Quality and delivery concerns driving growing council housebuilding, says UCL professor

Local authorities are increasingly building their own homes because of concerns over housing quality and slow development rates, the Planning Officers Society's annual conference was told last week.

Professor Janice Morphet
Professor Janice Morphet

Professor Janice Morphet, of University College London's Bartlett School of Planning was speaking about the results of her latest research for the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) on direct delivery of housing by local authorities.

She said the study had found a "big movement towards councils getting going and engaging in direct housing delivery".

"Initially this was very much under the radar because councillors felt the government was not that sympathetic to them getting engaged [with delivery]," she said. "But now we see from ministers a difference in tone."

Professor Morphet said councils had a number of key motivations for getting involved in direct housing delivery, one of which was a concern for quality. "Councils are really, really concerned about the quality of what’s being built," she said. 

Another motivation was concern over the rate of development. "Councillors are really fed up with slow completion rates or stalled sites," she said.

"They feel that they’ve been to their communities and sold the idea of new development, and then they have to go back and face the community with the results of non-build out or slow delivery."

"Councillors find that they don’t want to be in that position," she said. "They want to be in control of what they’re actually saying to communities, and by developing themselves through different mechanisms they can actually do that."

"We are beginning to see a new mantra - that planning is necessary for housing delivery but not sufficient," she said. 

Councils were using a range of tools to deliver housing, the research found, including housing companies and joint ventures. Some councils were specifically getting involved in delivering housing for older people, the study found.

The study, the summary of which was unveiled last month, identified at least 9,000 homes directly created by local authorities in England in 2017-2018.

Key ingredients for successful delivery included "a corporate commitment to developing housing", Morphet said. "That’s not just a buy-in, it’s the total focus of the council, and organising themselves in order to support that delivery."

Another key factor is for delivery to be embedded in the local plan, she said. "We have got to move away from the idea of local plans delivering homes - they deliver sites," said Morphet. "Councils are beginning to think about how to turn these sites into homes."

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