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Let's house the nation

Let's house the nation

Let's house the nation

APSE and the TCPA have called for a radical new approach to renew the quality and availability of social housing in the UK. Following publication of a joint research report ‘Housing the Nation: Ensuring councils can deliver more and better homes’ they argue that by investing in social housing the new Government can help to convert housing benefits into bricks; create a new basis for social housing renewal, and bring jobs, skills and regeneration to local communities.

Whilst in the post war years the public and private sector achieved the delivery of over 300,000 new homes per year, with around 90,000 of those homes being built by local councils, since the late 1970’s figures have dramatically declined. In 2013 just over 2000 new council homes were delivered with only a 1,000 of those new council houses being built in England. The report also finds that over four decades successive governments have had to meet increasingly larger bills for housing benefit payments, whilst neglecting to address the root cause of rent increases, which is the lack of supply of social housing. 

The research also found that 53% of local authorities surveyed from across England identified the viability test in the National Planning Policy Framework as negatively impacting on their ability to deliver affordable and social homes, compared with just 14% who felt the viability test helped. These figures suggest that the UK Government should reframe the viability test in a more balance way. Over two thirds of council’s surveyed also stated that their dominant model of delivering social and affordable housing is currently through the planning process via developer contributions which raises serious questions for the new Government about whether the developer-contribution model of funding social and affordable housing, via planning obligations, remains a policy objective, and if not, where is the replacement investment going to come from

Speaking at the launch of the report, which explored housing issues on a UK wide basis Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive of APSE said “We should not underestimate the impact of lack of supply of social housing on market rents. This adds pressure to both local and central government finances. To rebalance the social housing market we need an ambitious programme of bringing new social housing schemes to fruition. Local councils need to be at the heart of delivering new high quality and affordable homes for rent. It is possible to achieve this but we need Westminster to share that ambition.”

Kate Henderson, Chief executive of the TCPA added “The new Government has an enormous opportunity to help ensure councils can once again play a full and active role in planning, delivering and managing social and affordable homes. This will require strong political leadership, a progressive planning framework, genuinely empowering local authorities, reversing recent deregulatory changes, and enabling councils to borrow to build.

The report puts forward a number of recommendations including:-

  • A call on the UK Government to forge a lasting cross-party consensus that local authorities are a key part of the solution to the housing crisis, providing clear leadership to encourage councillors, and their authorities, to think boldly and in the long term and for local councils to ensure that social and affordable housing is included in the Local Plan process.
     
  • Councils should play a stronger role in co-ordinating land assembly and planning, acting as lead developer, to drive delivery. Where councils own land they should explore creative opportunities to bring it forward and when releasing public sector land, Government should coordinate between Government departments and agencies and empower councils to decide how best to facilitate development in their area.
     
  • The expansion of combined authorities in England is a major opportunity to recreate effective strategic planning for housing.  Government should play a role in this process by ensuring combined authorities can adopt strategic spatial plans with statutory weight and that the scope, timescales and content of such plans allows them to best support local planning and coordinate cross border relationships with other city regions and combined authorities.
     
  • The UK Government must amend the viability test in the National Planning Policy Framework ensuring it is more balanced and allows for the consideration of economic data on the cost and benefits to the public sector and the wider economy of new social and affordable housing and should reverse the central deregulation of permitted development.
     
  • The UK Government should reverse the recent changes which exempt developments of 10 homes or less from section 106 affordable housing contributions and cancel the recently introduced Vacant Building Credit.
     
  • Councils should seize the have an opportunity to become the ‘landlord of choice’ ensuring that they 'build, maintain, improve’ local housing and coordinate housing services with other council services such as health, education and social care.
     
  • The UK Government should lift the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap which would significantly increase local authorities’ ability to deliver new social and affordable homes and re-visit the issue as to whether investment in housing should be part of the public sector borrowing requirement (PSBR). As APSE has consistently called for and the Association of Retained Council Housing and National Federation of ALMOs highlight “there is a strong case for reforming public borrowing rules to classify such borrowing separately, as is the practice elsewhere in Europe as well as by the IMF, and exempting it from the deficit reduction strategy.”
     
  • Government should review the overall Right to Buy policy so that Right to Buy enables councils, ALMOs and Registered Providers/ Housing Associations to genuinely invest in one-for-one replacement of social housing. Alongside this measure the UK Government should review the New Homes Bonus scheme.
     
  • The Government needs to support the expansion of the construction industry, recognising the current capacity constraints on delivery due to factors such as the availability of skilled and unskilled workers, equipment and raw materials.  Local authorities can also play an important role in expanding the sector through apprenticeships. 

Ends

APSE is the Association for Public Service, a not-for-profit organisation working with over 300 councils throughout the UK providing advice, support and research on frontline local government services.

TCPA is the Town and Country Planning Association; Britain's oldest charity concerned with planning, housing and the environment. TCPA campaigns for the reform of the UK’s planning system to make it more responsive to people’s needs and aspirations and to promote sustainable development.

An executive summary of the report for press use is available upon request.

To arrange for interview or for a press summary please contact Mo Baines, APSE on mbaines@apse.org.uk or Nneka Opara, TCAP on Nneka.Opara@tcpa.org.uk.

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit local government body working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.

           

 

          

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