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Addressing the national housing challenge

Source: PSE Feb/Mar 16

Martin Swales, chief executive of South Tyneside Council and Solace spokesperson on economic prosperity and housing, discusses how local authorities are perfectly placed to work with central government to meet the country’s housing crisis.

Housing supply and its affordability is one of the major social challenges that Britain faces today. It is underpinned by our growing and ageing population and an increase in the need for greater single-person households. 

Housing has been pushed to the top of the local government agenda. Central government acknowledged, in its November Spending Review and Autumn Statement housing announcements, that solving the housing ‘crisis’ is a top priority. 

As a key priority for Solace, the recent policy paper, ‘Addressing the National Housing Challenge’, sets out our invitation to central government and other organisations to work with Solace members and our partners to help transform the nation’s housing landscape. 

The policy paper outlines a number of mutually supportive proposals that would help provide local solutions and support central government’s commitment to deliver one million new homes within this Parliament. We recommended consideration of the following 10 proposals: 

  1. New housing investment, tailored to the requirements of the locality, should feature in every devolution deal.
  2. Long-term and committed funding streams should be available to local authorities to enable them to adopt a strategic, long-term approach to housing investment.
  3. While we acknowledge that some public sector land may be in unsustainable locations not suitable for large-scale residential developments, public sector land (including local authority land holdings) should be one of the principal sources of new housing, and appropriately supported by investment from central government.
  4. Local authorities should be granted freedoms to re-invest locally-generated income in the provision of new housing.
  5. Housing Revenue Account borrowing caps should be removed to allow local authorities to borrow prudentially and deliver housing.
  6. Mechanisms are needed to disseminate knowledge between local authorities about new public/private investment vehicles.
  7. New covenants should be introduced to ensure that both owner-occupation from the exercise of ‘Right to Buy’, and the development of more low-cost starter homes, support the aim of increasing home ownership.
  8. The powers of local authority housing services should be enhanced to ensure the highest standards for all tenants, whether in the private or public sector.
  9. Local authorities should consult with central government to support further reform of the planning system.
  10. Skills investment needs to be co-ordinated between local and central government to ensure that construction jobs lost at the peak of the recession are re-established. 

The private sector alone cannot build the number of homes required to meet the rising demand. Therefore, we believe local authorities, using the interventions proposed, are perfectly placed to work with central government and our partners, to meet this challenge and ensure that communities are shaped to meet their local needs.

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