UK Commission seeks to empower Councils for fast-tracking Affordable Housing
The Housing Commission, which is constituted by the Local Government Association (LGA) to examine housing supply, in its final report, has made revolutionary suggestions, including freeing Councils from restrictions on their borrowing to build more affordable homes and making it easier for them to compulsorily purchase land that has planning permission for homes but which is not being built out.
The report, for which inputs were taken from over 100 partners and stakeholders, including Age UK, Federation of Small Businesses, developers, NHS Confederation, Shelter, Crisis, and the National Housing Federation, represents the voice of over 370 Councils in England and Wales.
The Housing Commission has highlighted some of the serious concerns of the residential housing sector. For instance, the number of affordable homes built in 2015-16 reduced by 52 per cent and it was the lowest for 24 years. Likewise, 12,246 Council homes were sold to tenants under Right-to-Buy in 2015-16 while the replacements started by councils were 2,055 – another drop of 27 per cent when compared to the corresponding period previous year.
Freeing Councils from restrictions on their borrowing to build more affordable homes is the way forward. The Commission also seeks to establish a stable long-term financial framework enabling the Councils to invest, such as removing Housing Revenue Account (HRA) borrowing from contributing to public debt.
The LGA had found out in the past that 475,000 homes with planning permission but are yet to be built. Taking note of this, the Housing Commission has suggested giving Councils powers to make it easier for them to purchase such land for which planning permission for new homes is given, but delivery is not made.
Another significant suggestion made by the Housing Commission is giving Councils tools to ensure effective land markets and to capture increases in land values to fund infrastructure. The comes in the wake of the OECD establishing that UK infrastructure has suffered from under-investment compared with some competitor countries since the 1980s.
The Commission has also suggested creating routes for Councils to directly deliver new homes of all tenures through innovative housing models, delivery vehicles, including joint delivery vehicles across areas. Develop Council and wider public agencies’ capacity to release land, and take a lead on development in sites where building can be brought forward quickly, are also among its recommendations. Strawberry Star sees scope for private sector participation in this to meet the housing goals.
The report from the Housing Commission comes at a right time, especially, as we step into 2017 with higher expectations from the stakeholders to respond to the needs of home-buyers. There is an advantage for the Councils to partner with reputed private firms to fulfil their housing commitments, as suggested by the Commission.