Natalie Elphicke and Keith House issued an update on the progress of their CLG-sponsored
review of local authorities' role in housing
supply. Its list of emerging themes and challenges provides a
useful focus for the supplementary submission ARCH will be making
to the review drawing on the seminar for councils and ALMOs in the
East Midlands held on the 9 July.
The headlines from the update are that there is widespread
agreement that the supply of housing activity should be increased
across all housing tenures and that local authorities can be
central to housing delivery.
There is a pressing need, say the review team, for a step change in
the role that local authorities can play in supporting housing
activity and housing supply.
There are clear signs, they say, that this step change can be
delivered through collaboration between public and private sector
partners and market-supported solutions.
Emerging themes in the review include a growing recognition that
housing is a local priority not just in relation to meeting the
housing shortage, but in relation to employment, education and
other strategic priorities.
There is a growing self-confidence among local authorities in the
role that they can play, and self-financing is universally
acknowledged as a major opportunity.
The next stages of the review will focus on a number of
challenges for local authorities and their partners in delivering
the necessary step change.
Some of these relate to effective communication between local
authorities and others involved - for example, about the processes
for assessing, planning and monitoring local housing markets and
local housing need and linking them to the local authority's
strategic vision for the area, or about the availability of local
land for development.
Others are the familiar challenges of unblocking stalled sites and
ensuring that when planning permission is granted, building soon
starts. There are skills and capacity issues to be addressed both
in councils and in the local building industry in many areas.
Another challenge is the slow speed at which vacant land owned by
government agencies and other public bodies, including county
councils in shire areas, is made available for development.
This was a point raised at the ARCH seminar. Alongside
issues of scale facing smaller district councils there is perhaps a
case for ARCH to look specifically at the challenge of working in
Some respondents to the review have argued that local authority
priorities appear to focus on the development of larger sites, and
the review team want to look at ways to encourage the release of
non-strategic local authority land, such as garages, for
Discussion at the ARCH seminar seemed to suggest the opposite, with
councils preferring to prioritise smaller or more difficult sites
for building within the HRA, leaving larger sites for development
privately or through a joint venture. This would appear to make
more sense than a policy of releasing garage and infill sites on
existing council estates except where the objective is explicitly
to introduce diversity of tenure and ownership.
One issue ARCH will be looking to pursue in detail with the review
team is how to simplify access to private finance.
A clear message from the ARCH seminar is development through local
housing delivery vehicles demands substantial set-up and
administrative costs which may be feasible for large urban
authorities but are much more challenging for smaller
Ways to overcome this challenge could include collaboration among
councils, such as the creation of a vehicle capable of developing
in several areas, or, as the review team suggest, development of
standardized models and documentation.
But the ARCH submission will also argue that it would be wrong
for the review to put all its eggs in the private finance basket.
Local authorities are beginning to use three broad approaches to
new housing development: building in the HRA, building outside the
HRA through a local authority company, whether an ALMO or one
established for the purpose, and in public/private partnerships
through local housing delivery vehicles.
All three approaches have a role to play and the emphasis should be
on what works best in each local situation, not a one-size-fits-all
emphasis on any one approach.