Liz Peace, chairman of the Curzon Urban Regeneration Company in Birmingham, told a conference session that one of the key tasks of the combined authorities will be "to use their combined weight to get the sort of housing that investors want to see".
Speaking at a debate about devolution in UK regions, Peace - who is also leading the government’s review of the Community Infrastructure Levy - said co-operation would be needed between authorities to deliver a range of house types across the city-region.
"Birmingham has been very focused on this," Peace said. "HSBC is coming into Birmingham and their middle-managers probably don’t want to live in converted warehouses in Digbeth, they want to live in three, four or five bedroom villas in the surrounding areas. This takes a co-operative approach to planning for housing across the old traditional boundaries of the local authorities."
Peace said this housing challenge was "the sort of thing the combined authorities have absolutely got to grip and got to get right". "If they don’t do that then devolution will fail," she said.
Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council, said he agreed that combined authorities should use their "functional economic geography" to "help drive places and the components which make places attractive", but he said this should be based on "a flexible framework at national level to enable local authorities to do that".
"If you are stuck with a national housing strategy which mainly reflects the priorities in London and has absolutely nothing to do with priorities in places like Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds, then it is harder to sort out and provide that leadership," he said. "What we need is a lot more flexibility and a lot less command and control."
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, told the conference that the core cities had already demonstrated that they could take difficult planning decisions in the interests of their city economies.
"We have all taken decisions about our planning frameworks which have been controversial with the public," he said. "But we have done that and shown that we are prepared to take difficult decisions in the interests of our cities."