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London mayor offers cash for councils to hire architects

Sadiq khan at estate
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Sadiq Khan has pledged £10 million to help councils boost their housing and planning teams – including by hiring architects

The mayor of London launched the Homebuilding Capacity Fund, which will accept bids for up to £750,000 per local authority.

Khan said council planning and development budgets in the capital had been halved this decade amid austerity measures.

The latest funding is designed to help local authorities deliver on their housebuilding ambitions. The mayor’s separate £1 billion Building Council Homes for Londoners initiative aims to get 10,000 new council homes on site within four years, while prime minister Theresa May is set to remove a restrictive borrowing cap to help create a new wave of social housing.

Cash will be awarded from the Homebuilding Capacity Fund to selected bids that would help to deliver one of the four below aims:

  • A new generation of council homes
  • More homes on small sites
  • Proactive masterplans in areas with significant growth potential
  • Optimal density across new residential developments

The mayor’s office confirmed that bids for cash to recruit architects would be considered as long as they met the above criteria. 

Khan said: ‘London’s housing crisis has been decades in the making and there is no easy solution – but we will only make progress if councils can take a lead in getting new homes built.

‘Councils have been hamstrung by swingeing cuts from government for far too long. My new Homebuilding Capacity Fund won’t reverse those cuts - but it will help ambitious councils to enhance their capacity to deliver large-scale new-build programmes.’

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire called for local authorities to include design skills in any move to boost their capacity.

‘There is a consensus across the sector that there is an urgent need to boost the capacity of planning teams across the country,’ he said.

‘This announcement from the mayor of London is a welcome step in the right direction and I hope we will see similar schemes across the country. I hope that councils will pay particular attention to securing additional staff with design experience, including architects.’

Social enterprise Public Practice this month began searching for a fresh wave of architects to embed in local government planning departments.

Co-founder Finn Williams said: ’With the cap lifted on borrowing, and hundreds of millions of pounds available through the mayor’s new Building Council Homes for Londoners programme, councils now finally have access to the capital they need to take a more active role in housing delivery.

’But after having their hands tied for almost 40 years, the biggest challenge for councils will be bringing back the specialist expertise they need to build at scale.

’We’re already in discussions with a number of authorities across London about creating exciting placements for architects to lead this new generation of council housing, and encourage any architects interested in this challenge to apply to the next Public Practice cohort.”

London Councils executive member for housing and planning Darren Rodwell said: ‘Boroughs are determined to help tackle the housing crisis by building a new generation of council houses for Londoners. 

‘This support from the mayor will help boost boroughs’ ability to deliver the homes our communities need. It’s a welcome development and boroughs will be keen to make good use of these much-needed resources.’

The Homebuilding Capacity Fund is being funded through the Business Rates Retention Pilot announced at last year’s Budget.

Deputy mayor for housing James Murray this week launched a forum to provide technical advice to those involved in council-led delivery of homes. 

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