At the January 2016 States meeting I laid an amendment against a policy letter which was supposed to be about land use classes and tidying up the use class ordinance. However, within that policy letter was a proposition to rescind a resolution of 2007 that restricted the use of planning covenants. There are real concerns over their use and it was inappropriate to have placed this proposition in that report. My amendment looked to avoid that and only to consider rescinding once the local housing market review was published. In the end the amendment was drawn 22:22, but members went on to throw out the proposition, which was just the result I wanted. By laying the amendment it highlighted the issue and served its purpose by ensuring the status quo was maintained until the States has decided the policy on planning covenants.
This is a very simple amendment and merely retains the current situation. Indeed the situation we have been in for the last 5 years. Having considered the implications, I consider the current proposition to rescind the resolution of 2007 to be dangerous and that could create unintended consequences.
I should make it clear that I support the rest of this policy letter . The bit that relates to the title: ‘A review of the Land Planning and Development (use classes) Ordinance 2007.’
Proposition 2 is nothing to do with amending that Ordinance. It relates to a resolution of the States in 2007 arising from a policy letter on Planning Covenants.
Given the significant concerns expressed at the planning enquiry over the use of planning covenants and the fact that it is yet to be decided by the States, why choose now to rescind a resolution? I have spoken to a senior planning officer in the Department and Deputy Luxon and myself have also been given extensive background information from the law officers before deciding to lay this amendment. I thank them for their time. But nothing we have heard answers why the present situation, which has existed for some time, needs to change now.
The argument in support of proposition 2 seems to be, well, since 2011 we have the SLUP which gives a strategic direction and everything is going to change with the new Island Development Plan, so let’s rescind the resolution of 2007 as it could cause confusion.
However, this is jumping the gun and will only create more confusion and I will explain why.
In 2007, the States debated a policy letter on planning covenants and in that letter it stated that, ‘It is important that any such system is introduced with caution in order to avoid any unintended consequences and the pitfalls experienced elsewhere and to ensure it is tailored to local circumstances. It went on to say ‘the wide application of planning covenants would place a heavy demand on staff resources to establish associated policy documents, guidance notes and appeal procedures and thereafter to operate and update complex systems of quotas and appraisals and to deal with appeals.
It was because of these concerns that the then States decided that planning covenants should be restricted to Housing Target Areas.
Now, 4 years later the SLUP comes along and it states that ‘Appropriate levels of provision of social and/or specialised housing on large general market site ‘may be required’ through the use of planning condition or covenant and established through a specified mechanism. Now we have the Land Planning and Development (Planning Convenants) Ordinance 2011, which states that planning covenants can be used for social and affordable housing, but there is nothing yet in place setting out any other mechanisms.
As it says in the SLUP ‘a mechanism for assessing the appropriate circumstances for
triggering the inclusion of social and/or specialised housing will be clearly set out
within the Development Plan.’ Yes, the draft IDP set out that planning covenant should apply to all developments of 5 units or above, but it is just that, draft.
We are awaiting the Planning Inspector’s report and the Plan to come to the States. Whilst SLUP may be supportive of not having HTAs, we await the final decision of the States and the new Island Development Plan before knowing what the new world is going to be.
So, the effect of proposition 2 could be to create just more confusion.
The SLUP also states that, rather than setting prescriptive target levels for social and/or specialised housing, it will instead be for the Housing Department in conjunction with the Environment Department to determine and inform the Development Plan through the analysis of existing relevant data sources. ‘
I don’t think I need to remind members that in September last year we had the Housing present a policy letter setting targets which it wished to place on such housing, in contravention of the SLUP. A proposal that was rejected in favour of the commissioning of an objective Housing Needs Survey that will inform the departments as to need and the States agreed at that same meeting to an independent broad-based review of the local housing market, which should also inform the benefits or otherwise of planning covenants.
We haven’t got those now and in their place we have a vacuum so if proposition 2 is passed planning covenants could be imposed unnecessarily. This won’t mean affordable homes won’t be built of course given the number of recent applications by the GHA and of course planning covenants are not needed for States owned land.
The SLUP is 5 years old and based on a 10 year old report whose assumptions have since been discredited by experiences elsewhere so how can it be assumed, which the proposition does, that the draft IDP will remain unchanged in respect of planning covenants?
So, why rescind the resolution, before the States has agreed how it wishes planning covenants to operate in the future or has had proper review into the effect of planning covenants in the current market?
The construction industry is in a fragile state at the moment. There are real concerns about how planning covenants may be extended in the future. Proposition 2 has already created unease, especially as it has been seen to be have slipped in under the radar without consultation. It is not essential that we support it now and it should not be supported now until we have the evidence to determine the extent to which planning covenants should be used in the future.
To avoid unintended consequences and to avoid confusion, I request members to support this amendment.
During the debate on my amendment to the Joint Housing/T&R policy letter on first time buyer schemes, and the previous debate on the strategic housing target, it was clear that members were not happy with the existing housing policy but did not want to commit to a scheme without evidence of exactly what was happening in the local housing market and what the best strategy would be. As a consequence, I put together, with Deputy Le Clerc, a replacement amendment that sought an independent broad-based review of the local housing market. I was delighted that the entire Assembly, bar those who had submitted the policy letter, supported the amendment.
Full details of my amendment and speech below;
To insert two new Propositions after Proposition 3 as follows:
‘4. To direct the Housing Department and the Treasury and Resources Department (and their successors) to carry out a broad-based review of the operation of the Local Housing Market in Guernsey and to identify and assess measures that can be taken to mitigate house price inflation and influence supply and demand within the market.
Such a review to be by way of an independent report, of which the terms of reference shall include, but not be restricted to:
a) A broad based review of the operation of the Local Housing Market in Guernsey including:
Identification and assessment of the factors which drive supply and demand, including the influence of population change and household size;
Identification and analysis of the factors influencing the prices of houses, including external influences (if any) and the first-time buyer market;
A review of private sector rental costs and their relationship to other sectors of the housing market.
b) A review of current housing finance mechanisms, including:
An assessment of how house purchases are financed by the ‘average’ household;
Mortgage lending policies;
An examination of ratios of house prices, in relation to borrowing capability;
The impact of the Guernsey Housing Association partial ownership scheme.
c) An assessment of the role of property prices and of the costs associated with property ownership on inflation
d) An appraisal of the various options available for Government intervention in the Housing Market including what effect the various measures may have on housing affordability and housing availability
5. To direct the Housing Department and Treasury and Resources Department (and their successors) to report back to the States with their findings and recommendations in respect of Proposition 4, annexed to which is a copy of the independent report, referred to in that Proposition, no later than the end of July 2016.”
Sir, I apologise for laying this amendment so late, but frankly this did come out of debate, and I think it was an absolutely really riveting debate and listening to people’s comments. From that came out of it was people saying where is the evidence, ‘Well, we want to do one thing; we are not sure whether it is the right thing to do,’ and I think Deputies, Harwood, Brehaut, Le Lièvre, Fallaize if not more, made those points. I think Deputy Le Lièvre used the phrase ‘scrabbling around’. I think he is correct.
The reason why Deputy Le Clerc and myself laid the original amendment was because we wanted to make sure that things did not just end with the Report that was put in front of us today. We felt that if that just went and things would be as they were and we are in real danger of a position where we did not know what the right thing was but were pursuing a course of action which basically dates back over 13 years, and that takes me to what this amendment is. This amendment is really what they call, and Deputy Dorey mentioned it today, the Parr Report, which was commissioned in 2002 by both Housing and what was Advisory & Finance, so hence my amendment here is Housing Department and T&R Department on the operation of the housing market in Guernsey. A report to the States of Guernsey Housing Authority and Advisory & Finance Committee.
What we have done within this amendment is to take Annex 1 of that original report. Annex 1 sets out the terms of reference, and we have taken that and applied that to this current amendment, sir, to the Report that we want here today. I just think we need something where we have evidence, that is what I say, I stand up here so many times and say we need evidence on which to make proper policy decisions, and at the moment we really do know that. We do not know where the rental market is at the moment. Deputy Dorey said he thinks one thing, we have got other people who think something else. People say their sons and daughters cannot get on the housing market, whereas other people say well that is not the problem we have got the GHA that can sort that out. We really are in a… we do not know where we are. The situation we are in now is so very difference from 2002. We should be saying what is right for Guernsey now. What is right for the people of Guernsey so we have a housing market that works properly?
I urge Members to support this amendment.
As a result of my successful amendment to the 2014 budget, the Housing Department and Treasury & Resources Department were instructed to produce a joint report which was meant to set out proposals for the use of the Bond proceedsto help people get on the property ladder, either through the use of the Bond proceeds, or by any other means.
The resulting report, which was 3 months late, was a big disappointment and seemed to completely miss the point by holding fast to Housing’s current policy of only supporting GHA Partial Ownership housing. Their view that there was a binary choice and that no other schemes could sit alongside GHA Partial Ownership was nonsensical.
I am increasingly of the view that the current housing policy is not fit for purpose. What was fine 12 years ago, is not suitable in the current economic climate. Against the background of a weak housing market, the impact that it has had on the wider economy and the fact that the release of sites for new developments under the GHA Partial Ownership Scheme will take time to materialise, it is evident that further initiatives need to be developed to assist first time buyers in the short term.
I was not happy for the policy letter to be approved and set about developing an amendment that would kept this issue alive. This I did and laid an amendment proposing the introduction of a the creation of a modern day successor to the States Loans for Workers Scheme for first-time buyers, which extends the partial ownership model to the private housing sector.
My speech is set out below. It is a long one, but reflects the strong feelings I have that things can’t continue as they are and something must be done to change the present situation.
Sir, Firstly like to say what a shame it is that we don’t have Deputy Dave Jones with us for this debate today. Whilst we are on different sides in relation to this matter, I think the debate will be lesser without his contribution and hope that, if he’s listening, what I’m about to say doesn’t affect his recovery. I’m sure we all wish him a speedy return.
Before I start, and before Anyone stands up and says they don’t want a loan deposit sceme, can I just make it totally clear we are not proposing such a scheme in any shape or form? We had 2 ex-Deputies a couple of days ago accusing me of being naïve for proposing such a scheme before they had even seen the amendment.
So, Deposit scheme no. Partial Ownership scheme yes.
I should make it clear that I am totally supportive of the GHA partial ownership scheme and members will note that this amendment does not impact on that. It definitely has a place. However, it is not the only solution. What this amendment does is recognise that the GHA scheme itself is not enough and I will explain why.
Now let’s look at today’s reality which others have already made clear;
House sales down, house prices down, new builds down, document duty down.
If anyone wants evidence to demonstrate that the housing market is not in healthy state then they only have to look at income from document duty, whether you like it or not. In 2007 the States took £24m from house sales. This year it is predicted we will take £12m. That is a halving in 8 years. Even since 2012 it has fallen £5m! And this just reflects the fact we have had the lowest number of property transactions in decades.
That is today’s reality and it is that reality that is not addressed in this policy letter. That is why we can’t just accept it as presented and that is why I am laying this amendment today. As Alduous Huxley said facts do not exist because they are ignored.
Deputy Le Clerc and myself have spent some considerable time since this report was published speaking and listening to various people with an interest in this matter. Yes that includes developers and the construction industry, finance providers and other experts, but also members of the public currently in limbo as a result of the position we are in today. These discussions have informed our views and led us to this amendment.
In essence, what we are seeking to do is to create a modern day successor of the States Workers Loan Scheme by taking the partial ownership model and applying it to the private sector.
Again, I repeat, It is not a loan deposit scheme! In any shape or form.
Now, I would expect the Housing Department to support this amendment as, according to the first slide in their presentation on Friday they stated, and I quote, ‘Except for partial ownership, schemes are damaging’. It also meets the criteria set out in the policy letter, which will become evident during my speech and which I will summarise at the end.
We believe that at this present moment in time there is a place for a scheme that complements, rather than competes with the GHA. As good as the GHA scheme is it has limitations and extending it too far could have adverse consequences. And I’ll give a few examples
Firstly, at present there are people who fall out the qualification criteria for a GHA home, but can’t get onto the private housing market. I know a teacher, who, with her husband had been on the GHA Partial Ownership list for 2 years for a one bedroom property but wanted to change this to a 2 bedroomed property as they were trying for a baby. However, she was told she wouldn’t qualify for a 2 bedroom property and was taken off the list. They are therefore now stuck in the over-inflated rental market. Something Deputy Le Clerc will speak about later.
Now that is just one case, but it does illustrate how there are potential first time buyers who fall outside the criteria but can’t get into the private housing sector.
Secondly, and according to the SHT report, only 117 partial ownership houses have been built by the GHA. I believe there are more now, but still less than 200. We read that, and I quote, ‘None of the cheaper land types are in such plentiful supply to be sufficient to enable the Department to meet its recommended affordable housing target.’ The Policy Council in its letter of comment states its concern that the policy letter doesn’t identify any specific sites that will enable the delivery of such properties in the immediate future.
As per T&Rs letter of comment, the Housing Department target of 171 doesn’t even fit GHA’s aim of just 80 new homes pa. If the GHA reaches its target there will still be a shortfall of 91 dwellings each and every year and when people are being told that someone added to the waiting list now will have to wait 5-8 yearsfor a 2-bedroomed property.
The desperate attempt to find new sites has resulted in the ridiculous situation of the Housing Department supporting the building of 3 storey flats on Grade 1 prime quality agricultural land. This at a time when we are told in the SHT Report that sufficient numbers of planning permissions have been granted each year to consistently meet the housing target.
And whilst there is merit in finding appropriate sites on States’ land, the salient word is ‘appropriate’ should the most valuable prime sites be used for subsidised housing? What land is suitable?
This at a time when, As Deputy Kuttelwascher said yesterday, there are already a lot of empty properties not selling.
Thirdly, the GHA partial ownership model applies to specific houses, built as affordable housing. Such homes may not suit all families, especially those who want their own home. Members should also be aware that the GHA homes are provided on a long leasehold and have to be sold back to the GHA when the occupants move. Indeed, no document duty is paid on such homes as they are long leases and not freehold purchases. So, for every affordable home built by the GFA, zilch goes to Treasury.
So, as has already been made clear by others, we currently have a scheme that whilst working well on a small scale, has limitations. It is these limitations that we are seeking to address.
Firstly, through using a partial ownership model, people will buy what they can afford.
Secondly, such a scheme is not linked to specific houses. If a first time buyer meets the necessary criteria, which will be developed to ensure they don’t overlap the GHA, they can take partial ownership of the house they want and can afford.
Thirdly, by enabling more people to buy their own homes there will be less dead money going into the inflated rental sector which should also stabilise.
Finally, by enabling this scheme to be applied to private sector new builds, this should encourage developers to start building again. After all we have enough planning permissions to meet the SHT, the problem is there is no confidence in the market to build. Deputy Perrot, Spruce and Kuttelwascher have already said, planning covenants are likely to stifle new builds, this scheme would negate the need for them.
By balancing new and existing properties, in other words, adding to supply at the same time as supporting first time buyers, any possible inflationary effects will be mitigated.
And, on that front, I would finally like to focus on the wider economic issues here as I think there have been some pretty simplistic statements made by the Housing Dept on this front that need addressing.
In the presentation from the Housing Department on Friday where we were told that house prices are not affordable, so homeowners needed to reduce their asking prices and then people can buy them. Mmm, now it’s important to consider this point as it does underpin the approach that Housing Dept is taking which is that the only solution is the GHA partial ownership scheme.
The Department claim that House prices are unrealistically high and any scheme would only make people afford unrealistically high prices but If house prices are unrealistically high then what is a realistic price? If the hope is that prices would be such that the GHA Partial Ownership scheme was not required then prices would have to fall by, say, 50%. That would be disastrous for existing house owners and the wider economy.
Recently the Housing Minister in an email to a concerned father who’s son couldn’t sell his flat for what he bought it for, stated;
‘you take a risk when buying a property’ but in the next paragraph he states that the GHA ‘PO is an excellent scheme, as people take their equity and buy on the private market.’ Well , sorry that’s all well and good, but not when prices are falling they don’t.
The Housing Department also claim that feeding the property market risks a dangerous increase but lets go back to what I said at the start and what has already been made crystal clear by other yesterday and today, – the market in 2014 was the worst on record and 2015 is even worse Talking to those in the industry, house prices have fallen 10-15% in the last 18months already and professional valuers are valuing today 20% below last year’s actual prices. A 20% haircut is not “slight pressure” Just to remain inflation neutral there would need to be a 20% upward movement in current price aspirations.
And a falling market weakens the wider economy that benefits from properties being bought and sold: for carpets, curtains, home furnishings, electrical goods, builders merchants, all types of tradesmen, DIY stores etc and all the related employment and taxes that all these provide..
I say we are at a position where we need to intervene in the property market simply to restore stability before any modest growth might be seen.
The Housing Dept need to be careful what they wish for, as there is evidence that a sustained fall in house prices can play a crucial role in causing an economic recession. Putting in place a scheme that supports first time buyers will give greater stability to the market not cause rampant inflation.
Finally, I think it is important, just to recap how such a scheme meets the criteria as set out in the policy letter.
- Criterion 1 – It is not inflationary, there is no evidence to suggest the scheme will contribute to further increases in house prices.
Well by helping first time buyers have access to the property market they wouldn’t ordinarily, it could be inflationary, however, this can be mitigated by balancing provision of new builds and existing properties.
- Criteria 2 – It does not help a minority of buyers in a way that causes harm to the majority
creating more confidence in the market, as this scheme will, will help everyone, not least the developers who will see the benefit of building again. And boy do we need that. Deputy Sherbourne said as much yesterday. Deputy Laurie Queripel spoke about how Developers wanted to get involved in creating affordable housing but they were getting nowhere with the Housing Dept who were wedded to one Model. I do wonder whether th GHA believe they are the only solution. I suspect that they would actually welcome it given the gap between their target of 80 builds per year and that of the Housing Dept of 171.
- Criteria 3 On balance, based on all available evidence, the costs of implementing any scheme are outweighed by the benefits it brings about.
This scheme will increase revenue, enable affordable housing without grants or subsidies, encourage people to stay rather than leave Guernsey and hopefully entice back our home grown graduates back to the Island, something that is not just a benefit but essential for the future of this Island.
This scheme passes on all counts and so deserves further investigation.
The proposals we would like T&R to investigate will not only complement the GHA scheme, but will provide various additional advantages and halt the current decline in the housing market, as well as benefit the wider economy.
So in summary, yes GHA Scheme, has a place, but it can’t be and isn’t the answer to everything. On that basis, we need to ensure we have an alternative that give the market more confidence and stability
I urge all members to support this much needed amendment.