“Stop blaming local government for the housing crisis”

More than a million homes granted planning permission in the past decade have not yet been built, according to new analysis by the Local Government Association.

Latest figures show that 2,564,600 units have been granted planning permission by councils since 2009/10 while only 1,530,680 have been completed.

The number of planning permissions granted for new homes has almost doubled since 2012/13 with councils approving 9 in 10 applications.

While in some cases there will be a time lag between permission being granted and homes being built, new build completions have only increased by half as much in that time. Encouragingly, completions last year were the highest in any single year in the past decade.

Councils recognise the shortage of housing and the need to build more homes.

However, the backlog of unbuilt homes shows the planning system is not a barrier to house building. Removing the key role of Councils in the planning system – being hinted at by this Tory government – will create a “free for all” system which will divide communities, set neighbours against each other, and end up creating the “slums of tomorrow” as we have seen with the relaxation of permitted development rules. Councils would never have have allowed properties to be built without windows as we saw in Watford recently.

The Local Government Association is calling on the Government to use its forthcoming planning white paper to give councils powers to take action on unbuilt land which has planning permission.

This includes making it easier to compulsory purchase land where homes remain unbuilt, and to be able to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point that the original planning permission expires.

With the right powers and funding, the LGA is convinced that councils can play a lead role in helping the Government tackle our national housing shortage.

As part of its submission to the Treasury ahead of next month’s Budget, the LGA is also calling for the Government to reform Right to Buy, by allowing councils to keep all of the receipts of homes sold under RTB to replace them and to have the flexibility to set discounts locally. We as Liberal Democrats also want to see Councils given additional powers to force developers to build out the sites with planning permission.

The planning system is not a barrier to house building. The number of homes granted planning permission has far outpaced the number of homes being built.

Councils need powers to tackle our housing backlog and step in where a site with planning permission lies dormant and house building has stalled.

If we are to solve our housing shortage, councils need to be able to get building again and resume their role as major builders of affordable homes.

It is also vital that the planning process is protected, so that councils and communities can ensure we build good quality and environmentally sustainable homes with the necessary infrastructure and more affordable housing.

* Councillor Ruth Dombey OBE is the Leader of the London Borough of Sutton and the Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader at the Local Government Association. The LGA is a politically-led, cross-party organisation that works on behalf of 415 councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government.

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  • My understanding is that councils can now borrow more for their own commercial undertakings and some (many ?) are doing that to fund their own development company which may have a triple whammy of a developer who is less concerned to “land bank”, slightly more affordable rents (this is not though social housing necessarily) and an income for the council.

    As has been said before I believe on LDV right to buy needs to be looked at. There is an article on the BBC website today about very large profits being made in a very short time by RTB buyers. We shouldn’t I believe be too against RTB as providing home ownership and helping alleviate poverty for some who are less well off. But given that Corbyn was criticized for his giveaways… effectively giving a certain few £100ks is interesting.

    We did have some interesting proposals (may still do?) for (some) value of RTB properties going back to the community.

    This is probably an area where to solve it as the saying goes you wouldn’t start from here!

    Balancing the needs and interests of home owners, Generation Rent, existing and potential social renters, developers, the local community etc. is a bit more difficult than it might seem at the first.

    I might for example propose a penalty for those social renters that have more bedrooms than they need to encourage them to move our for families who are overcrowded.. !!!

    Or what about the tens of billions paid in housing benefit each year that just goes to make rich landlords richer… But how do we provide a roof over people’s heads who don’t have much money…!

  • David Evershed 25th Feb '20 - 12:26am

    On a development site with approval for 100 homes:
    – sometimes the approval is in phases governed by the planning conditions
    – builders can not be expected to start all hundred at the same time as there are insufficient workers, there needs to be a steady stream of work for the number of local workers available
    – it is not realistic to expect a hundred local purchasers all ready to buy instantaneously, again there is likely to be a steady stream of demand over a reasonable period of time so no point in builders building homes to lie empty

    All reasons why the number of homes built lags the number receiving planning approval when there is a step change increase in the numbers receiving planning approval.

  • Although the housing problem is a complex one, a basic question needs to be dealt with. What do we do about poverty in the country. The party needs to address this issue with real solutions.
    It is not just poverty that it the problem, it is also the fear of poverty. This fear includes what happens if people become ill and can no longer work.

  • I don’t understand how building control can sign off rooms without windows, regulations are there in black and white, entirely different to planning permission.

  • John Marriott 25th Feb '20 - 9:28am

    It was not long after I was first elected to the North Kesteven District Council in 1987 that ‘Right to Buy’ raised its ugly head. The idea of a ‘property owning democracy’ made a great deal of sense. After all, many of us were well established on the property ladder, which was more than could be said for many of our parents and grandparents. Many of us, but not me and my wife, who had bought property before the ‘Barber Boom’ lit the touch paper on the Inflation Rocket, were literally quids in. So why not offer the same opportunity to all those hardworking Council house tenants, who, in a lifetime of rental payments, had, the theory went, paid for their homes many times over?

    I can still remember the smile of happiness on my mother’s face seventy years ago when she came to pick me up from a friend’s house with the news that, after nearly seven years living firstly with my granny and secondly with my uncle, that the City of Leicester had given us a brand spanning new Council house the other side of town in the village of Evington.

    Yes, we were proud of our council houses back then. Sadly, for many the Council house has became in the eyes of some, what a former NKDC Housing Officer described as a “stigmatised last resort”.

    It could have been so different, had the Thatcher government allowed local councils to keep the receipts from Council house sales to build new homes, instead of insisting that these funds be used to pay off debt. Many of the properties sold then at knock down prices have now ended up in the private rental sector. Handling a mortgage requires more than just a steady income, as many of the former Council house tenants discovered.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Feb '20 - 4:28pm

    Blame David Cameron. He refused the DPM’s idea of five new towns around London SAYING “THEY WILL ALL VOTE LABOUR!” Milton Keynes is a success, based on Bletchley and a railway line into Euston, home to F1 firms.

  • It may be that there is a stigma on council housing in rural Lincolnshire but in the city where I was councillor, people were and are clamouring to get in to council housing – even blocks of flats. The problem being that if they were in private housing they are normally considered adequately housed and will never get rehoused in council housing or may be in 15 years which is much the same thing.

    The big problem with private rented housing is the low quality at the bottom end and the high rents compared to the Council.

    I did the numbers on “entitled to” benefit calculator website and estimated that a single person in a very low quality private rented property moving into a minimum wage job in the South of England from unemployment would be the princely sum of £1 an hour better off. Probably worse off after work costs. They lose unemployment benefit (JSA), have to pay all their council tax – probably getting on for £1,000 more, lose all their housing benefit, and have to pay national insurance. And this is an absolute outrage! People need to have more money in work so they can hopefully put some aside and improve their lot.

    Local Income Tax would help and give such people £1000 a year more and would be cost neutral (it widens and extends the tax base).

    A further problem is that single people who are homeless either on the streets or nearly so – sofa surfing – are often offered poor accomodation either hostels or in a shared (private rent) house with people who may have drug or alcohol issues and may be at best difficult to live with or at worse violent. It’s not surprising that some prefer the streets or a sofa with someone for a few nights at a time which is not a stable basis to build a life.

    There is also the issue of giving care leavers more support post 18.

    One source of money is to “invest to save” and find ways to use the housing benefit money better which might cost more in the short term but save money in the longer term and give people at the bottom a better quality of life

    The council houses built (as supposed to flats in the 60s) especially immediately post war were great. The BBC website (long live the licence fee!) had an interesting article recently on the template for them laid down in central government. And the tend to be very solid and still of very good quality to this day and fairly instantly recognised – if sadly they have been sold off!!!

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