Councils cannot 'duck' from meeting housing need, says Barwell

Local authorities are not going to be allowed to 'duck' from meeting housing need in their area, the planning minister Gavin Barwell has said.

Housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell
Housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell

Speaking yesterday at a Conservative Party Conference fringe event organised by housing association the Hyde Group, Barwell said: "My main role is to insist that every council in the country does not try to duck the hard decision of meeting the need in their area.

"How they do it is up to them, but I’m not going to let them get away with ducking it."

The conference has seen Barwell, communities secretary Sajid Javid and chancellor Philip Hammond all emphasise the government's determination to boost housebuilding.

At another fringe event on Monday organised by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Barwell had said he intended to work "intensively" on boosting housing supply in "about 100" local authorities where the gap between the number of homes built and levels of household growth is widest. 

At the Hyde Group event, Barwell said the government would make sure that local authorities’ assessment of housing need is "robust" and reflects the local level of need.

Research by Planning earlier this year found that a number of authorities, mostly constrained urban authorities like Birmingham City Council, were having their local plans found sound despite not meeting their objectively-assessed housing need. 

At another fringe event yesterday organised by the Royal Town Planning Institute, Waheed Nazir, strategic director of economy at Birmingham City Council, spoke of the difficulties local authorities face in negotiating affordable housing contributions with developers.

He said: "The number of times we have sat across a desk from a developer saying: ‘We believe you have more leeway to contribute,’ and they say they haven’t, until we get to the point at which we refuse. That’s the only time we get somebody coming back to make a more substantial contribution."

Even after refusal, Nazir said, the decision can be overturned by an inspector if the developer argues a "financial viability case" leaving a permission with no beneficial conditions for the council. "We are in a really difficult position," he said.

Meanwhile, John Clancy, the Labour leader of Birmingham City Council, described building more homes as the biggest "silver bullet" boost for economic growth in the city.

Speaking at a fringe event on cities and place organised by think tank Respublica, Clancy said: "The housing offer we have now is nowhere near sufficient and housing quality nowhere near good enough to deal with our population as it is. We have to build 50,000 homes in the next 10 years.

"[Housebuilding] affects the classroom, the GP’s surgery, the world of work – more than anything else, I would suggest."

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