What an opportunity for a housing minister to be radical and bold

By Paul O'Brien | 06 August 2019
  • Paul O'Brien

Will new housing minister Esther McVey succeed where her predecessors have failed? Only if she recognises that 100 years on from the Addison Act, local authorities must once again play a key role in delivering quality, affordable housing.’

There are three areas of Government housing policy where the Association for Public Service Excellence has called for action on our latest research, with the Town and Country Planning Association’s Housing for a fairer society: the role of councils in ensuring stronger communities.

The first issue is delivering and retaining genuinely affordable housing. A good start would be for Government to reinstate a definition of affordability linked to income. Government also needs to provide more direct grant for social rental homes. It should also suspend the Right to Buy in England as happened in Scotland and Wales, where the numbers of council houses are increasing, for the first time in a generation. Meantime, councils should be allowed to keep 100% of their Right to Buy receipts to reinvest in building. The current validity test also needs to be reformed.

With regard to housing standards and permitted development rights, Government should adopt a set of robust mandatory national standards on safety, accessibility, space, environmental impacts, energy performance, flood resilience, noise and light. Local authorities should also be given back powers taken away by centrally-imposed permitted development rights – something that is creating major concern at in terms of poor quality outcomes for people and place.

There needs to be a wider recognition at both a central and a local level of the linkages between place-making and the delivery of homes in terms of health and wellbeing, life chances and local economies. Local planning authorities also need to be empowered and resourced to take on the role of master developers. Government needs to create a national strategy around building sustainable supply chains and modern methods of construction, at the local level, in order to create the skills and materials required for a low carbon future. There should also be much clearer guidance on the use of community benefit clauses in the national planning policy framework.

What an opportunity there is for a housing minister to be radical and bold in the present.

Paul O’Brien is chief executive of APSE (the Association for Public Service Excellence)

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