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01.02.15

Creating a culture of housebuilding – the elphicke-house review

Source: Public Sector Executive Feb/Mar 2015

A national review has concluded that councils will be central to delivering a successful step-change in housebuilding across England. PSE’s David Stevenson reports

Local authorities should become ‘housing delivery enablers’, assessing the need to provide homes in their areas that their residents want and need, in order to build sustainable communities, a government-commissioned review has recommended.

The review – by Natalie Elphicke, chair of Million Homes, Million Lives, and Cllr Keith House, leader of Eastleigh Borough Council – found five ways councils can become housing delivery enablers: community leadership and strategic clarity; creating housing opportunity; business leadership; management of housing supply; and shaping a stronger housing finance market.

Council must take responsibility for making development happen in their area, rather than purely assessing housing need and determining planning permissions. They should be at the forefront of a “culture of housebuilding”.

Enough talk, time for action

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.”

The report authors, who heard from more than 400 participants over the last 11 months, say that while councils already play a key role in meeting housing needs in their areas across England, more could be done.

By acting as housing delivery enablers, councils can show community leadership – engaging residents, reflecting residents’ personal housing challenges and housing aspirations and developing the vision for growth and progress for a community together.

Also, councils have been urged to consider how they can “actively support” smaller and start-up housing businesses locally with land, finance, and skills/business training and opportunities for partnerships and collaborative working.

On top of this, they should consider using land covenants, development licences and overage to secure best value at a later point, to release small sites for priority house building.

Housing and Finance Institute

The Elphicke-House report also recommends that the government and Local Government Association (LGA) establish an independent Housing and Finance Institute. This would support a “step-change” in housing activity, leading to a better understanding and assessment of options, faster implementation, and increased housing delivery over the long term, which could help to shape a stronger housing finance market.

Cllr Peter Box, LGA housing spokesman, said: “We have the ambition and appetite to build more affordable homes and are finding innovative ways to use land and finance building schemes.

“Councils must have a lead role in building if we are to deliver the homes and infrastructure we need, as this report recognises. It is positive that the report recommends a stronger role for councils in joining up public sector land and highlights opportunities for new ways of financing housing which the LGA is working with councils to explore.”

220,000 new homes a year

There is widespread consensus about the scale of housing needed nationally: upwards of 220,000 annually to keep pace with demand. Meeting these needs can improve local finances, education, health and building stronger communities. In contrast, failing to meet current and planned housing needs is likely to have adverse impacts.

Elphicke and Cllr House say housing distribution must be analysed locally, not just nationally. In March 2013, 19 out of 326 councils did not meet the existing housing needs of their population in absolute numbers of households (not including concealed households).

They advised that the government should consider strengthening its advice to encourage more councils to pro-actively support neighbourhood planning and for councils to engage residents in shaping housing needs more regularly.

Chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander MP, said: “As this review demonstrates, there is clearly scope for them [councils] 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.”

The government has accepted the review’s recommendation that it should consult on extending the Transparency Code to cover all Housing Revenue Account land. But the establishment of an independent Housing and Finance Institute needs to be explored further to ensure it “would be delivered in a way that secures value for money without creating unnecessary bureaucracy”.

Cllr Keith House said: “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.”

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