Latest Public Sector News


Mayors need ‘radical’ powers to escape London-style housing crisis

Combined authorities will need a special and radical devolution deal to meet local residents’ need for new housing, think tank IPPR North has said – otherwise major cities risk a London-style housing crisis.

The think tank said that at least 240,000 new houses a year need to be built in England, but only 155,000 were built last year. The government has set a target of 1 million additional homes and 200,000 starter homes by 2020.

The report argued that the only way to achieve this goal is a new commitment to housebuilding from combined authorities, combined with new devolved powers from government, to help release more land.

This must include giving mayors set to take charge in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands more powers over big housing decisions, such as building on regional greenbelts.

Charlotte Snelling, one of the report’s authors, said: “England has not one housing market but several. The problems facing Kensington in London, and the problems in Kensington in Liverpool, are very different and best tackled locally.

“The last thing we need is the new wave of mayors facing a London-style housing crisis. Government should devolve powers and mayors must set out exactly how they will help the government meet its housing targets.”

IPPR North said that housebuilding goals were being held back because there isn’t enough public brownfield land available to meet combined authority housing goals, and use of greenfield land is restricted. In addition, spatial strategies for allocating land for housing do not have sufficient resources.

The report also argued that housing markets struggle to make projects financially viable, especially in the north and in areas where local residents cannot afford to buy a house.

It added that housing targets could be even harder to deliver if construction stalls because of funding and labour shortages after Brexit.

A two-way deal

To address the issue, the think tank said a “two-way” deal is needed, starting with combined authorities and their constituent local authorities committing to support the release of sufficient public land, exploring opportunities including selling land and converting existing public assets.

In addition, it said mayors should have the power to intervene in local plans to ensure they are up-to-date. Local plans are currently subject to proposed amendments in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill.

Other important commitments the report highlighted included ongoing negotiations with government on home ownership and housebuilding targets, support for SMEs, and a willingness to pursue opportunities across local authority boundaries.

In return, IPPR North said combined authorities could then demand “an improved devolution offer” from central government.

This should include greater flexibility in the pooling and co-ordination of housing funding streams; retention of stamp duty receipts on all new-build properties; and a lifting of National Planning Policy Framework restrictions in areas where brownfield land cannot deliver the amount of housing needed.

Combined authorities should ask for control over planning fees in order to improve capacity in planning departments, as well as council tax flexibility on empty sites and empty homes in order to make it easier to bring them back into use. They should also be able to set design code standards and viability frameworks.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said: “The Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine will be driven by mayors, and it’s vital they have the powers to build enough homes – recreating a London housing crisis in regional cities would be a disaster.

“Brownfield land is limited, and it is best decided locally how to meet local housing needs. This includes difficult decisions about the greenbelt.”

Today’s report echoes similar calls from council chief executives, who said during a panel session at the UK Northern Powerhouse conference earlier this year that the government should “stop agonising” and devolve housing responsibilities in the future.

Lord Bob Kerslake, chair of the London Housing Commission, has also argued that “radical action”, including devolution, is necessary to solve the capital’s housing crisis.

Responding to the IPPR North’s report, a DCLG spokesperson said: “Devolution deals provide opportunities so that communities work for everyone and the nine deals we have in place all include measures to deliver new homes.

“This is part of a wider bottom-up approach we’re taking to ensure people get a greater say over how their areas are developed. This also includes the neighbourhood planning bill and investment.”

At the Conservative party conference, chancellor Philip Hammond and communities secretary Sajid Javid announced a new £3bn Home Building Fund, as well as a £2bn loan fund, intended to address the housing shortage.

(Image c. Rui Vieira)

Have you got a story to tell? Would you like to become a PSE columnist? If so, click here.


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


public sector executive tv

more videos >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been the r more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues t... more >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >