I gave evidence in London today to Lord Whitty's inquiry on the affordable housing crisis.
My starting point was that to resolve this crisis local authorities need to play a key role again in providing a quality affordable housing option for all not just a safety net for some.
It's important to place where we have got too in a context, therefore I referred to the fact that the challenge for the new government of the day in 1997 was clearly about tackling the £22b backlog of repairs in council houses and bringing them up to the decent homes standard. However, the process which brought this about resulted in stock transfers, continuation of right to buy and demolitions. Ultimately this resulted in better quality social housing but with about 1m fewer social housing units. By the end of the last Government recognition was given to the massive waiting lists which had built up and a programme commenced once again to deliver new build council housing once again. If the dominant issue in 1997 was backlog of repairs, clearly now it had moved on to lack of supply.
APSE undertook research at this point on issues around creating a new generation of council homes and found that a large group of councils were trailblazing on this agenda, a significant amount of others were interested and a smaller group were unaware or were paying little attention to the issue. Those who were trailblazers had a vision built around delivering for their community’s not only affordable accommodation, but also about delivering on environmental concerns and for the local economy. We also found that most authorities were in a state of readiness to deliver on this agenda either by having the skills to deliver directly themselves or in collaboration with their partner organisations.
Unfortunately, over the past couple of years as a result of reduced budgets and a tinkering with form again rather than a concentration on need, this has not progressed as far as we would have liked. Most focus has been on the new self-financing regime with many considering carefully the implications of a 30 year business plan at present, with rumours of further restraints on borrowing limits emerging and recent controversy over enhanced discounts on right to buy also causing concern.
APSE would like to see a stronger recognition of the direct role councils can play in delivering on one of the major public policy issues of our time. We think new build should commence on a significant scale, we believe that borrowing limits should be opened up to facilitate this new build and that local government has the skills to deliver on this agenda. APSE believes that in order to solve the affordable housing crisis you need to increase supply; you have a sector that can clearly deliver on this and help address an ever increasing need for local communities.