week the Government announced an
"independent and wide-ranging review" to explore whether councils
are making the most of their existing powers and flexibilities to
deliver new social housing.
Led by Natalie Elphicke, a former national director of the
Conservative Policy Forum - now chair of Million Homes, Million
Lives and Keith House, Liberal Democrat Leader of Eastleigh Borough
Council - the review will also explore how councils could work more
closely with housing associations, house builders and businesses to
deliver more new homes.
Among the issues highlighted in the review's terms of reference
is whether councils could make more use of their existing asset
base to support new development by selling high-value vacant homes,
and what more could be done to bring surplus or redundant local
authority land into productive use.
A particular concern is how the public sector
costs of local authority-led developments compare with private
sector-driven routes, including housing association-led
development. The review is due to report by the end of this
The scope of this review overlaps significantly with that of the
Lyons Housing Review
launched by Labour, and it provides a second major opportunity for
ARCH to show how councils can make a major contribution to
increasing the supply of new homes, both for sale and market rent,
and social homes.
Our current thinking is that ARCH's work on these issues will be
pulled together in a single publication which can be submitted to
both reviews and also made available to a wider interested
One of ARCH's key aims will be to demonstrate that councils are
part of the solution to expanding housing supply, not part of the
problem. Not only are councils often misrepresented as holding back
development by imposing onerous planning restrictions, but there is
a real risk that some will try to persuade both reviews that
councils lack the will, skills or capacity to make best use of
their land and housing assets to support new development.
Councils may be painted as unjustifiably reluctant to sell off
land or vacant homes, as lacking the skills to run a big-enough
development programme, or unable to match the scale economies
available to the bigger housing associations.
The conclusion to which these claims point is, of course, that
council housing assets should be transferred to bodies better able
to make good use of them, perhaps municipal housing companies,
perhaps housing associations of the more traditional type.
ARCH will need good evidence to rebut these points. I will be
writing out to all member councils in the next few days with a list
of issues on which evidence from individual councils would be
particularly valuable. It is not a questionnaire
so much as an opportunity and a request for councils to tell their
own stories about how they are striving to respond to the need for
new housing. I look forward to your responses.
Matthew on Twitter