the conversion of the countryside into a millionaires’ playground of second homes and weekend retreats.”
Reducing the number of new affordable homes will be “self-defeating” because it will result in fewer new builds overall and reduce the contribution of house-building to growth, said Mr Fyans.
“The government seems intent on repeating failed housing policies and laying the blame on the planning system and environmental protections,” he said. “The reality is that our rural communities are crying out for more – not less – homes for social rent and genuinely affordable prices to prevent destitution and homelessness.”
Mr Clarke’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities(DLUHC) declined to comment on his plans. A government spokesperson said only: “The government is committed to exploring policies that build the homes people need, deliver new jobs, support economic development and boost local economies.”
But Ms Truss’s official spokesperson confirmed that changes to the affordable housing threshold were under consideration.
“We want to keep it under review to make sure we’re delivering the new homes we need, while not discouraging the development of homes on small sites and by small builders,” he said.
Shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy responded: “The Tories crashed the economy. It led to soaring mortgage rates, rents, energy bills and food prices. Their answer now is less affordable housing. It beggars belief.
“Labour has set out plans to support people onto the housing ladder, including giving first-time buyers first dibs on new developments, as well as building a new generation of affordable and council houses and giving tenants greater security with a new Renters’ Charter.”
And Alicia Kennedy, the director of pressure group Generation Rent, said that the 1.2m households on waiting lists included 100,000 children living in temporary accommodation.
“By letting developers only build homes for the market, the people most in need of a decent, stable home will keep waiting in miserable conditions,” said Ms Kennedy. “The government needs to explain how it is going to deliver enough homes to fix homelessness and bring down rents.”
The PM’s spokesperson also confirmed that ministers are considering the relaxation of rules restricting development in designated parts of Norfolk, Hampshire, Devon and the northeast to protect the health of wetlands.
Currently, new developments are barred in designated areas if they are likely to increase levels of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, which can cause excess algae growth and reduced food supplies for protected species.
Environmental groups are concerned over the potential damage to natural sites and wildlife if the controls are lifted.
Ms Truss’s spokesperson said: “The prime minister has talked about some of her concerns about nutrient restrictions leading to an effective moratorium on new housing in some parts of the country, so that is something we want to look at.
“Obviously a strong environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand and we have legally-binding targets as part of the Environment Act, which we adhere to.”