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Martin Swales: We must use new housing measures to deliver

Martin Swales
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Housing supply is a major social challenge that must be addressed by long-term, systematic planning and immediate interventions to stem the tide.

Developing locally appropriate and integrated solutions is vital and councils are perfectly placed to do this.

In December 2015, I led the preparation of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers’ policy paper, Addressing the National Housing Challenge. It set out ways local government, with the right powers and flexibilities, can be an even greater contributor to the housing planning and delivery process.

This position was reflected in the autumn statement. The chancellor announced a set of measures that recognise the urgency of the housing challenge. The link made between housing supply and infrastructure investment is very positive. The Solace paper stressed the importance of this joined-up approach.

The £2.3bn housing infrastructure fund to enable the delivery of 100,000 new homes in high demand areas is a step towards addressing the undersupply of new homes. An extra £1.4bn on new affordable housing is a welcome addition to the current package as it introduces flexibility to tackle local barriers to housing delivery. The freedoms and flexibilities devolved to support 90,000 affordable homes in London could be replicated across the country.

Solace will continue to help ensure local government works with national government to deliver housing.

At the Solace Summit, chief executives recognised housing is a cumulative problem because nationally we haven’t seen housing supply as a system. For example, the consequence of shortages of retirement properties is that we are unable to meet social care demands and family homes are not returned to the supply chain.

Programmes such as the Care and Specialist Support Housing Fund are critical to developing homes that play a part in our holistic approach and help reduce reliance on health and social care.

However, we can only work with our housing partners and national government to deliver these homes if councils are allowed access to flexible funding, including continued support for infrastructure investment and affordable housing, as announced in the statement.

Councils are ideally placed to ensure funding is used effectively to reduce spending in areas such as social care; delivers homes that provide better outcomes for residents and reduce demand for housing benefit; and does not support poor-quality rental homes.

The government should incentivise success by ensuring any recycled funding is kept at local level where there has been successful delivery.

Overall, good housing is essential to thriving economies and sustainable communities. Although home ownership is important, it is only one part of the market. It’s encouraging to see the government recognising the rented sector with changes to letting agent fees.

The statement delivered an encouraging package and we must now stay at the table together; public, private, national and local, taking ownership to drive positive change.

Martin Swales, chief executive, South Tyneside MBC and Solace spokesperson for economic growth and housing

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