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Ministers seek to build on solid foundations

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

The latest development in housing: Khan revises affordable homes target

Topical opinion: ‘The lack of social care investment will scupper economic growth’

LGC’s Council Tax Tracker updated: First freeze revealed

“Some people stand on the side-lines. Some want to knock things down. We are the builders.” – former chancellor George Osborne said at the end of his Conservative party conference speech in October 2015.

A lot has happened in just over a year, not least the fact that one thing to have taken a knocking in that time is Mr Osborne’s political career, leaving him very much on the side-lines.

But even he might have smiled to himself when, earlier this month, the Department for Communities & Local Government trumpeted statistics which showed nearly 190,000 new homes had been built on his watch between April 2015 and March 2016.

To put that in context, it was the highest annual total of new homes delivered in eight years.

If the government manages to, ahem, ‘build’ on that level of house building it might actually meet its target of building one million new homes by 2020.

Still, housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell acknowledged at the time that there was “more to do”.

One week later chancellor Philip Hammond, during his autumn statement speech, said his style would be different from his predecessor’s – only to put on a metaphorical high-vis jacket, Mr Osborne’s attire of choice during his time in Number 11, while he announced a raft of housing and infrastructure announcements totalling £7.2bn.

The measures were enough for some national newspapers to turn a blind eye to the country’s eye-watering borrowing and debt levels (not to mention the surprising omission of social care’s funding crisis), instead preferring to enthuse over Mr Hammond’s spending spree.

However, LGC analysis revealed this week that almost half of the £7.2bn announced in the autumn statement was either not new money or does not belong to the government. That total, for example, included £1.8bn of assumed extra borrowing by housing associations.

Crafty.

Still, there is a feeling within the sector that the measures overall are to be welcomed and should provide councils and housing associations with greater confidence to invest in housing and infrastructure.

In a further boost to house building it was refreshing to hear this week communities secretary Sajid Javid say he would back councils “all the way” if they wanted to release some of their green belt land for construction, provided they have an approved local plan in place of course.

The sector also awaits the government’s housing white paper, not due to be published until January now, which is expected to contain more measures to help increase house-building rates.

Mr Javid, ably assisted by Mr Barwell, can’t be accused of ignoring his “number one priority” of housing.

But all of this might be of little comfort to the 70 councils, identified by LGC, at risk of being stripped of their planning powers. Should that happen only time will tell what impact that will have on house building.

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