Thursday, 31 July 2014
Short-term lets in Greater London - the proposed relaxation
Since I last blogged on this topic on Friday 13 June (“Announcing it twice. Announcing it twice.”), the promised new clause has been added to the Deregulation Bill. It was originally New Clause 21, but numbers are liable to change as further amendments are added to the Bill and, when I looked the other day, it had become Clause 34. I am making no guesses as to what the section number in the new Act will eventually be!
The clause is headed “Short-term use of London accommodation: power to relax restrictions”. It is purely an enabling power, so we still don’t know precisely how, to what extent, and indeed when, the government will relax the current rule on short-term lets in Greater London.
The new clause will give the Secretary of State power to make regulations by statutory instrument which will provide for the circumstances in which the use as temporary sleeping accommodation of any residential premises in Greater London does not involve a material change of use by virtue of section 25(1) of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973.
The regulations may also enable the Secretary of State or an LPA to direct that any provision included in those regulations will not apply to particular residential premises or to residential premises situated in a particular area. So there will be an opt-out which some of the London Boroughs will be eager to use (always assuming that power is not reserved to the Secretary of State to override the LPA’s direction, as he can in the case of Article 4 Directions).
The regulations may also in themselves amend the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1973, and there is a catch-all power that allows them to make different provisions for different purposes and/or include incidental, supplementary, consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provisions. This really does give the Secretary of State carte blanche.
So we are really none the wiser for having seen the new clause. Government press releases are not a reliable guide to what is really intended, or whether those intentions will in practice be achieved by the proposed regulations. Given the dire performance of civil servants in drafting subordinate legislation over the years, I am not confident that they will actually do what it says on the tin. Only time will tell.
I have already pointed out the dangers of substantially removing the existing restrictions in section 25(1) of the 1973 Act ( - see “Short-term lets in Greater London” posted on Tuesday, 25 February 2014), and I know that these concerns are shared by other commentators, such as Michael Bach, as set out in his article on this topic in the Summer 2014 issue of “newsforum”, the journal of the London Forum of Amenity and Civic Societies. Planning officers and others concerned with planning and housing throughout the Greater London area will be equally worried by the implications of the proposed changes.
For the time being, we have no choice but to wait and see what eventually emerges. There is at least one advantage of the method by which the government has chosen to deal with issue; a future government could use the enabling powers to restore the restriction on short-term lets in the capital without having to pass any amending primary legislation. Nice one, Sir Humphrey!
© MARTIN H GOODALL