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The ARCH annual report for 2015-16 is now available to view.

 

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You wait for ages... and then two come along at once Matthew Warburton - 07/02/2014


London_bus_300Last 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 year.

 

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 public.

 

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.

 

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