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Stop 'agonising' over housing and devolve it, say council CEOs

Chief executives at five of the most powerful local authorities in the north have called on the government to “stop agonising” and devolve housing responsibilities in the future.

Speaking during a panel session at the UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference & Exhibition, John Mothersole, CEO at Sheffield City Council, which signed a £900m devolution deal last year, said that despite housing being a national issue, it must be dealt with at a local level.

Manchester City Council’s CEO Sir Howard Bernstein, Newcastle’s Pat Ritchie, Liverpool City Council’s Ged Fitzgerald and Leeds City Council’s Tom Riordan were all in agreement.

“The way that housing growth is sought to be supported is that it is seen as a national issue, as it is, but the solution is designed at a national level,” said Mothersole.

“But every housing market is local, and it is proving very difficult to get the rate of housebuilding that we want to deliver nationally where the current support is quite rigid and is designed to national level.”

He added that it isn’t just a case of the northern market being different from the London market: “the Sheffield market is different to that of the Newcastle market,” he said.

During the hour-long debate, facilitated by Radio4’s John Humphrys, the local authority chief execs also said that there needs to be greater collaborative working in order to make the Northern Powerhouse work, a sustainable plan must be developed for the future, and political will must remain for the project going forward.

Pat Ritchie, chief executive at Newcastle City Council, who has contributed in the past to PSE on public sector transformation, also wants to see the north get “real levers” and control over the skills system.

Sir Howard Bernstein, who has been influential in much of Manchester’s growth in recent years, also want to see a “complete revamp” on the way big transport schemes are processed and approved. He described the current state of affairs as “just mad” and being “wholly designed to prevent and delay schemes being approved”.

Tom Riordan, CEO of Leeds City Council, who turned up late due to traffic congestion between Leeds and Manchester, said that over the next few months the government must back the northern transport plan.

Recently Lord Adonis, who is leading the new £100bn National Infrastructure Commission, told PSE the work of the budding Transport for the North (TfN) body will bring about transformational change by making the sum of the northern city regions more than their parts.

And David Brown, the recently appointed chief executive of TfN, told us why it is important the north speaks with a single, clear voice for delivering major change across the north.

More coverage from the show will be included in the April/May edition of PSE.


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