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Council housebuilding ‘at its highest since 1990’

Century house square index
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Council home-building may have hit an almost 30-year high, according to comprehensive research published this week

A detailed investigation by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) concluded that more than 13,000 homes may have been delivered by English local authorities last year – which would be the highest since 1990.

Prime minister Theresa May last year scrapped the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) borrowing cap, allowing councils to raise more cash for construction – a decision hailed at the time by housebuilders as ‘exciting’.

The RTPI received survey responses from 142 councils, with 69 per cent saying they had directly engaged in housebuilding over the past year, at an average of 55 units each.

The body identified 8,992 residences that had been delivered in the nine months to May 2019 by 83 English local authorities. Of these 42 per cent were affordable, 23 per cent social, 10 per cent intermediate, 16 per cent for market sale and 8 per cent for private rent.

Eight in ten councils polled had a wholly-owned housing company.

RTPI president Ian Tant said: ‘Having local authorities back as key players in the housing market is vital to tackling the housing crisis. It’s great news that they are becoming more active again, delivering a wide range of house types to meet a wide range of needs.’

Following a number of interviews and case studies, the RTPI concluded that the HRA still restricted council housebuilding. It called for ministers to allow local authorities to borrow against their assets and rent income in the same way as registered providers and the private sector; and also for separate funding to be available to those without an HRA.

The body identified land restrictions as another brake on building.

‘Lack of land is still a major issue,’ said Tant. ‘The government needs to help councils access land at the right price to develop themselves or sell to earn the income they need. Government should also consider a more direct role in increasing supply and influencing the location of housing.’

Janet Morphet, visiting professor at the Bartlett School of Planning, said homelessness and shrinking budgets were both driving councils across the country to deliver housing.

’‘Increasingly councils are concerned about the quality of housing being built in their areas,’ she added. ’We have heard across the country, from all types of local authority, that councils are no longer relying on or waiting for developments to come through the planning system to provide the housing that they need and are taking action to deliver directly.’ 

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