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Mayors need 'radical powers' to stem housing crisis, says RIBA

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Regional mayors need far-reaching new powers, including control over the green belt, to prevent a London-style housing crisis occurring in other English cities, says a new RIBA-backed report launched today (Monday)

The Closer to Home report warns that the government will miss its target of building 1 million new homes by the end of the current parliament unless significant powers over housing and planning are handed to the new ‘metro mayors’ due to come into office in May under the devolution agenda.

The document, which was put together by think-tank IPPR North, suggests that without such action the government risks a repeat of the situation in the capital where, it argues, successive mayors have failed to address problems with the housing market.

The report acknowledges that the government has already handed some housing and planning powers to local areas. But it calls for a ‘new devolution deal on housing’ in which the combined authorities set up under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, under mayoral leadership, have powers to deliver full spatial plans and ensure ‘quicker, better’ planning consents, along with resources to unlock development.

Recommendations include giving combined authorities control over the green belt where brownfield supply is insufficient by loosening National Planning Policy Framework land use restrictions and granting powers to set design code standards and viability frameworks.

Other suggestions include letting combined authorities set planning fees, handing them stamp duty proceeds from new-build homes as an incentive to increase supply and giving them power to levy council tax on unbuilt homes and empty homes.

In return, combined authorities need to release sufficient public land – and identify private sites – to meet housebuilding targets, set out plans to speed up the planning system for developers and show how they will helps small and medium businesses enter the market, for example by breaking up larger sites.

RIBA president Jane Duncan said: ‘City devolution offers the opportunity for the first time to link housing, transport and infrastructure together to create sustainable, thriving healthy and happy communities. It is crucial that, as part of the developing devolution agenda, they are also equipped with the tools to drive up both housing supply and the quality of new homes.

‘English cities like Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester have a proud history of strong civic and business leaders working together to rejuvenate urban spaces and better the lives of their citizens. I’m confident, with the necessary powers devolved from central government, our new metro mayors can build on this tradition.’

England is not one housing market but several

Charlotte Snelling, report author and researcher at IPPR, said: ‘England is not one housing market but several. The housing crisis manifests itself very differently: the problems facing Kensington in London – namely supply – and the problems in Kensington in Liverpool – namely quality and decent homes – are best tackled locally.

‘There is no doubt that successive London mayors been successful in using their significant levers on transport, but the powers given to Ken [Livingstone], Boris [Johnson] and Sadiq [Khan] over housing even today are still too piecemeal and partial.

‘The last thing we want to see is the new wave of mayors facing a London-style housing crisis in the future.’

The report used figures from the consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, based on Department for Community and Local Government data, to highlight the shortage of brownfield supply to meet demand. In Yorkshire and Humber, for example, there is brownfield capacity for 71,555 homes but a need for 271,602 homes.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said how to meet housing need should be decided locally ‘including difficult decisions about the green belt’.

He added: ‘If the government is serious about its One Nation credentials in expanding home ownership, it should remember radicals like the revolutionary Birmingham mayor Joseph Chamberlain and let city-regions really take back control.’

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Chris Roche

    Every Major City needs to appoint a City Architect also to articulate regional vision and aspiration and to raise the game of developers within a well defined strategic vision for the city and wider region.

    Chris Roche
    Founder 11.04 Architects

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  • Totally agree with the concept of greater powers for the Mayors. However, also believe that in order to provide decent, quality homes, there should be both in house architects/city architects in local authorities, residential design guides,(similar to the one recently produced by Manchester), and a requirement that volume housebuilding should be Architect led, both at design and project management preferably. With around 96% of applications submitted by volume housebuilders now being without an architect. (It may be different in London and the South, but I am speaking for the more Northern Authorities).

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