Local authorities need to start making an impact on the housing crisis, and building the homes that communities really need. That’s the view of the Local Government Association’s Housing Commission, which in a new report suggests a range of interventions to get home construction moving once more.
Speaking at the recent Local Government Association annual conference, councillor Peter Box commented: “As you know we fought the Housing Bill hard – it united every member of my board irrespective of party affiliation. There have been some successes and we’ve made a bad bill less bad. But the truth is that we have to start designing our own future.”
Box, leader of Wakefield Council and one of four commission members, called for “a new future for the role of local government in housing”. And he said the commission’s report containing preliminary findings was just the start. He noted that some councils are already actively involved in housing delivery.
“In five years Birmingham City Council went from building no homes to becoming the biggest developer of new homes in the city – so we know it can be done. We have opportunities to scale up building across the country- and to do so in ways that will generate revenue for the sector. Let’s take the opportunity of focussing on where the market is under delivering.”
Relying on the private sector was not a solution, he noted – and not just because they build at a pace that suits their market. “Private developers all too often build homes that will not meet the diversifying needs of our communities.” He said local authorities are in an ideal situation to meet the differing needs of various parts of the community.
“It’s local government that has the unique insight and opportunities to lead and shape the market. Our population is ageing and diversifying. The housing aspirations and needs of our older people are not yet being catered for by private developers. We have opportunities to build homes that are attractive to older people – and support future ageing in ways that reduce health and care costs.”
LPA Perspective: Councils often complain that the government does not permit them to borrow, and this chokes their ability to build the homes their areas need. This interim report from the LGA has plenty of examples from around the country, to disprove the argument. In London, boroughs are using their initiative – such as Croydon, which has established its own housing development company to build out sites that are too fiddly for private developers. The LGA also makes the point that this is not just about building more homes.
Joined up thinking at the local level means housing construction can positively affect local skills and employment, and impact the payment of benefits. And housing that is properly designed for older people also makes it easier to support them in living within the community, again helping with stretched social services. The commission’s full report ought to have plenty of practical action points for the boroughs to consider. It’s time to roll sleeves up and get on, and stop waiting for central government, or the private sector, to solve all the problems.