Edward Douglas is Policy and Projects Officer at Res Publica.
We need 250,000 new homes a year to tackle the housing crisis. In the last 12 months, we managed half of that. More than ever, it’s clear a radical new approach is needed if we are going to stop failing those at the top and bottom of the market alike.
But it’s not all about numbers. The housing shortage is shocking, but there’s a more complex problem about the types of houses we want and the communities of which we want to be a part.
A well-designed house in a thriving community is the springboard for people to flourish, so housing policy needs to meet our broader needs: a place for our children to go to school, easy transport links to work, access to healthcare, and close proximity to the support network of families and friends that sustain us.
When the Conservatives won the 1951 General Election, Winston Churchill formed the first Conservative majority government for a couple of decades. Post-war Britain was locked in a housing crisis; Churchill’s response was to build over 300,000 homes a year.
The spirit was right but many of these developments were poorly designed and ugly, and many of the buildings have since been torn down.
Fast forward to 2015, and the first Conservative-only government for a couple of decades is facing a housing crisis on a similar scale. The question now though is not just how to deliver good quality homes, but how to do it outside of the Whitehall command-and-control and old local authority-led models of the past.
Piecemeal and fragmentary reforms to the housing system have not done enough to improve the supply of good quality homes in thriving communities.
Too few houses are being built, too much brownfield and public land is blocked from redevelopment, infrastructure is not provided and local communities are still not engaged enough in the planning process.
The time for tinkering is over: we need to be bold.
That’s why in a new report out today, ResPublica is proposing radical institutional reform centred on the creation of Local Place Partnerships (LPPs). This would be a fundamental shift in the way we do housing policy to make it more effective, collaborative, democratic and responsive to local need.
Giving local authorities more powers on housing is not sufficient; LPPs would – once accredited by DCLG – have sole responsibility for housing.
At their heart would be local authorities, joined by developers, housing associations, local businesses and community representatives. Their job would be to develop a 10-20 year roadmap for local housebuilding, working on infrastructure planning and delivery with LEPs.
They would allow neighbouring local authorities to collaborate, making it possible for LPPs to take a wider view of local need.
Housing needs are not uniform across the country, so we need to empower local authorities to work alongside local people and businesses and act as coordinators of the long-overdue housing revolution.
This is a radical shift from the models of the past that would overcome the obstacles faced in the delivery, funding and planning of new homes.
With developers, planners and local communities brought together under the same roof, and taking a long-term view of development, LPPs could avoid the delays characteristic of current housing delivery.
Meeting our housing needs also demands local authorities taking a view beyond their boundaries. At present, they have successfully worked together in some areas – such as children’s social services – but not on housing. The LPP forum would foster much greater collaboration.
With the majority of homes built outside the public realm, and local government and housing associations operating in a tight fiscal environment, new development must be able to attract private investment and alternative financing avenues explored. Offering a long-term commitment to new development, LPPs can provide the stability and confidence necessary to attract foreign and local investment in the housing sector at large.
Once the delivery and funding obstacles have been cleared, local opposition to development will remains a major hurdle to new development.
The National Planning Policy Framework has helped to clarify planning policy and stimulate some housebuilding, but has been criticised by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee for not offering local communities enough protection against unwanted unsustainable development.
This should not be dismissed as nimbyism, as developments are often inappropriate for the area. The advantage of LPPs is that local people and businesses are involved in the long-term planning process from the outset.
One of the key causes of opposition is the design of new developments – giving powers to LPPs to work with local people to give voice to those concerns and shape new building accordingly would be a big step forward.
Progress may have been slow following the introduction of neighbourhood planning, but it has demonstrated communities’ appetite to shape development in their area. LPPs could push this further by exploring digital innovations to allow local people to contribute to planning and individual projects.
Local people should have a real say in the future of their neighbourhoods. That’s why we call for residents to have the right to call upon and petition their council to instigate a LPP in their area, and the council should have a duty to respond with the reasons why an LPP has not been created.
If residents feel this response is insufficient and council is not utilising this new ability to create and shape building, they should be able to appeal to DCLG and put forward a case for the creation of a LPP in their locality.
If we’re serious about tackling the housing crisis, we need to radically empower communities and local authorities to lead the charge. Creating a formal meeting point for developers, local people and businesses at the strategic level offers people the chance to shape their own communities from the outset.
But it also gives developers the certainty they need, and in working with local communities from the outset LPPs offer developers a quicker, easier planning process to navigate. It’s a win-win.