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15.09.17

Councils sceptical of major DCLG reform to assess housing need

The DCLG has this week launched a consultation on a new way of assessing housing need to ensure local areas are given the appropriate funding to drive housebuilding.

The measures will mean that more homes are built in areas where it is unaffordable, based on average earnings in the area. It would also, according to the government, boost housing supply and improve affordability by helping councils work to a consistent approach to plan for more homes in the right places.

“As anyone who has tried to buy or rent a home recently would probably tell you, the housing market in this country is broken,” said communities secretary Sajid Javid.

“The simple truth is that for far too long we haven’t built enough homes and we don’t build them quickly enough.

“It’s time to fix that. This new approach will cut the unnecessarily complex and lengthy debates that can delay house building. It will make sure we have a clear and realistic assessment of how many new homes are needed, and ensure local communities have a voice in deciding where they go.”

Though this new approach does not set targets, the DCLG hopes that it will act as a starting point to ensure that it will be quicker for each local area to produce a realistic plan of its housing need and review it every five years.

The reforms will also allow neighbouring councils to work together to plan for homes and supporting infrastructure across different areas.

‘Whitehall can never understand complexity of local housing markets’

But Cllr Martin Tett, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said that while there are benefits to having a standard approach to assessing the need for housing, a formula drawn up by Whitehall can never fully understand the complexity and unique need of local housing markets.

“Councils know that the only way to tackle our housing crisis is to build more homes, and the right types of homes needed for our communities,” he stated. “Councils already approve nine in 10 planning permissions, but are often frustrated when approved homes aren’t built quickly enough.

“It is crucial that councils and communities can lead new development in their areas. Our residents are clear – new homes in their communities have to be affordable, high-quality, and supported by adequate infrastructure and sustainable local services.”

The LGA spokesman also argued that the only way to do this was to make sure that councils, who are closest to the communities they serve, have the powers and funding they need to deliver homes that are right for their local area.  

“This means powers to make sure developers build out approved homes in a timely fashion, adequately funding planning departments so that they can cover the cost of processing applications, and freeing councils to borrow to build quality new homes communities want and need,” Cllr Tett explained.

“Ultimately we need a renaissance in council house building if we’re to deliver the affordable homes this country needs – national ambitions will not be realised without new freedoms and powers for councils.”

And Cllr John Fuller, chairman of the District Councils’ Network (DCN), said that his organisation fully supported the government’s housebuilding ambitions.

“We have concerns that a national formula may never take into account all local constraints but whilst contentious, this may provide greater certainty in plan making and speed up the process in some cases, an outcome which would be welcomed,” he continued.

“To deliver additional housing growth, district councils must be given greater fiscal freedom and incentives to truly unlock their potential.

“The DCN has long called for an increase in planning permission fees and we therefore welcome the government’s recommitment to increasing planning fees by 20%, which must now be agreed by Parliament at the earliest opportunity. We also welcome the potential for a further 20% increase going forward.”

The consultation launched yesterday and will run for eight weeks until 9 November 2017.

Top Image: Rui Vieira

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