The first, a Royal Town Planning Institute survey, launched jointly with Salford City Council, puts a positive gloss on its findings, but the numbers it gives us are actually extremely low, compared to the council house building outputs of the past.
Between 1948 and 1978, the total number of new council homes completed each year in the UK never fell below 100,000. In a peak year,1953, under Conservative Housing Minister, Harold Macmillan, it reached 245,160.
The RTPI study estimates that only 13,000 new homes were delivered by English councils last year – attributing this as the highest number since 1990. The RTPI’s numbers were extrapolated from a survey of 83 councils, which had built 9,000 homes last year – 2,000 directly and the remainder through council-owned companies.
The study found that 78% of local authorities now own companies to deliver new housing. Of those councils lacking a housing company, 20% are considering establishing one.
Ian Tant, RTPI President, said that having local authorities are back as "key players in the housing market" and are "vital to tackling the housing crisis". He commented "It’s great news that they are becoming more active again, delivering a wide range of house types to meet a wide range of needs."
He added: "The lack of land is still a major issue. The government needs to help councils access land at the right price to develop themselves or sell to earn the income they need. Government should also consider a more direct role in increasing supply and influencing the location of housing."
Focusing on brownfield opportunities, Paul Dennett, Salford City Mayor, said: "We have realised that it is not enough to wait for the market to deliver the homes we need to tackle homelessness, rough-sleeping and the UK’s broken housing market. We are using the opportunities we have as a city council but we need more powers and resources, especially given our infrastructure and post-industrial land challenges."
The RTPI study was conducted by Professor Janice Morphet and Dr Ben Clifford of the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London – a follow-up to one in 2017. It does not assess the effect of the removal of the housing borrowing cap in October 2018.
Professor Morphet said that councils are increasingly involved in the direct provision of housing in order to reduce homelessness and boost place-making, often working through joint ventures and cross-disciplinary teams. Locally, council leadership is emerging as a critical success factor. More than two-thirds of councils are building or planning to build special needs housing particularly for older people, compared to 42% in 2017.
Commenting on the report, Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse said: "We’re committed to building more, better and faster, including £44bn of funding and guarantees to support more homes, reforming the planning system to free up more land, and removing the cap on how much councils can borrow to build."
But, nationally, are we doing enough? In the same week as the RTPI report, MPs from the Public Accounts Committee said that the Government is "way off track" for reaching its national goal of 300,000 homes/yr by the 2020s, particularly because of failings in the planning system.
The target, which the government wants to reach by the mid 2020s, is "highly ambitious" says the report. It describes the average number of homes built between 2005 and 2018 at 177,000 as "not promising" and adds that the under-performance "is compounded by lack of detailed rationale as to why this target was chosen in the first place".
The report says that fewer than half of local authorities have an up-to-date local plan in place, despite the Department stressing the importance of a ‘plan-led system’ for development.
It cites poor performance by the Planning Inspectorate in reviewing appeals as adding to delays adding "there is also a collective failure to ensure developers contribute fairly for infrastructure" and that "we are concerned that the Department and local authorities are not doing enough to prevent poor build quality of new homes."