The Local Government Association’s (LGA) Housing Commission recently published their preliminary findings on how to tackle the housing crisis. The Commission argues that councils will be able to deliver more homes which are appropriate for their areas, if they are given more authority to make housing and development decisions.
The Commission’s finding on the subject also investigate the importance of considering housing in a wider context, where it is also relevant to consider the creation of prosperous places, how housing can be crucial in boosting employment levels, and also how best to support an ageing population.
To build more homes, the LGA’s Commission recommends giving councils more power to bridge the gap between housing needs and future building levels in their area. This would require the Government to provide national backing for new local government and joint housing delivery models. While it’s predictable that an association which represents councils would call for them to have more power, when it comes to housing, it’s worth considering any suggestion which could improve the delivery of affordable homes. While the Government’s own major housing policy should significantly accelerate the delivery of homes, given the scale of the housing crisis, shouldn’t other ideas to boost the supply of mixed tenure developments also be examined?
The LGA Commission’s recommendations would enable councils to adopt and test new innovative models in their area. With current models for providing housing under strain, innovation will be essential to improving housing supply. Would it be a good idea to let councils experiment and innovate in their own communities? The Government could then incorporate the successful schemes into national policy. This may allow housing policy to be more effective at providing mixed tenure communities to support local needs.
To unlock more innovation in local government, the Commission argues that councils should be given more control over the private developer market. The LGA correctly states the private sector isn’t building enough homes, especially affordable homes, despite being granted planning permission. They provide recommendations to unblock stalled sites to boost construction and slash housing waiting lists. Leaving these sites empty or underdeveloped doesn’t benefit anyone and ensures it is harder for councils to plan future building levels. These proposals raise a few questions. Would councils be in a better position to track the progress of local building? Or should the bigger picture be considered? Perhaps a developer may need to focus their resources on other areas of the country, which different councils may not appreciate?
The LGA believes that if councils are given more control, they will be able to shape the diversity of homes built, with the Commission understanding the value of providing a mix of affordable housing options for local communities. Many areas might benefit more from an increase of affordable homes to rent than starter homes for example. Housing policy needs to be able to adapt to different economic conditions to meet local needs effectively.
However, it’s unlikely that the Government will want to give local authorities complete free reign when it comes to housing policy. There does still need to be central control over housing delivery to ensure that enough homes are built across the country. The Government’s resources, when used at scale, can create much greater incentives to encourage development compared to local authorities. Without any national oversight, local authorities are also more likely to be influenced by Nimbyism.
Thankfully, there is a compromise which would give more autonomy to local authorities, while still allowing the Government to retain overall control of housing policy. If the Government amended the planning policy and provisions within the Housing and Planning Act, this would allow more flexibility for local authorities, while ensuring they operated within a national framework. For example, if the Government broadened the definition of starter homes to include models like Rentplus, this would empower councils to increase the delivery affordable rented homes when they’re needed more than homes for first-time buyers. This would enable local authorities to create more mixed tenure development which are appropriate for their communities.
While there is no single solution to the housing crisis which will work in everywhere, giving councils the ability to create more mixed tenure developments to support local needs – without forcing the Government to lessen its control over housing policy – would significantly help accelerate the development of affordable housing.
Richard Connolly, CEO of Rentplus