Two old foes, previously locked in fierce battles across our regions, are forced to come together for the good of the country. Sound familiar? In the age of localism this is the future of house-building, local authorities and communities working with developers to build the homes the country needs.
And we do need more homes. A lack of supply over the last decade (coupled with lax credit during the boom) has caused a chronic lack of affordability across large swathes of the country.
The number of first time buyers has plummeted to historic lows, while first time buyers unable to rely on the bank of mum and dad are now unable to get a foot on the ladder until they’re 37 years old.
One million children live in overcrowded conditions and there are close to five million people on housing waiting lists.
The previous Government were determined that its centrally driven Regional Spatial Strategies were the answer, handing down housing targets and expecting delivery. The opposite happened, communities across the country fought development, their elected representatives backed local people and stalled house-building. Fewer homes were built and the situation worsened as Ministers oversaw an incredible increase in the complexity and bureaucracy of a planning system seemingly designed to stifle growth.
So, we needed change. The coalition Government followed Conservative housing and planning policy down the localism path and within days of the election the RSS’s were scrapped and local authorities were given the power to say no.
Immediately, Local Authorities put a stop to unpopular developments, projects across the country were halted, communities rejoiced.
But housing need is growing. Given the power to say no, there has to be a reason to say yes.
Earlier in the month, the Housing Minister Grant Shapps outlined that reason, the New Homes Bonus. This is a new name for the incentive scheme announced before the election that will see planning authorities earn money from each house built in their area, top-slicing the revenue support grant and benefitting pro-development councils.
There hasn’t been much more detail provided yet – and the current delay is undoubtedly restricting supply still further – but post CSR it is expected that local authorities will see how, in the current economic malaise, the Bonus will become hugely important.
That’s crucial because Local Authorities have been entrusted with the weighty responsibility of housing the nation.
The success of the Government’s policies relies on Local Authorities realising that they can gain a reward alongside that responsibility – ministers are sure to be reminding them of both.
But it also, crucially, relies on home-builders and local authorities working together to sell that responsibility and reward to their communities. The age-old struggle between developer and council will have to be transformed into a partnership which – having accepted a general need for housing – ensures that sites are brought forward more quickly, efficiently and cheaply.
The home-builders should, in theory, no longer have to spend millions on fighting planning refusals and appeals. Instead, they will be conducting true consultations with local residents on what they want in their area and what benefits they will see from development. The home-builders stand ready to work with national and local Government to achieve their policy ambition – delivering more homes.
Housing is absolutely vital to the economic and social well-being of the country; it’s been in crisis-mode for far too long. Unlikely coalitions are all the rage at the moment but in housing they need to become a permanent fixture.