County councils have a crucial role to play in meeting housing need
Our senior policy and practice officer Sarah Davis takes a look at what a new report says about the pressures on county councils and their role in meeting housing need.
How we deliver more homes was a key thread throughout Housing 2018. It focused as much on the impact and quality of those homes, and how we build places that work, as well as on the numbers, even though that is a big enough challenge.
To make places that work and that are sustainable we need to build more homes that are truly affordable, and to build with our current and future population in mind – meaning more accessible homes and specialist housing to increase the options for older and disabled people. However, currently we are falling short on all counts, for example:
• The latest figures show that, since the increased discount for right to buy was introduced in April 2012, over 66,600 homes have been sold but fewer than 18,000 built or acquired to replace these.
• EHRC’s recent report, Housing and disabled people: Britain's hidden crisis, highlights the everyday impacts for people struggling to find an accessible home, when only 7 per cent of current homes have the basic features that make them ‘visitable’ – including being four times less likely to be in work, experiencing mobility problems, poorer mental health and increased reliance and pressure on carers for the tasks of daily living.
A new report by the TCPA for the County Councils Network, Building for the future, highlights what those pressures look like for county areas, where house prices are at least nine times average earnings and where only 26 per cent of new homes built since 2011 are classed as ‘affordable’. 91 percent of counties identified their need for more affordable homes (62 per cent see this as significant need) and many are keen to play a more significant role in strategic planning for housing and work with partners.
In response to these pressures, counties are looking to move beyond their original sphere of infrastructure planning, to work with their district planning authorities and other partners to step up delivery of more homes in their areas, often through local housing companies. A major driver for counties is the huge pressures they are facing financially; 76 per cent identify this as the primary reason for such action to generate capital and/ or revenue funding, closely followed by maximising use of their land assets (65 per cent). The highly publicised pressure on social care budgets is reflected in the action to deliver specialist housing, identified by fifty-three per cent. Meeting affordable housing need is a driver for forty-seven per cent.
The case studies illustrate the range of activity by counties, from increasing capacity in skills and expertise, to support for community led housing solutions.
• Both Hertfordshire and Surrey counties are working through their property companies (Surrey in partnership with Places for People) to utilise their land and buildings to provide significant numbers of new homes.
• Essex County Council has a housing growth unit, building expertise to support district and other partners to increase housing growth, tackle homelessness and provide more and better homes for vulnerable groups.
• Northumberland, a county unitary, utilises section 106 contributions, which cannot be delivered on schemes. Incorporating this with its allocation from the Government’s community housing fund, it supports community organisations to develop local housing solutions, working with Community Action Northumberland.
The report identifies a number of policy measures that could help them to deliver more which chime with calls CIH has been making for some time, including:
• Retention of full right to buy receipts to enable one-for-one replacement
• Best consideration when using council land to enable them to retain a long term interest and provide more affordable homes where needed, rather than sale for the highest price
• Minimum standards on accessibility for all new homes, to increase provision of homes meeting the needs of disabled people, and adaptable for our ageing population
• Addressing the skills and capacity of planners and strategic housing officers across local authorities
• Ensuring that the statement of common ground draws together key partners to ensure effective delivery, including counties as infrastructure partners as well as in their growing housing focus.
It is exciting to see from this report what counties are already doing to step up delivery of new homes. But equally it is encouraging to see the level of agreement about what measures would help us to do more– given the opportunity we can meet the challenge, not only of the numbers but the right homes in the right places.
Sarah Davis is senior policy and practice officer at CIH.