Lords Committee criticises Government for housing ‘target' which they acknowledge they will not meet
The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has today criticised the Government for stating once again that they have a ‘target' of releasing public land with capacity to build 160,000 homes between 2015-2020 when they acknowledge there will be a shortfall of just under 100,000 and the ‘target' was simply ‘aspirational'.
The criticism comes in a report on the Homes and Communities Agency (Transfer of Property) Regulations 2020 which makes provision for land owned by Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Staffordshire County Council to be transferred to Homes England for housing development.
The Committee points out that performance against the ‘target', under the Public Land for Housing Programme 2015-2020, of releasing land with capacity for 160,000 homes by March 2020 was likely to be in the region of capacity for 65,000 homes – a shortfall of just under 100,000. The Committee state in its report that when the Government announce a ‘target', there is an expectation that it should be achievable and based on a realistic assessment of the evidence. It was therefore “deeply troubling” to be told by the then Housing Minister, Esther McVey MP, during a recent evidence session that the stated target had been ‘very ambitious', set ‘incredibly high' and ‘aspirational'.
The Committee is also critical of the failure of the Government to explain fully this broader policy context in the Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the Regulations. The report notes that five earlier instruments associated with the transfer of surplus land for housing had been laid and, in case, the Committee had commented on the instrument and, in more than one case, been critical of the content of the accompanying explanatory material.
The Committee drew the Regulations to the special attention of the House on the ground that, not for the first time, the Government had provided insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the broader context of the instrument's policy objective and intended implementation of the policy of sale of public land for housing.
Commenting Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Chair of the Committee, said:
“When the Government state that they have set a ‘target', they should have an expectation, based on a realistic assessment of the evidence, that it is achievable. If targets are nothing more than ‘aspirational', how can we understand the real intentions of the Government and how can we call the Government to account for their performance measured against a so-called target?
“We were disappointed in this particular case that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government laid these Regulations with an Explanatory Memorandum which failed to explain clearly that the ‘target' of capacity for 160,000 homes under the Public Land for Housing Programme 2015-2020 was simply “aspirational” and that there was likely to be a significant shortfall.
“We believe the House will want to consider these Regulations in the broader context of the Government's policy of disposal of surplus public sector land for housing, and so have drawn them to the special attention of the House.”