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Government launches social housing review

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The government has launched an independent review into how more social housing can be built in the UK

The review will explore whether local councils are making enough use of their powers to deliver new social housing as part of attempts to increase housing supply.

It will also consider how councils can work more closely with housing associations, housebuilders and businesses to build more new homes.

The government has committed to build 165,000 affordable homes between 2015, and 2018, while in London Boris Johnson has pledged to build 15,000 affordable homes each year for the next decade.

The review will be led by Natalie Elphicke, the chair of the Million Homes charity, and Keith House, leader of Eastleigh Borough Council.  They will report back to the government at the end of 2014.

Chief secretary to the treasury, Danny Alexander said: ‘The government is on track to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes over this Parliament, and from next year we will be building new affordable homes at the fastest rate for 20 years.

‘I am, however, determined that we do even more to support affordable and good quality housing in the UK. That is why we have announced this new review into the role local authorities can play in helping to meet our housing needs.

Communities secretary, Eric Pickles added: ‘The coalition government has got Britain building again. Housebuilding is now at its highest level since 2007 and construction orders are growing at the fastest rate for 10 years. But there is still more to do.

‘Our reforms have already untied the hands of councils so they can take more responsibility for housing in their area. This review will now consider if extra freedoms and financial flexibilities could be devolved to councils, so they can build more homes that local people need.’

Elphicke commented: ‘More council houses have been built since 2010 than in the previous decade. Our review will look at whether more can be done to help councils to deliver more homes for their communities.’

Further comment

Dominic J Eaton, director, Stride Treglown

‘Architects are limited in what they can do to help the public sector reinvent regeneration models. We can contribute to this process although some of the bigger strategic decisions tend to be taken before we become involved.

‘This is not intended to take anything away from architects, but to recognize the role of others in this process such as developers, housing associations, local authorities and government. As an architect we have limited powers to influence or change major policy decisions. Even on fairly standard appointments, two of the biggest design decisions have been made before we come on board, that they are where the site is and what goes on it. To have the sort of influence that would make a change, the architect needs power to make things happen, and this is something the architect has little of.

‘On most projects we are appointed, briefed and often guided through the process to deliver the clients aspiration. To try to make real social changes within that process is very difficult. I have often felt that as profession we have lost a lot of our influence and ability to use architecture as a tool for real social change. If I’m really critical, I think that our involvement is often limited to elevational treatment and the choice of materials and colours!

‘In the 50’s and 60’s there was real optimism with new types of living, mass housing, high rise high density projects and new heroic materials. Although history tells us that many of these ‘experiments’ were a disaster, there was during that period an optimism and belief that we could make a better world, and this is clear to see from the drawings, models and schemes that were produced.

‘I believe that architects are paying today for the unfortunate outcome of many of these projects in the 50’s and 60’s. Although there has been a loss of confidence by the public in our ability to reinvent regeneration models, I believe we have learnt from our mistakes and have been contributing more positively to the built environment and the social housing debate over a number of decades, but there is still more work to do to really secure our place back at the ‘top’ table.’

Alan Shingler, partner at Sheppard Robson

‘While Eric Pickles claims ‘more council houses have been built since 2010 than in the previous decade’, we are still not meeting housing targets and the shortfall is growing.

We should consider a more flexible approach to affordable housing

‘It is time we should start to consider a more flexible approach to affordable housing, possibly by allowing more off site provision, community contributions and private rental housing in lieu of some affordable.

‘The Barking Riverside project proves that private and public sector partnerships can lift design quality without increasing cost. I would like to see more government intervention to help facilitate strategic land for development, defining clear uncompromising design and environmental standards. This will provide the ammunition needed for the UK’s best residential architects to design a new generation of affordable family housing that can be delivered at scale.’

Dan Burr, partner at Sheppard Robson

‘Whilst clear and coherent design and environmental standards will help enforce better quality across the industry, at a strategic level shouldn’t we be looking to move from punitive standards to more incentivised systems? These could reward schemes that exceed minimum targets, (e.g. space standards, daylight levels) encouraging innovation and allowing architects ingenuity to add quality and variety.’

Russell Brown, partner at Hawkins\Brown

‘We are working very closely with Camden, Ealing and Hackney etc. Their model is to appoint a full team (through OJEU or their own frameworks) to develop a detailed planning vision – that really addresses locals needs and is not ‘dumbed down’ by the open market. They have then worked hard to market these schemes to development partners, or to develop them themselves (in Hackney’s) case. This is a very good model in that the local authorities can set design high on the agenda and the developers have to compete on the council’s terms. 

‘Martyn Evans, and his Cathedral Group, are exploring a whole range of different mixes of uses and development models and the local authorities should be seeking out like minded entrepreneurs to form creative regeneration partnerships that draw on local culture, history and businesses. 

Councils should be trusted and encouraged to generate locally based solutions

‘I am not sure a London Mayor run, publicly-controlled, housing corporation will be able to get further than the London Development Agency did, two years ago! I think in the first instance, councils should be trusted and encouraged to generate locally based solutions, and the Mayor should only have to intervene in extremis.’

Andy von Bradsky, PRP chair

‘Local Authorities hold the key to unlocking land supply for affordable housing starting with land they own. They need a vision to respond to the housing needs of their area and creative development expertise in making the most of their assets to increase social housing provision. The challenge for them is doing this at a time when resources are being squeezed and skills lost, however many London boroughs that have the confidence and political will are already doing this.

‘The London Housing Strategy addresses these challenges and is a good blueprint for increasing housing supply, which can only be achieved by pulling all the levers of the public, private and investment sectors. Greater autonomy for local authorities to fund development from their rental income stream is key and using assets to attract patient capital and for local authorities to embrace the nascent institutional investor led private rental market as an essential component to housing tenure in local plans.’

Stuart Carr, director at Chapman Taylor

‘Central government and local authorities have a major role to play in augmenting the supply of attractive, well located social housing. European examples like Hammarby in Stockholm, an extension to the city benefiting from excellent connectivity, show that a visionary approach using land previously earmarked for another purpose can lead to highly successful and sustainable housing development with a broad range of tenures. Such innovative thinking and up-front funding of infrastructure is one of the keys to pushing forward the social housing agenda. We should never underestimate the power of human ingenuity when incentivised and the Woolfson Economic Prize this year may produce some innovative models which can be built in a sustainable and socially inclusive manner. Fundamentally though, it is forward-thinking local authorities which can achieve the most success in this struggle in both the short and medium term.’

Hugh Petter, director at ADAM Architecture

‘The key to social housing is viability, and this in turn is linked to the speed of delivery. Build too quickly and the quality and value of market housing goes down, and so does the ability to provide social housing. Build more slowly and the quality and value of market housing goes up, so enabling more social housing to be produced.  House-builders will tell you that sites rarely sell more than 100 units a year, so this limits the rate of delivery of social housing on each development site.

‘At present councils are only required to demonstrate a five year land supply. Five years is no time at all. Local authorities should be encouraged to take a longer term strategic look at the ultimate development potential of sites so that a long term view can be taken. The abolition of short term horizons and rush to provide quick solutions to housing problems would, in my view, encourage the slower delivery of more, larger schemes which could be husbanded to create better value for the developer and land-owner, and to create better, more diverse places for people, both rich and poor, to live.’

Alfred Munkenbeck, Munkenbeck and Partners

‘The simple solution to housing delivery is for councils to hire in house staff architects to prepare planning briefs for vacant brown field sites suitable for housing. They then run competitions amongst developers to meet the brief for publicly owned sites or encourage site owners with a vision to proceed with privately owned vacant sites. This way, the time and uncertainty in the planning process will be greatly reduced. Planners will be pro-actively planning instead of just ‘controlling’ (i.e. delaying) development. Housing starts will increase dramatically when it takes three months instead of (sometimes) three years to obtain permissions.  (I am speaking from continual bitter experience)

In moderation, public architects can be very helpful

‘Margaret Thatcher practically abolished public staff architects including a thousand employed by the GLC, however, in moderation, public architects can be very helpful.’

Robert Sakula of Ash Sakula Architects 

‘My answer is collective custom build, which the government is coming round to supporting. Self-build and custom build already provide around 10 per cent of all new housing in Britain, as much as any single house builder, but it could be much more - it is a lower proportion than virtually all other developed economies. Small is beautiful.’


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