Councils have opportunity to lead on housebuilding, webinar panel says

Local authorities have an “opportunity to lead” on producing a new generation of council homes in the post-pandemic era, the Voice of Authority webinar has heard.

Leading figures from three London boroughs joined Oliver Maury, partner at Montagu Evans, to talk about a renewed enthusiasm and emphasis on housebuilding.

Cllr Peter Mason, cabinet member for housing, planning, and transformation at Ealing Council, said local authorities have gone through a “decade of decline” but asserted that the post-coronavirus landscape has presented a “significant opportunity” around council houses.

“We’ve got an opportunity to lead and restore the stock we have historically lost over a very long time because of things like Right to Buy”, he told the webinar.

Councillor Nesil Caliskan, leader of Enfield Council, agreed that political leaders “have to lead” in the housing sector, with injections of funding and collaborative partnerships with other councils and the private sector.

“Going forward we will have to continue to play a central role”, she said, pointing out that Enfield is already engaged in major homebuilding and estate renewal projects.

“We have, as a local authority, recognised that we had to lead, had to lead housing development ourselves, crucially not just for the numbers because we need more – but also because some of our poorest estates that are desperate for renewal will only ever be done if the local authorities lead on it.”

Cllr Caliskan said councils as well as businesses are currently re-evaluating their assets and projects for the post Covid-19 era to see if the pandemic has altered work practices and will change the way buildings are used.

“For institutions like councils and big employers, there are some real tangible decisions to be made now”, she said.

Councillor Alison Butler, deputy leader of Croydon Council, said she believes local authorities “will be essential to delivering housing, development confidence and certainty” in the next coming months and years.

She said central government and the Greater London Authority must “play a part”, calling for increased grant levels, long-term funding partnerships, and support schemes for vulnerable people.

She added that the coronavirus crisis has revealed a “new willingness” for different councils to work together to deliver on their housing needs.

Cllr Mason suggested that private developers who are struggling for work at the moment could consider assisting councils on schemes that are in the works.

“Lend us your planners, your architects, your development professionals”, he suggested.

“If you are slowing down, then we will have them please. We can certainly put them on projects and give them quite a lot of activity to do.”

Maury, from webinar partners Montagu Evans, said the private sector is seeing “a great opportunity ahead” on council housing, but agreed that local authorities may the ones leading the way.

“I think people are expecting councils to step in to facilitate housing delivery”, he said. “The private sector going forward, with uncertainty around the private sales market, uncertainty around shared ownership and intermediate ownership tenures, they see the public sector as a vital source of work churn, land, construction, and opportunities.”

He urged political leaders to consider the “full suite of opportunities of unlocking housing”, and added: “The private sector is excited about that.”

Watch the webinar here and learn about next week’s event on Core Cities and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).