5 Reasons Why Council Housing is Not a Short Term Solution to Housing Crisis
The announcement last week about the lifting of the funding cap on council house building, while for many of us closely involved in the housing industry is a positive step in the right direction, is unfortunately unlikely to have any impact on the supply of housing in the short term for the reasons set out below.
While Spawforths have been heavily involved in housing delivery for over 30 years, over the last five years, our architects planners and masterplanners have been working with an ever increasing number of local authorities as they establish housing development companies to deliver a range of mixed tenure housing developments. While these developments are not strictly “council houses” in the traditional sense of the term, they are nonetheless being procured by councils with the aim of increasing housing supply. The initiative is a very welcome development in the housing market, is increasing choice and the number of suppliers, unlocks public sector land assets and is starting to generate significant financial surpluses for cash strapped local authorities. Here however are the five key challenges that we have experienced across a range of councils and which will have to be addressed by all councils wishing to deliver “council housing” in either its traditional or reimagined 21st century form:
1. Governance Structures
In every case we have encountered it has taken at least a year to establish appropriate internal governance and reporting structures and in a number of cases these have had to be revisited and amended once they have been established.
With a national skill shortage, councils have struggled to recruit skilled housing delivery practitioners with a limited pool of candidates available, and with Registered Providers and private house builders often desperately holding onto their existing teams when other organisations try and poach them
3. Land Funnel
A third of Spawforths business is dedicated to identifying and securing housing land for private and public sector clients and promoting it through local plans or through planning applications. If local authorities do not have an existing stock of appropriate housing sites (and many in our experience have land but in poor locations and with many remediation and viability issues) then they will need to start assembling their own land funnel with all the resource and time implications that go with it. From a standing start to creating a sustainable long term land funnel can take at least five years and for authorities with big ambitions you can probably double this timescale before the funnel is fully established and running effectively and efficiently.
4. Securing Planning Permission
Councils, just like the private sector, still need to secure planning permission and this can mean trying to get land allocated in the local plan and preparing and negotiating planning applications. The former route (having now undertaken over 4000 projects) can typically take anywhere between four and ten years to secure an allocation while the latter will still take anything up to two years from first instruction, including site assessments, detailed design, submission, negotiation and associated condition discharge.
While many of our large volume housebuilders can come in for a lot of criticism in the national media, they are seldom (if ever) recognised for the efficiency of their construction and supply chains. Many public sector organisations who enter into the housing market expect to be able to assemble efficient, competitive supply chains almost overnight. The reality is that these processes and relationships have often taken decades to assemble and refine and whether you are a supporter or critic of the final output that our volume house builders produce, assembling something similar with the additional challenges of public sector procurement is going to be a very slow process.
If there is to be a national commitment to a new council housing programme that is to extend beyond a political soundbite, then we need to be realistic about timescales and setting public expectations. This is therefore going to mean a cross party commitment to making this work as any meaningful council housing delivery this side of the next general election is unlikely. This should not be taken however as defeatism or negativity about the concept on our part however. It is simply a call for realism and honesty in the debate.
For more information about how our architects planners and masterplanners can assist you in preparing your business plans, land funnels and housing typologies please don’t hesitate to call Adrian Spawforth or a member of team for a confidential and informal discussion about the challenges and opportunities associated with establishing new housing development companies.
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