Plans to scrap limits on council borrowing will give local authorities a boost in meeting housing delivery targets, according to planning officers.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that local authorities will be allowed to borrow against their housing stock in a bid to kick-start their housebuilding efforts.
Planning Officers Society president Paul Seddon described a mass council housebuilding programme as the closest thing to a “silver bullet” in helping meet national demand for housing. “Planning officers were increasingly feeling the pressure of the housing delivery test and expectations that planning would be delivering, without having the tools required,” he said.
Seddon said planners will be eagerly awaiting more detail on the policy, which some have predicted will be provided in the autumn Budget, but he described the move as “a step towards a sensible policy”. However, he added that some councils may take time to adapt to a development role and said there will be a need to build up the skills required.
Matthew Spry, senior director at consultancy Lichfields, offered a similar assessment. “For councils to become developers it’s about more than money, it’s about finding the sites and developing the capacity to become developers again,” he said. “These things take time, as we have seen from the new council housing development companies.”
Matthew Good, planning director at consultancy WYG, said local plan reviews may also be required for councils to identify sites that aren’t already earmarked for development by the private sector. “Otherwise we’d just be delivering the same numbers through a different funding stream,” he said.
David Van der Lande, delivery director at consultancy Iceni Projects, suggested a council housebuilding drive could lead some authorities to adopt a more flexible approach to section 106 negotiations. “Local authorities now have the ability of meeting some of their affordable housing objectives without having to wait around for the development industry to deliver this through section 106 or other mechanisms,” he said.
Simon Prescott, partner at consultancy Barton Willmore, suggested public-private partnerships could provide a means of addressing any skills shortages while capitalising on councils’ access to both land and funding. “Perhaps we could even see the private sector working with councils in joint ventures providing the skills that councils need to build – after all, they have a lot of land owned and allocated for housing,” he said.