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The case for councils to build new homes 08/06/2017

In the week of the General Election, John Bibby, ARCH chief executive, makes the case for the new government to allow councils to borrow to build the new homes that the country needs in an article for Inside Housing.


In the article, John said:


"The current housing crisis has been decades in the making and housing has rightly featured high in the public debate ahead of the General Election and in the Manifestos of all the main political parties. Stock retained councils are eager to play their part in building the homes that the country needs and I welcome the emphasis the main parties have placed on housing policy in their manifestos. 


"The record of housebuilding in this country shows that we have only ever come close to building the number of new homes we need when local authorities have been actively involved and supported to build new homes alongside private developers and other social housing providers. The Conservative Party Manifesto sums it up nicely by stating "We will never achieve the number of new houses we require without the active participation of social and municipal housing providers", however it goes on to have a swipe at the quality of housing provided in the past, claiming that "councils have been amongst the worst offenders in failing to build sustainable, integrated communities" and "in some instances have built for political gain rather than social purpose".


"Given that councils have not built municipal housing on any significant scale since the 1980's when local authorities became housing "enablers" working with housing associations rather than being direct "providers", this criticism of local authorities is somewhat unjustified and dated. While it is true that some estates, particularly mid and high-rise developments and deck access flats and maisonettes built in the sixties and seventies have not stood the test of time, the vast majority of homes provided by councils have provided excellent accommodation - illustrated by their popularity in the first-time buyer and buy to let market as former RTB properties come up for sale. 


"Of course providing council housing in a decent place to live is not simply about bricks and mortar or the quality of the architectural design and planning layout. It is also about the management and maintenance of those homes and for too long, until investment was made to bring homes up to the Decent Homes Standard by 2010 followed by the introduction of the Self-financing regime in 2012, councils were starved of the resources necessary to maintain their housing assets, refurbish older stock and address any failings in the original design and planning of the housing. 


"Since 2012 we have seen a small renaissance in council house building and the quality of this new housing has been excellent, much of it built to the Code for Sustainable Homes and "Secured by Design" principles within and complementary to existing communities. The Conservative Party manifesto pledge to help councils to build is to be welcomed but the implication is that this help may be limited and only be available to those councils that an incoming Conservative Government judge to be "ambitious" and "pro-development" which could give rise to winners and losers amongst councils wanting to build and begs the question as to how councils are to be judged and the criteria that will be applied. 


"To end the housing crisis, the next government must unlock the potential to invest in council housing by re-instating the principles of self-financing introduced with all-party support under the Localism Act 2011 and allow all local authorities the opportunity to build again. With the right encouragement and support from government, councils are ready to build the right homes, to the right standards, in the right places that the nation so desperately needs."


Read the Inside Housing article.

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