Headlines: September 9th, 2009

Councils are placing too much emphasis on building new homes, according to a new report from the Audit Commission which says they should pay more attention to making the most of existing houses and flats. Today’s report says one in three authorities are struggling to understand the housing market on their own doorsteps.

‘Building Better Lives – getting the best from strategic housing’ says councils feel pressured into focusing on building new homes and that 94 per cent of areas have prioritised on new and/or affordable housing targets in their Local Area Agreements. Fewer than a third have focussed on targets relating to their existing housing stock although there are financial, environmental and social benefits from doing so.

The report says if all councils thought more broadly they could do more to combat poverty, ill-health and educational under-achievement and to strengthen their communities. The Commission says the recession makes a strategic view of housing more important.

The Commission chairman, Michael O’Higgins, said his experience as chairman of the youth homelessness charity, ‘Centrepoint’, had shown him that homelessness and poor housing blighted lives but there were real benefits to councils taking a more strategic approach. He added: “In tougher times, it is all the more important that councils think strategically and creatively about housing and take their housing responsibilities seriously. This report encourages councils to do that and has good examples of councils that have made a real difference to their residents without spending large sums of money.”

The report says a strategic view of housing is not only critical to an area’s economy, education, public health and community cohesion, but can lead to savings across all areas of public services.