Scores of town halls across England should be freed to build thousands of extra affordable homes by tweaking a little-known Whitehall rule, a government- ordered report has urged
More than 36,000 social homes could be created by quadrupling the number of homes that some 182 authorities could build themselves - shifting a current threshold figure of 50 to up to 200.
The rule-change is one of a number of recommendations in the year-long review of council housing by housing finance lawyer Natalie Elphicke and Keith House, the leader of Eastleigh Council.
Currently, councils must set themselves up as landlord after building more than 50 social homes, a restriction deterring some from development according to the report.
The change would apply to 182 authorities such as county councils and those which sold their homes to housing associations. Many of these authorities are unaware the rule even exists, the report suggests.
Several of the report’s recommendations have already been widely trailed by ministers, including the idea that councils take on a beefed-up role in overseeing house building (see AJ 16.01.15).
This new ‘housing delivery enabler’ role would effectively put councils’ most senior officers and political figures in charge of housing in a bid to cut down on bureaucracy.
Report author Elphicke told the report’s parliamentary launch event last week that councils were holding up to 400 meetings to get just one deal done. ‘Investors will decide to pursue other opportunities.. and other things to invest in,’ she added.
She said the ‘enabler role’ was about ‘meeting the needs of the local community’.
Elphicke said: ‘It isn’t building all the homes yourself. It is all about the role of councils when they act as leaders and investors and community organisers and advocates for housing.
She added: ‘It isn’t sensible for councils to do everything themselves. Councils are at their best when they work with others to plan and deliver what they need in their local communities.’
The idea of a ‘housing enabler’ role for local authorities was backed by the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, at the launch.
‘As someone who believes in the devolution of power, local authorities are closest to their residents and know their need,’ Alexander said.
Local government minister Brandon Lewis said the government aimed to ‘set the tone’ for housebuilding ambition by taking on a more direct role in commissioning new homes. ‘Direct commission gives us a real chance at doing something differently than we did before.’
Direct commission gives us a real chance at doing something differently
A further recommondation in the report to create a “Housing and Finance Institute” to help circulate good practice received a lukewarm response from the government in its initial response.
Ministers would ‘explore…how the intention’ of this suggestion could be ‘delivered in a way that secures value for money without creating unnecessary bureaucracy,’ it states.
Danny Alexander on the report and housebuilding
‘Despite all our efforts as a country, we are not building enough houses. The report sets out some really important ideas.
‘The idea of this report came as the government was working and thinking about what we could do to stimulate activity in the housing market.
‘The question arises again and again: is there more that local authorities can do? And do local authorities have ideas on that subject?
‘We asked these two experts to form a ‘coalition’ to work through some of those issues.
‘There are some detailed and challenging recommendations for central government and local authorities.
‘As someone who believes in the devolution of power, local authorities are closest to their residents and know their needs.’