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Creative councils can unlock housebuilding


Councils need to take a more innovative approach to housebuilding to help us solve the nation's housing shortfall, argues Andrew Walker

Andrew Walker, LGIUCouncils could be the key to unlocking house building. 
Crucially, they also have the potential to shape places with communities through good planning and design.

But Local Government Information Unit research shows that local government is not yet in a position to play that role effectively.

After years of underinvestment in housing departments, many councils lack skills and confidence, and structural barriers often stop housing, planning, infrastructure and design priorities from aligning within organisations.

"Pockets of innovation demonstrate what councils could do to enable housing development for their communities"

There are pockets of innovation that shows what councils could do to enable housing development in their communities. These also demonstrate the potential for councils to have a positive impact on design and to ensure joined-up planning.

Birmingham faces serious housing challenges, but is adopting innovative approaches.

A place-making strategy is enabled by the dual role of director of planning and regeneration, which draws together key portfolios that many councils hold in separate departments.

The council also has a productive dialogue with developers. It produced a ‘Housing Prospectus’  that lists all potential development sites, including brownfield, to attract private sector investment. The prospectus covers a mix of tenures and is a key part of the council’s plan to build 80,000 homes by 2031.

And Oxford City Council set up Barton Oxford LLP, a 50/50 joint-venture partnership with Grosvenor Developments, and has won permission to deliver 885 homes on a 90-acre site owned by the council.

The council works site by site, making plots available in partnership with individual investors. The strategy gives greater control over plans, and the first round of bids for the partnership were all turned down because they did not meet design requirements set by the council. An independent design review panel was established and the council insisted that the scheme had a Master Planning Architect to guarantee standards.

Such innovation needs to be more widespread if local government is to unlock the housing development we need.

Our Under Construction report makes recommendations that may help us get there. Councils should rethink departmental structures, address skills gaps, and consider housing as a central part of devolution pack

Andrew Walker is a policy researcher for the Local Government Information Unit


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