In the 2019 Queen’s Speech and parliamentary session that followed, the Government made several commitments relating to housing, communities, and local government. This included plans to introduce new regimes for building safety in high-rise buildings and to introduce legislation to reform the rental market.
Building Safety Bill
In the 2019 Queen’s Speech, the Government announced the Building Safety Bill, which sought to introduce “new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety and construction products, and ensure residents have a stronger voice in the system”.
The bill would take forward all 53 recommendations made by the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety in its final report, published in May 2018. The review, led by Dame Judith Hackitt, found that the current regulatory system for high-rise and complex buildings was not “fit for purpose”. The bill would aim to:
- provide clearer accountability and stronger duties for those responsible for the safety of high-rise buildings;
- give residents a “stronger voice in the system”, ensuring concerns are not ignored and encouraging residents’ involvement in maintaining building safety;
- strengthen enforcement and sanctions to deter non-compliance with the new regime; and
- develop a framework to provide national oversight of construction products and a system to oversee the whole built environment.
In July 2020, the draft Building Safety Bill was published. In the same month, the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft legislation. The committee published its report on the draft legislation in November 2020. It concluded that, although the bill could “dramatically improve” building safety, there were concerns about some of the provisions and the “lack of detail on key parts of the new regime”. The Government has yet to respond to the committee.
In April 2021, the Government was asked when it planned to introduce the Building Safety Bill. The Minister of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Christopher Pincher, stated that the Government was considering the committee’s report and would introduce the bill “in due course”. He also said it was committed to “progressing the bill as quickly as possible” to ensure that “reforms can be implemented in a timely manner and residents can feel safe, and be safe, in their homes”.
In August 2020, the Government announced proposals to reform the planning system in England. It argued that the current plan is “complicated, favours larger developers and often means that much needed new homes are delayed”. The Government said that under its proposed new system, local areas will develop plans for land, which will be designated into three categories:
- growth areas: these are areas where development will be approved at the same time that plans are prepared, resulting in new schools, homes, shops and business space that can be built “quickly and efficiently”, as long as local design standards are met;
- renewal areas: these areas will be suitable for some development, such as covering existing built areas “where smaller scale development is appropriate”; and
- protected areas: these areas will restrict development to protect heritage, such as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
A consultation on the proposals to reform the planning system in England ran from August to October 2020. As of April 2021, the Government was still analysing the responses to the consultation. The Government stated that it would publish a response setting out its decisions on the proposals ahead of introducing legislation on the reforms. No timeframe for this has been announced. However, the Times reported on 3 May 2021 that a planning bill was expected to be included in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. It said the bill would represent “the biggest shake-up of England’s planning laws”. Proposals would “overhaul rules that slow down and obstruct housebuilding and force all councils in England to dedicate land for either development or preservation”. The report suggested the bill was “aimed at finally delivering on the Conservative Party’s promise to build 300,000 homes a year”.
Renter’s reform bill
In the 2019 Queen’s Speech, the Government announced that it would be introducing a renter’s reform bill. The legislation would introduce several reforms to “deliver a fairer and more effective rental market”. This would include:
- abolishing the use of ‘no fault’ evictions by removing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (the 1988 act) and reforming the grounds for possession;
- reforming current legislation to give landlords more rights to gain possession of their property through the courts where there is a legitimate need for them to do so;
- introducing a new lifetime deposit to remove the need for tenants to pay a new deposit if or when they move; and
- measures to widen access to and expand the scope of the database of rogue landlords and property agents.
In March 2021, the Government was asked by Ian Lavery (Labour MP for Wansbeck) if it would be abolishing no fault evictions. Responding, Christopher Pincher stated that the Government “remained committed” to removing section 21 of the 1988 act through the introduction of a renter’s reform bill. However, it said it would only introduce the legislation at the “appropriate time, once the urgencies of responding to the [Covid-19] pandemic have passed”.
Accessibility standards in housing
In September 2020, the Government ran a consultation seeking views on options to raise accessibility standards for new homes. This included looking at how the existing optional accessible and adaptable standard for homes and the wheelchair user standard are used. The consultation ran until December 2020.
In April 2021, Christopher Pincher stated that the Government was considering responses to the consultation and would be publishing a response setting out the next steps. He also said that the evidence from the consultation would help the Government consider what changes to make, which could include reviewing and “potentially tightening” the current regulatory framework on the standards.
Commonhold, leasehold and ground rent reform
Commonhold is a form of ownership (or tenure) for multi-occupancy developments. It was introduced by the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 to enable the freehold ownership of flats and to avoid “the shortcomings of leasehold home ownership”. However, as of July 2020, fewer than 20 commonhold developments have been established in England and Wales since the act came into force.
In 2017, the Government asked the Law Commission to identify why commonhold had not been taken up and to address the problems with the law surrounding commonholds that had been “preventing its uptake”. The Government also asked the Law Commission to review leasehold enfranchisement to make it easier, quicker, and more cost-effective for leaseholders to buy their freehold or extend their lease.
In July 2020, the Law Commission published its findings. This included several recommendations seeking to make commonhold a “preferred form of homeownership to residential leasehold”. It recommended measures to: make it easier for leaseholders to convert to commonhold and gain greater control over their properties; and to enable commonhold to be used for larger, mixed-use developments that accommodate residential properties and shops or leisure facilities. Concerning leasehold extension, the Law Commission recommended that leaseholders of houses and flats should have a new right to a lease extension for a term of 990 years.
In January 2021, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, announced that having reviewed the report, the Government would be establishing a Commonhold Council. The council would be tasked with preparing homeowners and the market for “the widespread take-up of commonhold”. He also announced that the Government would give leaseholders of all types of property the right to extend their lease as often as they wish, at zero ground rent, for a term of 990 years.
Mr Jenrick announced that the Government would be “translating these measures into law as soon as possible”, starting with legislation to set future ground rents to zero in the forthcoming session. He stated that this would be the first part of “major two-part legislation” to implement leasehold and commonhold reforms in Parliament.
- House of Commons Library, Planning for the Future: Planning Policy Changes in England in 2020 and Future Reforms, 10 March 2021
- House of Commons Library, Leasehold and Commonhold Reform, 7 February 2021
- Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, ‘Draft Building Safety Bill’, updated 4 August 2020
Cover image by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash.