London’s boroughs are back in the house-building business and could do more, says new report

London’s boroughs are back in the house-building business and could do more, says new report

London’s boroughs are set to deliver some 23,600 homes over the next five years, but that total could be boosted to more than 37,000, according to a new report from think tank Centre for London, Borough Builders, launched today.

The growing imperative to tackle the capital’s affordability crisis and overall housing shortage, alongside the need to generate income, has already seen an increase in council-led development – the capital’s local authorities built more than 2,100 homes between 2011 and 2018, compared to just 70 in the preceding five years.

Innovative new approaches getting into gear should see this total boosted significantly, the report says. The 23,600 homes, representing nearly eight per cent of the Mayor’s target for all London boroughs to 2022/23, will be delivered by 22 of London’s 32 borough councils, some by means of companies they own entirely themselves, some directly and some through other models. Hackney’s direct build Housing Supply programme and Croydon’s company Brick by Brick are showcased.

But more could be done, the report says, with delivery levels in different boroughs varying significantly, from 20 per cent of individual draft New London Plan targets to just to two or three per cent.

According to Centre for London research manager Victoria Pinoncely, “If every borough were involved or did more, it could represent a real step change in new housing delivery”. The report argues that if all boroughs committed to delivering a minimum of 10 per cent of their targets, council delivery would increase to 37,300 homes over five years, producing 12 per cent of the overall target.

Challenges identified in the report include government restrictions on borrowing, shortages of internal capacity and expertise, and lack of political backing. The boroughs, said Pinoncely, “Have one hand tied behind their backs. Restricted access to funding, underfunded planning departments and weak political support for schemes hampers their ability to deliver the homes the London desperately needs. These barriers need to be removed if we’re to realise the full potential of borough builders and meet the Mayor’s ambitious housing targets.”

As well as more commitment from councillors and more cross-borough working, the report calls on the government to give more recognition to councils’ housebuilding role and relax the conditions attached to funding streams, including Right to Buy receipts and borrowing via Housing Revenue Accounts.

It also urges the Mayor to extend his new public practice scheme, which currently sees Greater London Authority planners seconded to councils, to cover development staff as well and calls on City Hall to fund sub-regional partnerships to help boroughs work together.

Responding to the report, Councillor Darren Rodwell, leader of Barking & Dagenham Council and executive member for housing and planning at London Councils, focused on funding as the key barrier. “Boroughs are committed to delivering the affordable homes that Londoners need. But housebuilding requires substantial, long-term funding,” he said.

“In a climate where these restrictions remain in place and where London boroughs continue to have their funding reduced, it is nigh on impossible to deliver council homes, let alone on the scale required. The government urgently needs to empower boroughs to build – freeing local authorities to borrow prudently and invest in new homes is the surest way to boost supply.”

Rodwell added that last year the boroughs had granted planning permission for 55,000 homes overall and launched initiatives including a City Hall-backed modular housing company set up in May to build to high-quality accommodation for homeless people.

Image from the Brick By Brick gallery.

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