representatives from councils and ALMOs across the East Midlands met in Derby yesterday to share
experience on how best to boost the supply of new homes, including
restoring housebuilding to its former status as "part of the day
job" for councils.
present were working on plans to build either inside or outside the
HRA, aiming to make good use of the borrowing capacity available to
them since the introduction of self-financing two years ago.
Several delegates strongly objected to stories published
in Inside Housing that their councils had no plans to build
despite large amounts of available headroom.
misleading, they said, to be represented as having no intention to
build simply because spending approval had not yet been granted for
a specific scheme. Some councils have more advanced plans than
others; none had no plans to build at all.
general, and cross-party, support among councils for an expansion
of housebuilding. This was the first message to emerge from the
event for onward transmission to the Government and the CLG Review being
led by Nathalie Elphick and Keith House.
several others. The amount of land suitable for housing development
immediately available to councils varies widely. Most had been able
to identify enough to get building programmes started but would
soon need to be looking at significant land acquisition plans. A
common complaint was difficulties in securing the release of public
land owned by other bodies, such as county councils, health
authorities or Network Rail, because of an insistence on disposal
at full market value.
Much of the
available land comes with issues that make development expensive,
such as contamination, drainage or access problems. In some cases
councils had targeted their efforts on 'difficult' sites to leave
the easier ones available for private development and focus on
those which would otherwise remain undeveloped.
to push up unit costs, as does the policy adopted by some councils
of aiming for developments that will enhance rather than just add
to the villages or neighbourhoods in which they are built. Another
message to the Elphick / House Review, therefore, relates to the
way value for money in council housing schemes should be assessed.
These policies may tend to push up unit costs compared with some
private sector schemes, but in return for additional benefits
external to the housing itself.
emphasized that gearing up to build after perhaps two decades
involves a steep learning curve, and the reacquisition of lost
capabilities, not just in the housing department, but across the
whole council. Even those with several successful new developments
under their belts did not feel they had reached the point where
house building was once again established as part of the council's
But it is
clear that councils and ALMOs represented felt themselves to be on
the same journey - if at different stages - and could see benefits
in sharing experience, if only to help others avoid repeating their
mistakes. There would also seem to be opportunities where
collaboration among councils, and with ALMOs and local housing
associations, could bring real benefits.
also heard from two councils with experience of building through
joint ventures with private developers (and in one case a housing
association), where the council becomes a partner in the delivery
of homes for sale as well as social rent.
It is clear
that many councils were considering similar approaches, or the
alternative of development outside the HRA through a wholly-owned
company. Some had already established a company for this purpose;
others were successfully undertaking off-HRA development through
ARCH will be
collecting more detailed feedback from participants and putting
together with their help, and in collaboration with the NFA, a
further submission to the House / Elphick review. Similar events in
other regions are under consideration.
NB: this blog post
includes details of ARCH's existing submission to the Elphick