APSE Direct News | Homes for all!

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May/June 20216

Homes for all!

Catch up on the latest housing research by APSE and the TCPA, which follows up on our previous research, Housing The Nation: Ensuring Councils can deliver more and better homes

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The latest APSE housing research, Housing The Nation: Ensuring Councils can deliver more and better homesis a collaborative effort between the APSE[TCPA] and APSE. Our aim was to establish the latest position on housing across the UK and, crucially, find out how local councils could produce the homes needed to support everybody in their local community.

The latest household projections for England, published in November 2015, suggest we need over 220,000 additional homes each year until 20131 if we are to accommodate the projected growth in households. Currently, however, we are reaching just over half that figure. To catch up by 2020, we will now need to create over 310,000 homes a year over the next 5 years. This in itself is a stark finding; as the goal to provide enough homes slips further away each time we fail to meet these targets, the pressure on housing delivery is inevitably intensified.

Whilst Government policy has been concentrated on the delivery of so-called affordable homes, the research calls into question what we can reasonably describe as “affordable”. Housing shortages, and the resultant high prices and rents, mean that young people are living with parents or in house shares for longer, rather than forming a household of their own. Rising student debt levels and potential future welfare reform are likely to make their position even more difficult. Even if the homes required are actually built, the latest Government  household projections suggest that couples aged between 25 and 34 will be less able to live in their own home n 2031 than their counterparts in 2011.

Housing need has huge implications beyond those unable to afford to buy or rent their own property. Improved planning and better housing have long been identified as essential for improving the health of communities, reducing health inequalities and cutting costs for the taxpayer.

Conversely, poor quality housing and inadequate supply of new homes impacts on the social well-being of communities, with costs to the NHS reportedly at £1.4bn. A lack of decent affordable housing also reduces labour mobility and undermines the ability of our towns and cities to attract new businesses.

A recent CBI survey [London Business Survey, September 2015]highlighted that housing costs and availability in London were having a negative impact on companies’ ability to retain and recruit staff, particularly employees on lower incomes; 57% of businesses surveyed report that housing cost and availability was negatively impacting on attempts to recruit entry level staff.

So what are we, APSE and the TCPA, calling for? We want the Government to develop a housing strategy for the nation that provides decent homes for everyone in society, including those dependent on social and genuinely affordable housing for rent. Whilst efforts have been concentrated on affordable homes to buy, we want the Government to ensure that local authorities are at the heart of this new housing strategy, not least because the definition of “affordability” should be determined locally. Councils are best placed to respond to local need, but they require the freedom and flexibility to deliver new homes.

We are also calling upon Government to reverse its decision to reduce social rents by 1% per year for the next 4 years – this move alone has taken millions away from local authorities’ ability to invest in the social rented sector. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 arguably further removes councils from the equation, introducing new changes changes to Right To Buy and the selling off of the most valuable housing assets.

APSE and the TCPA believe that councils, despite the added burdens placed on them by the Housing and Planning Act, can play a stronger role in driving the delivery of new homes, either on their own or through joint vneture. Our research explores the role of local housing companies working alongside councils to deliver new homes. Council land and assets can help drive investment in the most sustainable locations, and the private rental sector can help meet local housing needs, generating long-term income streams in the process.  Councils investing in  the private rented sector can also encourage others to invest in their local areas, and bring about positive investments. This can include providing greater choice and better quality accommodation for those reliant on the private rented sector. Whilst the private rented sector will not replace the need for social rented homes, it is part of the toolkit available to local councils, allowing them to respond to urgent local housing need.

Case studies within the report have found councils being innovative, using local housing companies.

Thurrock Council established a local housing company, named Gloriana. Wholly-owned by the the council, Gloriana is delivering 1,000 new affordable homes over the next 5 years, as well as a 10% increase – using current projections – in the number of new private sector homes delivered over the next 5 years. All of these new council homes will be built to London Space Standards and Lifetime Homes, reflecting high quality design and materials.

Within the London Borough of Harrow, their Great Estates Model has established a local regeneration company with ambitions to deliver a £1.75bn investment programme into Harrow and Wealdstone town centres. Included within the regeneration plan is the delivery of 5,500 new homes, 2 new schools, around 3,000 new jobs and a district heating network to service major sites alongside a £31.3m funding pot through the Mayor of London’s Housing Zones scheme.

In Manchester, the Housing Investment Fund – a joint venture between Manchester City Council and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund, administered by Tameside Council – was established to deliver private rented sector housing, delivering on local housing need whilst also creating a return for the Local Government Pension Fund.

In Edinburgh, a council-led joint venture using the National Housing Trust initiative is helping to deliver new affordable homes using £182m of private and public funding. However, Edinburgh is not just delivering standard housing units – of 1,055 new affordable homes completing in 2014/15, around 115 homes were specifically designed with older people in mind.

In another best practice example, Aberdeen has created a new council-led joint venture with People For Places, which is set to to deliver homes for key workers on modest incomes. They plan to develop an initial 1,000 affordable homes and 1,000 private development homes, with the potential for a further 1,000 properties and an investment pot for affordable housing and private development of £300m.

We know that the solutions to the housing crisis facing the UK are complex. Yet, our findings show that without local councils in the driving seat, we cannot deliver the homes we need. A failure to local councils at the heart of housing delivery, and to address the need for new social homes to rent, will spell catastrophe for a whole generation struggling to either afford to buy so-called affordable homes, or rent from a largely unregulated private rented sector.

Now is the time for Government to place councils at the heart of delivering homes for all.

APSE Direct News | The Housing and Planning Bill – what’s the problem?

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 March/April 2016

The Housing and Planning Bill – what’s the problem?

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, and Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive of APSE, comment on the the key issues in the controversial Housing and Planning Bill.

Currently, the Government’s new Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 is in the second reading stage in the House of Lords. The Bill has been seen as hugely problematic by many, including APSE and the TCPA, because it is still unclear how the actions described in it will help relieve the housing crisis facing the UK, despite the Government claiming their plans will kick-start a ‘national crusade to get 1m homes built by 2020’ and transform ‘generation rent into generation buy’.

Keen to gauge how others working in local government felt about the proposed changes, APSE teamed up with the TCPA to create and distribute a survey to local authorities across the country. This generated some very interesting, and some rather concerning, results. However, before we look at those in depth, it would help to first contextualise the Housing Bill and look and the problems it raises.

The Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16 aims to speed up the current planning permission process, working on the premise that less bureaucracy means more housing can be delivered quickly. This, the Government expects, will encourage people to self/custom build their housing, as well as giving developers some extra opportunities to build more commercial housing. This is welcome news as it gives authorities, private firms and the general public more freedom to build the houses they require. However, many believe this has come too late; though the permission is there, we will struggle to meet the country’s demand of 250,00 homes each year due to a shortage of workers and supplies.

Alongside this, the Government intend to build more Starter Homes for first-time buyers, namely people under the age of 40 who have not previously owned a home. Offering 200,000 homes by 2020, the Government has said there must be a discount of at least 20% to the buyer. These homes, which should be targeting teachers, police officers, nurses and other professional roles, will have a discounted price of no more than £250k outside London and £450k in London, making these properties unaffordable for most of the target workers. These are the kind of people that starter homes should be accommodating, yet they are the ones who will be unable to afford them.

In terms of social housing, the Bill details a Pay to Stay scheme, in which social tenants with incomes of over £30k – over £40k in London – will have to pay market rent on their properties rather than their current social rent. For local authorities, the money this generates must be given to the Government, whilst Housing Associations are able to keep the extra rent money. Moreover, it is considered unviable by many councils who see this as adding to the ongoing problems of a poor private rented market – so forcing people on affordability terms from secure council tenancies into the private rented sector – will do little to alleviate local problems.

As well as this, the Right to Buy scheme is being extended to housing association tenants. This move is deeply worrying as it will lead to a decrease in the amount of social homes available for those in most need. Despite allowing these properties to be sold off, the Government have no plans to give local authorities the funds needed to build more and replace them. This is a major concern for the already-sahky future of social housing.

So what did the APSE and TCPA survey tell us? Well the headline news is that others share our concerns.

We found that 93% of councils do not think that Starter Homes will address affordable housing need.

Moreover, almost 80% of local councils do not think that Starter Homes should be classified as affordable housing, and only 7% of councils think they will address the need for affordable housing in their local authority areas.

We also found that over two thirds of respondents anticipate that they will be building less social and affordable housing as a result of the Government’s plans to reduce social rents by 1% a year for the next 4 years.

This is against a backdrop of 96% of councils describing their need for affordable housing as ‘ severe or moderate’.

Moreover, nine out of 10  councils are concerned that the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants will mean that there will be well socially-rented homes available.

Most starkly for the Government, 53 of respondents are from Conservative-controlled councils – this clearly shows a huge difference of opinion between Conservative Councils, charged with delivering more homes at a local level, and central Government policy.

So with the House of Lords scrutinising key measures in the Housing and Planning Bill, and pressure to deliver the Bill, is there room for concessions?

The answer has to be yes – there is a growing cross-party consensus for a series of amendments to be tabled which may yet ‘gut’ the worst excesses within the Bill.

APSE and the TCPA hopes that with cross-party working, more sensible approaches can be taken to delivering the homes our communities desperately need. It is time now for the Government to listen to local councils; they are best placed to really know and appreciate the impact of housing policy within their communities.

More details can be found at www.apse.org.uk and www.tcpa.org.uk.