Felix Shaw

If you cast your mind back to last November you’d be forgiven for not remembering the introduction of Vacant Building Credit (VBC) a rather unassuming piece of deregulation brought in by Housing Minister Brandon Lewis.

In order to make it easier to convert empty and unused buildings back into much needed housing stock, Lewis scrapped the requirement for developers of these buildings to pay section 106 contributions towards affordable housing, which he described as a “stealth tax”

According to Lewis these section 106 requirements were putting off developers from doing what they do best, and without them we’d be sure to see a flood of new housebuilding that hadn’t been possible up until now.

It turns out not everyone agrees with Mr Lewis. Along with criticism from a mix of Labour politicians, left wing journalists and affordable housing campaigners, officers at Conservative controlled Westminster Council have also spoken out against the policy, describing it as ‘insane’ (well, they do stand to lose an estimated £1bn in section 106 contributions!)

So far, so almost predictable. However on Monday things took a turn for the unexpected. Westminster Property Association, a lobby group representing some of the largest property developers in the country wrote a letter to Mr Lewis describing the policy as “deeply flawed”, suggesting that it would lead to London being a place where no one except the super rich can afford to live.

So, we’re now faced with the odd situation of a Conservative party that seems to be more pro-development than the developers themselves.

And as for the developers, does this intervention indicate an understanding that a desire to avoid affordable housing – at all costs – might not be in their long term interests if they want to continue to operate in a city that’s both economically and socially thriving?

If so, it would represent a level of foresight and rational thinking that is sorely missing from the world of policy formation, and which many in Government could learn from.

Felix Shaw