Councils are central to tackling the housing crisis

Published on Monday, 23 January 2012 14:52
Posted by Scott Buckler

The challenging housing situation in the country will be improved if councils have greater involvement, according to a new report from the Local Government Association and the Homes and Communities Agency

The report, entitled ‘Meeting Local Housing Demand’, lays out many of the options available to councils. It makes some suggestions as to how they could go about delivering new homes, improving existing ones and making housing central to local areas.

Councils recognise that good and well designed homes that stand the test of time can transform communities, improve outcomes for families and promote social mobility. Councillors are best placed to deliver on this for the communities they live in and represent. Examples of what councils are already doing include:

-    Manchester and Birmingham Councils are using public land and new policies to start a build-to-rent market, increasing the numbers of houses, and providing those renting with more flexible terms.

-    Cherwell Council, in North Oxfordshire, is bringing together its land, funding, powers, welfare policy and community programmes into a housing plan driven by local people and the community.

-    Leicestershire County Council has committed all of its New Homes Bonus received in 2011/12 to support the building of rural, affordable homes. These are available to rent or for shared ownership.

-    On the Byker Estate, in Newcastle, they have developed a model of community control, with a Trust running the estate, with the Government writing off local housing debt of £42 million. The plan will unlock further investment for repairs and improvements, as well as providing training opportunities for local people.

-    In Tarporley, Cheshire West and Chester Council worked with the Parish Council and local people to develop a new vision for the village, with high quality design. Initially there had been public scepticism, but the plans made Tarporley a vibrant and attractive village to live, work and visit.

Cllr David Parsons, Chairman of the LGA’s Environment and Housing Board, said:

Clearly there is a massive challenge to bring down housing waiting lists and to deliver new affordable housing, but it is one which councils are ready to take the lead on.

“There are a number of options for councils to utilise, and I know they are all thinking ambitiously about how to deliver new housing, whilst improving existing homes.

“Nothing should be off the table when it comes to delivering the new homes which can result in local people leading healthier and happier lives.

“The ticking housing time bomb in the country can be defused if councils are allowed to get on the front foot and utilise the options available to them. All partners, including Government and the HCA have an important role in ensuring councils have the tools and flexibility to deliver effectively for their communities.”

Pat Ritchie, Chief Executive of the Homes and Communities Agency, said:

“We hope this report will prove an invaluable tool for our local authority partners, who are so key to meeting and delivering on the housing and growth aspirations of their communities.

“We know these are challenging times, and the HCA, in its enabling role, is on hand to lend full support to its local partners in addressing the issues they are facing around this.”

Some of the key suggestions to councils in the report included:

-    Councils should have strong Local Plans in place to decide what development their local areas need. These should provide detail on the required design, quality and style of buildings, and the number of developments allowed.

-    Working with communities is vital if local people are to be persuaded of the benefits of developments occurring in their local areas. A clear vision is needed by councils to achieve this, and private companies should also explain the schemes to local people.

-    Investigating what public land in the local area is suitable for development. This clearer picture could for instance result in more land being given to community land trusts for them to manage.

-    Adopting new approaches to delivering affordable housing in local areas. Options could include build-to-rent, co-operatives and Community-Right-to-Build. HCA funding may also be available for many of these approaches.

-    The Green Deal represents an opportunity to make existing homes more energy efficient and may attract up to £15 billion by 2020 for this. This is a substantial sum of money and could also contribute to other local priorities, such as carbon reduction, town centre renewal and fuel poverty.


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