It was a hugely symbolic moment when Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced £2bn of additional funding for a new generation of council housing during her speech at the recent Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
Whilst it doesn’t quite take us back to the 1950’s when Housing Minister Harold McMillan enhanced his future Prime Ministerial credentials by building over 300,000 new homes in a single year, around 200,000 of which were council houses, it shows an eventual acceptance by Government that we are not going to tackle one of the biggest public policy challenges of our time without State intervention.
While successive Governments have talked about housing need, population growth, changing demographics and set ever increasing targets for the amount of homes required, we have seen little success on closing the gap between the numbers of homes needed and the amount of new builds actually taking place.
Sajid Javid’s department recently released a consultation document which identified a need for 266,000 new homes per year in England alone. Historically, the private sectors best year of delivery has seen 150,000 units built, with housing associations contributing a further 25,000 to 30,000. This of course still leaves us a long way short of the Government’s desired figure. It also points to the need for further input from elsewhere if we really intend to get house building on the scale required.
Of course, the £2bn, spread over 5 years, which the Prime Minister announced, will not make a significant dent in closing the gap. It’s estimated that this will only fund an additional 5,000 homes a year. However, combined with the contribution that wholly owned local authority housing companies are already making across the country, council house building is starting to add up to a significant number.
APSE believes that the Prime Minister has taken an important first symbolic step to solving the housing public policy conundrum, however she could go much further by placing her trust in councils to close that gap fully by giving them borrowing powers to build housing on scale once again. This would deliver the right mix of affordable housing required at a local level based on local need. It would allow councils to develop the skills and jobs required in local communities, stimulating economic activity and avoiding leakage from local economies as Brexit approaches.
With 1.2m on council house waiting lists, the age of the average first time buyer 38 and with 59% of 25 to 34-year olds living in private rented accommodation, it really is a time for action to meet the country’s needs.