So – in a much-reduced Queen’s Speech – the Government has promised to bring forward proposals to tackle the country’s ongoing housing crisis.
A forthcoming Housing Bill now looks likely to help ensure “more homes are built”, and to promote “fairness and transparency” in the market.
Bills regulating tenants’ letting fees and mortgages are promised initially – but there are few details at this stage and little clarity over whether or not any future legislation will follow the full recommendations in February’s Housing White Paper.
New policy and resources will no doubt emerge following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower. But beyond that, there are few signs that the financial outlook for housing funding will improve over the course of this Parliament.
Local authorities, therefore, have been left in little doubt that they will be tasked with the responsibility and powers to get things done.
In February, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid told councils they will face a new ‘housing delivery test’ holding them accountable for their role in ensuring new homes are constructed in their area.
We are still likely to see measures targeted at the planning system, and the rules and regulations that govern the relationship between developers and local councils.
For authorities with long waiting lists for homes and planning departments that are already stretched to the limit, meeting any new delivery tests that boost supply and affordability could be tough. Both house builders and local authorities agree that it will not be able to build one million homes by 2020 unless council planning departments are properly funded.
But instead of continuing to manage decline and dwindling budgets, authorities have the opportunity to define for themselves a new strategic role in which they not only deliver essential public services, but also have wider responsibility for enabling growth in their communities, and the essential building of new homes.
A report this week by Centre for Cities – supported by law firm Bevan Brittan – says there is now a critical role for authorities to play in unlocking the latent potential of cities, promoting them as places of investment and regeneration, and constructing new models of delivery and income generation to sustain front line services.
With ongoing uncertainty over the direction of public policy and spending, there is an opportunity for authorities to ‘seize the moment’ – by clarifying their role and identity to create a sub-regional sense of ‘place’, employment and growth.
The considerable public assets they manage give local authorities the leverage to take the lead in driving local economic development. The Centre for Cities report highlights how there are now significant options for authorities to collaborate with each other, the private sector and other partners and agencies.
Critical, is linking the need for improved housing with economic development and a local industrial strategy. With any housing growth, better economic and social infrastructure is required to support expansion and the development of homes that people want to live in – and also meet modern safety standards.
An economic regeneration strategy identifies the businesses and jobs to be attracted; a similar coordinated approach should be required to the quality of housing available to those workers.
A range of other models is available to support authorities to achieve the strategic change they desire – including corporate structures, joint ventures, private sector partnerships and procurement – all of which can leverage investment into local economies.
Whether or not public sector austerity has been ditched following the June election, authorities can tackle historic financial difficulties by better management of their estates to create value. As centuries-old governance models start to break down, embracing change and making the most of working in partnerships would seem to be the right way forward.
If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail please contact Jonathan Turner.
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