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Porter: No 10 housing summit showed 'appetite' for council role

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There is “appetite” in government to give councils a greater role in building more homes, according to Local Government Association chair Lord Porter (Con).

Speaking to LGC after the housing summit at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday, Lord Porter said it was “probably an understatement” to say it was the most positive housing meeting he has been to in a decade.

Representatives from housing associations, planners, big and small developers, and builders of modular homes all joined the prime minister, communities secretary Sajid Javid and housing minister Alok Sharma at the summit. Department for Communities & Local Government permanent secretary Melanie Dawes also attended. 

Lord Porter said: “I can’t say what’s coming out of the meeting because they haven’t decided yet.

“But I expected to there to be criticism of a lot of our stuff given they had the chief executives of all of the big players around the table…

“Just about every housing meeting I go to somebody slags councils off and that never happened. Not once did I have to jump down somebody’s throat to defend the sector.

“There was universal support for how hard councils are trying to fix [the housing market]. It seemed to me there was appetite for us more to do to get on with it.”

At the Conservative party conference Theresa May announced a £2bn fund which councils and housing associations can bid for a share of to build social and affordable housing. LGC reported at the time how some councils are likely to snub the “insignificant” pot of cash as it will not come close to tackling the housing crisis.

Lord Porter said: “Nobody ever thought that was enough but it was another way of showing the government is committed to this. It’s not easy to get £2bn out of the government. They wanted to put that on the table to show a commitment. That was positive but we are taking that as a down payment.

“If we can get the delivery moving in the right direction and they can see they are getting results for their money then why wouldn’t they throw more money at it? It’s not like you’re paying an electric bill with it – your building infrastructure and an asset for the country.”

During the housing summit Lord Porter, along with LGA chief executive Mark Lloyd, once again made the case to government to lift the housing revenue account borrowing cap to allow councils to build more homes. They also asked for councils to be able to retain all of the money raised from properties sold through the right-to-buy.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Lord Porter said: “We now hope to see positive action taken by the government in the autumn Budget to spark the genuine renaissance in council housebuilding we desperately need.”

Commenting on the summit, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister outlined her plans to increase housing supply which means developers, big and small, local authorities and housing associations all stepping up to play their part.”

On Monday, Mr Sharma said he hoped to provide some “clarity” about the proposed national rollout of the extended right-to-buy to housing association tenants, which would be funded through the sale of higher value council homes, “soon”.

Lord Porter said that issue was not raised during the summit at Number 10. He told LGC: “We avoided talking about anything we didn’t want to talk about on the basis that anything that’s lying in the long grass nobody wanted to look like they were about to get the lawnmower out.”

There was a recognition “around the table”, however, that while the policy “improves some peoples’ space it doesn’t add to the mix” of providing more housing units, Lord Porter added.

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