APSE's report ‘Homes for all: Ensuring councils can deliver the homes we need’, was launched last week at Parliament. It was a timely reminder of the role local government could play in tackling the housing crisis facing the UK.
Unfortunately the passing of the hugely controversial Housing and Planning Act the day before was a reminder that the current Government don’t see the direct involvement of councils as part of the long term solution. Their preference is clearly to pursue the notion of a home owning democracy, irrespective of whether the public want this or the housing market can deliver it. This approach ignores the many groups in society most in need of affordable homes and who are unlikely to ever be in a position to achieve home ownership or funds for a starter home.
Significant concerns exist about whether there is an alignment between the mix of housing need, particularly around affordability, and what is contained within the Act. Lord Kerslake called the Act an attack on affordable housing. Despite 19 defeats for the Government in the House of Lords the Act has ultimately passed and the challenge is now seen as making it fit for purpose during the regulatory stages currently being undertaken.
What we do know is that the latest household projections in England show that we should have been building 220,000 homes a year, for the 20 year period up to 2031, to meet growth. Given the failure to meet this level of building since 2011, we now should be building 310,000 homes a year for the next 5 years just to play catch up.
Not so long ago councils were trusted to play the pivotal role in delivering homes for all through a variety of approaches at a local level. With Government interventions impacting fundamentally on local authority HRA business plans, it appears that the direction of travel is to reduce that involvement ever further, especially in the direct delivery of housing.
APSE believes this approach is hugely flawed, councils are best placed to join up policy on housing and its links to better education, better health and society generally. The estimated cost of poor housing to the NHS is £1.4B per annum alone.
In our research, delivered jointly with the TCPA, local authorities, as far apart as Aberdeen and Thurrock, are already innovating and setting up joint ventures and housing companies.
Despite the unhelpful legislation we know that councils will get on with it anyway, innovate and find ways to deliver homes for all, within their local areas.