Headlines: February 2nd, 2015

Councils can play a greater role in getting the country building, according to an independent review.

In their report to the government, Natalie Elphicke and Councillor Keith House argue for councils to be put at the heart of providing more homes across all tenures in their local area.

Under their proposals, councils would become “housing delivery enablers” – assessing the housing need of their area, working with businesses, housing associations and others to provide the homes their residents want and need to build strong and sustainable communities.

In particular, the report urges councils to consider how they can actively support smaller and start-up housing businesses locally – whether with land, finance or training.

Ms Elphicke and Councillor House also urge the government to take steps to support councils as they take on this new role.

Natalie Elphicke said: “All hands are needed on deck. Unlocking councils will help to deliver the homes we need and get more young people onto the housing ladder.

We have talked for a decade. There have been many great reforms. Now it’s time for councils to foster a homebuilding revolution.
Councils hold the key to shake up the status quo and to get Britain building.”

Councillor Keith House said: “We have seen some inspiring examples of councils driving housing for their areas, particularly where they have set up housing companies to drive forward housebuilding. With skills and confidence, more councils can help to deliver that step-change in housing supply.

Councils will be central to a successful step-change in housebuilding. It’s now time for action not words. Our report sets out how that can happen.”

Since 2010 the government has taken a range of measures to get the country building again including radically reforming the planning system, investing billions in an Affordable Homes Programme and introducing schemes like Help to Buy, which enable people to buy with a fraction of the deposit they would normally require.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: Local authorities already play a key role in meeting housing needs in their areas across England. However, as this review demonstrates, there is clearly scope for them to go further to help solve the country’s current housing crisis. I warmly welcome this review and look forward to its core recommendations being taken forward.

Housing providers have full government support: I have prioritised the investment of almost £2 billion to ensure we can deliver on average 55,000 new affordable homes a year until 2020. We are also taking the lead in exploring ways to boost housing supply: as I announced last month, we will be directly commissioning, building and selling homes to speed up the process at Northstowe in Cambridge.

Tonia Secker, partner at Trowers & Hamlins, said: “This long-awaited report identifies further means for local authorities to enhance their contribution to housing supply. There is more that Government can do to incentivise that contribution by taking steps to promote and facilitate partnership working, although the existing framework need not present a barrier to innovation. Incentivisation need not be in the form of hard cash – greater flexibilities on the types of joint venture vehicles that local authorities can use would assist or a commitment to a pilot or exemplar project to see what can be achieved.”

Rob Beiley, partner at Trowers & Hamlins, added: “The report confirms our belief that housing can represent an investment for local authorities as well as delivering public value and homes for those who need them. We look forward to continuing to help local authorities deliver on the ideas set out in the report and to sharing knowledge of opportunities to do so.”

The government has accepted a number of Natalie Elphicke and Councillor House’s key recommendations.

Additional advice will be offered on supporting communities that want to bring forward a neighbourhood plan.