Housing and planning are the key themes at the online Councils Housing Spring Conference on the 13th May. LABM Editor, Claire Clutten, speaks to Conference Chair John East, Board Member of The Housing Forum and Interim Strategic Director for Place at Winchester City Council, to find out more about the event and accelerating council housing delivery.
Planning, regulatory reforms, viability, council housing delivery and the drive to net zero carbon, are all up for discussion at The Housing Forum’s virtual Councils Spring Network Conference next week, making it an event not to be missed by local authorities.
The conference will address themes arising from The Housing Forum’s Councils Network and Advisory Group. The online event, sponsored by Bugler Developments, will look at “how we can work more closely with our planning colleagues and integrate housing and planning to effectively deliver on both supply and quality,” says John East.
Local authorities are concerned about the impact of the Government’s planning and regulatory reforms, with proposals such as the merging of the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106, what impact will this have on affordable housing supply? John says: “The planning reforms will make it more difficult to deliver genuinely affordable housing, and bearing in mind for large parts of the country and in particular London and the south east, affordable housing — housing at 80% of market rent — isn’t actually, for many of our communities, particularly affordable.”
Affordability is not the only challenge the sector faces; there is also the issue of viability. John welcomes the move towards net zero carbon, which he says is “absolutely the right thing to do”, however the drive towards zero emissions, as well as the introduction of the Future Homes Standard, places greater challenges on local authorities, and also developers, in terms of delivering viable schemes. The key problem is funding. If the funding is not there to deliver to these standards, then the homes are not going to get built.
What about the Government’s new priorities? John says: “We have some concerns about government’s new priorities in terms of the percentage of new homes for first-time buyers (First Homes scheme). In large parts of the country, a 30% discount is not effectively going to deliver particularly affordable housing. The real priority for a large proportion of the country in terms of delivery is around social rent.”
Local authorities are reliant on grant funding and John says: “to a greater extent, while local authorities can do so much, effectively, if we don’t have the necessary grant that will inevitably be an inhibitor to accelerating housing supply.”
Over 50% of local authorities across the country have set up their own housing companies in recent years, a trajectory which looks set to continue. Local authorities are also exploring other means of direct delivery and joint ventures to boost housebuilding.
Attendees at the Spring Conference will have the opportunity to hear from Professor Janice Morphet, the Visiting Professor at the Bartlett School of Planning at UCL, who will be reporting back on the Third National Survey of Local Authority Housebuilding activity, which she and her colleagues have undertaken. John says: “We’ll be hearing about what local authorities have been doing in terms of housing companies, how they have been going about it, which authorities have been successful, as well as any continuing or emerging issues.”
Regulations and reforms
There have been a number of key papers released covering planning reform and the conference will be taking a detailed look at these, as well as the introduction of National Model Design Codes. Andy Von Bradsky, Head of Architecture at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, will be reporting on the 14 local council pilots looking at the implementation of model design codes.
There is enormous pressure to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from our built environment, increase the delivery of low and net zero homes, as well as boost biodiversity on schemes. A number of local authorities have already declared a climate emergency. John comments: “There’s huge issues around viability, the push to net zero carbon is one example.” Local government wants to move towards that goal, but as John points out, building to higher environmental standards is: “not ‘cost free’, so we’ll be looking at a case study to see how local authorities are successfully managing to deal with that.”
The conference includes sessions specifically focusing on housing supply, with Shelagh Grant, Chief Executive of The Housing Forum, providing an overview of the challenges and opportunities. Homes England Strategic Partnerships and the new Affordable Homes Programme will be discussed, as well as a summary of the tools and resources available to support development ambitions. There will also be a session looking at garden communities and their contribution to accelerating supply, barriers to growth and the opportunities provided by council-led developments.
Gravesham Borough Council and consultants BPTW will be delivering a talk about ‘Rightsizing’, an approach they developed to determine the best use of stock and land in council ownership, to help address acute housing need and pent-up demand for more energy-efficient and cost-effective to run homes.
In addition to the people and organisations mentioned above, the impressive speaker line up also includes representatives from Leeds City Council, calfordseadon and Barton Willmore, as well as Nicky Liniham, Planning Officer’s Society’s Housing Specialist and independent planning consultant.
When: Thursday 13th May
Time: 9.30am to 11.30am
For details about the event and to register please visit: https://housingforum.org.uk/events/conferences/spring-councils-housing-conference/