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Opinion: Do we want future generations to deal with our housing burden?

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Opinion: Do we want future generations to deal with our housing burden?

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing

Opinion: Do we want future generations to deal with our  housing burden? Opinion: Do we want future generations to deal with our housing burden?

Image: Housing via Shutterstock

By Wayne Morris, chair, South West Housing Initiative

When it comes to providing the homes we need, do we really want to make the burden heavier for future generations than we see today?

The South West Housing Initiative seeks to make the case for new housing in the region – the fastest growing area of the UK outside London and our message that the housing shortage across the south west drags on the economic prospects of the region is relevant to everyone.

As the new Chair of the South West Housing Initiative, I recently attended a meeting of our All Party Parliamentary Group followed by our first summit meeting of the year in Cheltenham. Both meetings attracted a range of high quality and high profile speakers and attendees including politicians from across the political spectrum and senior leaders from the housing sector. 

At the Cheltenham summit, we considered what the barriers to providing housing are at a local level and how they might be overcome. In addressing this topic, we were fortunate to have John Glen MP and Roberta Blackman-Woods MP as speakers who gave their thoughts on the priorities likely to be pursued by the Conservative and Labour parties respectively during the next Parliament.

What emerged was considerable consensus between the two parties about the scale of the housing problem in the south west, the need for a sustainable long term delivery plan to deal with it and the importance of it to the success of the regional economy.

However, there is an underlying conundrum, best expressed by Ann Santry, Chief Executive of the Sovereign Housing Association at the Parliamentary Group meeting: local authorities, central government and housing associations should be working toward the same goal, building more homes creating thriving communities; so why does it feel like they are often working to completely different agendas?

There’s the rub! Building new homes varies as a priority from area to area, sometimes as much to do with political will as it is housing demand and/or availability of suitable land.  There isn’t what you would call a coherent cross party national view – or strategy – about tackling under supply of housing; all one can really say is new housing development of any scale is generally not welcomed by existing communities. Sometimes for good reason admittedly! The failure to adequately invest in the infrastructure to support new homes – roads, schools, commercial centres etc. – is a familiar objection. It is all part of the legacy of under investment we have to claw our way back from.

The real benefit of our two events is that we were able to gather together key national and local politicians with practitioners to debate what they would like to see a future government do about all this. Here is a quick summary of the key points to emerge:

• Incentivise local government and local people to support and deliver new homes in their areas perhaps to include increased government funding to support services required by local people, local tax rebates for homeowners enduring the construction phase of new development and VAT concessions for those investing in property refurbishment.

• Recognise that community engagement is critical at every level of the planning and development process.  Local authorities need to provide positive leadership in selling the benefit that new homes bring to both the health of the community and its economy. Equally, house-builders need to involve people in how sites will be designed and delivered; they also need to lead the way in creating new jobs on the back of their construction outputs.

• Build on the Coalition Government’s planning reforms by further simplifying the planning process at the local level, speeding up approval timescales. Perhaps consider allowing local authorities to approve policy compliant schemes which are in line with the strategic local plan at officer level.

• Lift the debt cap on local authority borrowing and allow councils to invest more effectively in house building.

• Consider greater centralised control of public land disposal, possibly via the Homes and Communities Agency, through which the wider socio-economic benefits of development to the community would be taken account of when valuing sites for disposal. To support this there should be further encouragement to innovations such as deferred land purchase and equity sharing in relation to future land value growth.

• Support a new relationship between local authorities and housing associations whereby in return for agreed outputs, associations can have flexibility to choose their own customers, set rents in line with the ability to pay and/or the location and type of home in question.

Over the months ahead we will be engaging with our various partners to see how we can further support these ideas and test out their viability. If you would like to contribute with further ideas or questions, perhaps about how SWHI can assist in generating a similar debate in your locality, please do get in touch.

I firmly believe that if we do not solve this problem, we will leave future generations with an even heavier burden than we see today. 

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