Lunchtime news Monday 11 February 2015

A government adviser on affordable housing for regional government has called Gordon Brown’s approach to achieving his three million new homes target ‘Stalinist’. Steve Nickell says that government should provide financial incentives for local authorities to grant planning permission for new residential developments, rather than imposing targets, and advocates a ‘tariff’ based on the size of the development, to be paid by builders directly to local authorities. He says: ‘My feeling is that to get houses built, local authorities have to be enthusiastic about housebuilding…. To make them enthusiastic you have to give them strong incentives.’

A charity, Foundation for Credit Counselling, has urged Alistair Darling to ensure that under a new owner Northern Rock would be sympathetic to borrowers struggling to meet their home loan repayments. The charity is particularly concerned about a mortgage package allowing customers to borrow up to 125 per cent on the value of their homes.

The Wildlife Trusts has spoken out against controversial plans to build a string of eco-towns, which could destroy wildlife. In two weeks, housing minister, Caroline Flint, will announce the location of 10 towns chosen for the first green communities, some up to 20,000 houses strong. The government has so far kept the locations secret, even though planners have submitted their plans. Local communities are saying they have been kept in the dark about the proposals and that once the government has given its seal of approval, it will be harder for local authorities to justify the expense of objecting.

And an eco-home stamp duty rebate launched in last year’s budget has been taken up by just six households, prompting accusations that the measure is a ‘green tax con’. The concession on eco-homes was meant to ‘kick start the market for zero-carbon homes’, and is worth £15 million in total, but campaigners have complained that the Treasury rules for claiming the rebate conflict with planning guidance issued by the department of Communities and Local Government. A spokesperson from the Treasury said the initial take up had been slow because the stamp duty exemption could only be claimed on homes once they were sold, and predicted that numbers would rise sharply in the months ahead. The chancellor, Mr Darling is considering extending the relief to flats and maisonettes.

Communities and Local Government has released a house price index for December, which again shows UK house price inflation down to 9.1 per cent from 9.7 per cent in November. Prices fell in five of the English regions, and rose in the other four regions – the highest being London at 13.5 per cent and the South East at 11 per cent.

And finally, an inquiry is underway after the body of a dead man remained on his sofa in a warden-controlled council flat for at least eight years, while an elderly tenant continued to live there. The remaining occupant who was the official tenant of the property, didn’t report the death due to severe mental health issues. Bristol city council, which runs the flats, has launched an internal inquiry and will look into the work of the wardens who visited the flats.