This week three London boroughs asked for HRA
debt caps to be lifted to let them build homes for middle-income
families squeezed out of the central London housing market.
Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster
City councils want to invest £53 million in a pilot scheme to
provide 300 homes for rents between social and market levels, which
they argue would deliver an annual surplus of £500,000 to the HRA
over 10 years and an asset worth £64 million at the end of that
The proposal aims to deal with specific housing market issues
which are pretty well unique to central London, but the business
case for the proposal, which emphasises the job creation and
economic benefits it would bring, could be adapted to apply much
One important fact about this submission which has been missed by
the housing media, and which may significantly improve its chances
of being taken seriously by the government, is that it forms part
of the three boroughs' submission as one of the four whole-area
Community Budgets pilots - a government initiative which positively
encourages proposals to remove current rules and regulations where
this would allow the design and delivery of better services to
Community Budgets is the name invented by the Coalition government
to distinguish this programme from the previous government's Total
Place initiative which was its progenitor.
The Total Place idea was to look across the multitude of different
public services serving the same area or people for opportunities
where pooling resources or better coordination could lead to better
services, less duplication and cost savings.
Evaluation of the Total Place pilots suggested opportunities for
substantial savings by sharing back-office functions, simplifying
access to services, better targeting and shifting the service focus
from reaction to prevention.
Making these happen would mean better cooperation among public
service partners at local level, but also the removal of unhelpful
government rules and restrictions. Ambitious plans for taking Total
Place forward were cut short by the general election.
At first, the new government's plans for Community budgets were
limited to initiatives in 16 areas to improve support for
"troubled" families. But in December last year, CLG announced plans
to allow four areas - Greater Manchester, Cheshire West and
Chester, Essex and West London, embracing the three boroughs - to
pilot a much more ambitious whole area approach which would look
for opportunities for improvements across the full spread of public
services in these areas.
The housing plans are one of seven West London proposals submitted
on 31 October. Others include: a jobs passport for school leavers
to give employers information on their skills, aptitudes and
experience; integrating health and social care to allow more people
to stay in their own homes; plans to speed up care proceedings and
extend support for families with complex needs; reducing adult
reoffending, and allowing more local say in national infrastructure
projects - the boroughs argue that they could ensure the planned
HS2 hub in North West London could help deliver 21,000 new homes
and 196,000 jobs.
Launching the submission, Nicholas Botterill, Leader of
Hammersmith & Fulham said, "many people will see these
proposals as plain old common sense, but the fact is that we need
Government to join the party to make much of this work."
Quite so, and since the proposals impinge on more than a few
Government departments it will be particularly interesting to see
which choose to join the party and which are too arrogant or too
short-sighted to give up their traditional "Whitehall knows best"
attitudes. On housing, will CLG be a party-goer or a