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Mayors are best placed to tackle housing challenges – report

Words: Laura Edgar
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Major cities in England are at risk of a London-style housing crisis unless powers over housing are devolved to mayors, says a think tank for the North of England.

In its report, Closer to Home, IPPR North also argues that England doesn’t have just one housing market, but many, and that mayors of combined authority areas would be best placed to tackle housing issues, including the problems first-time buyers face in trying to buy a home.

The first metro mayors are set to be announced following respective elections in May 2017.

Unless significant powers over planning and housing are devolved to mayors, says the report, the government is at risk of not meeting its house building target. It also risks repeating the experiences of the London mayoralty, where “successive mayors have lacked real powers to address major problems in the capital’s housing market”.

Charlotte Snelling, report author and researcher at IPPR, said: “There is no doubt that successive London mayors have been successful in using their significant levers on transport, but the powers given to Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan over housing even today are still too piecemeal and partial.”

To avoid repeating this, Snelling suggests that the government should devolve powers while mayors must set out how they will help the government meet its housing targets.

The report states that where “complete brownfield registers have identified insufficient brownfield land to fulfil the housing needs of spatial plans combined authorities should be granted increased flexibility over National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) land use restrictions – namely loosening greenfield and green belt restrictions”.

In addition, mayors should receive stamp duty proceeds from new-build homes as an incentive to increase supply and the ability to put levies on empty homes.

In return, the report suggests mayors should: release sufficient public land and identify private sites to meet house building targets; set out plans to speed up the planning system for developers, such as relaxing planning rules; and set out how they plan to help small and medium-sized businesses enter the market.

It also states that mayors should have powers to set planning fees to improve capacity in planning departments, something the RTPI has said local authorities should be allowed to do in return for an efficient and responsive service.

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, added that with mayors “driving” the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine, it is “vital” that they have the power to build enough homes.

“Brownfield land is limited, and it is best decided locally how to meet local housing needs. This includes difficult decisions about the green belt.

“If the government is serious about its One Nation credentials in expanding home ownership, it should remember radicals like the revolutionary Birmingham mayor Joseph Chamberlain, and let city-regions really take back control.”

Richard Farnell, lead member for planning and housing at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, welcomed the report.

“The report acknowledges that Greater Manchester continues to lead the way with housing devolution and some of the report’s recommendations are already being implemented here in Greater Manchester.”

He said a lifting of NPPF land use restriction would be “warmly welcomed” by council leaders in Greater Manchester and help to deliver the homes the region needs.

Richard Blyth, head of policy, RTPI, welcomed the report. “In our Strategic Planning Paper (pdf) we argued back in January 2015 that devolution needs to involve a big commitment from local authorities in regard to housing land and a big commitment in return from government in respect of funding for physical and also social infrastructure.”

More information and the report can be found here.

Last week, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan met a cross-party group of MPs as part of his push for a devolution deal for the capital in the Autumn Statement, which is to take place on 23 November.

City Hall is currently negotiating with the Treasury and Downing Street for a deal for London that focuses on five key areas – housing, transport, skills, fiscal devolution and public services.

Read more here.

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