Plans to build 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of the next decade “clearly” necessitate a “significant shift” in the current national attitude to housebuilding alongside “continued investment” by the government in the long term, the deputy chief executive of Homes England has told LGC.
While emphasising the “huge role” that councils have to play in helping to build homes and ensure they are developed, Tom Walker said there is a need for the government to become more active in order to ensure the country can meet the demand for housing.
In an interview with LGC Mr Walker said: “What’s needed is a combination of investment and more active involvement on the part of the government. It’s about local government embracing growth and local planning.”
On the need for additional funds, Mr Walker said “continued investment” would be needed to “tackle the housing crisis”.
“We’ve got the financial settlement coming up and we’ve got to make sure we use that. Meanwhile there’ll be a spending review later this [financial] year. To tackle the housing crisis needs continued investment,” said Mr Walker.
At the last Budget the government set aside up to £1bn so that some councils can increase their borrowing capacity to build more homes. However, there are continued calls for all councils’ borrowing caps to be lifted. Mr Walker said he could not comment on those requests.
Meanwhile, a Survation poll of 121 senior Conservative councillors, conducted for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ahead of the government’s publication of its social housing green paper, expected in the next few months, found 71% were concerned the £2bn government set aside for affordable housing in the autum Budget will be insufficient to meet the needs of their constituents.
Mr Walker was previously director of the cities and local growth unit, playing a key part in delivering the government’s devolution agenda, and deputy director for neighbourhood planning at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.
Mr Walker said his appointment to his current position was partly due to his successful stints in those roles and demonstrating how power can be devolved.
“I’ve been hired partly because of the work I led on devolution and city-led deals. We’re [Homes England] a national organisation but our first role is at a local level. We have local offices and good working relationships with councils,” he said.
Mr Walker also said Homes England’s solution to the country’s housing crisis should lie in increased devolution and localism.
“We’ve got a job to build an agency [to deliver] the nationally-led, locally-driven set of actions that are needed - I don’t think anyone pretends this is not a very significant shift from what’s come before,” he said.
The world of construction is also changing with the introduction of advanced methods using robotics and artificial intelligence. Homes England is seeking to boost these methods by deliberately direction funding to those seeking to use them, with a view to upskilling developers’ workforces, Mr Walker said.
“We’ve got new methods of construction and innovation which we’re influencing directly through funding or through how we commission what on our land. We’re talking about a massive up-scaling [of skills], so the sector has got to grow. That requires constant modernisation, an embrace of technology and better training,” he said.