On April Fool’s Day, we suggested – with a perfectly straight face – that the conditions may be in place for a return to the glory days of local authority house building.
Less than four months on, we find ourselves with:
- a new Prime Minister;
- a new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government;
- a new Minister for Housing and Planning,
- a new London Mayor; and
- a newly created Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
If a week is a long time in politics, a few months is a lifetime.
Against a background of political instability, one thing has remained – the pressing need for more houses. It is an imperative which no amount of Ministerial reshuffles can dilute. Indeed, our new Prime Minister recognised the importance of addressing the “housing deficit” as part of her recent – and ultimately successful – leadership campaign.
Building sufficient homes to meet a growing need is a challenge that rests not only with the private sector. Local Authorities can – and must – play their part. In some cases, they may choose to go it alone, in others by working together with private sector partners.
With that in mind, we recently held a client seminar with Local Partnerships looking at barriers to local authority housing delivery and how these can be overcome in practice.
The central themes included:
Structures and approaches
From wholly-owned Local Development Companies to Local Asset Backed Vehicles, a multitude of options exist for Local Authorities answering the call to build. A wide menu of legal powers are available, with the chef’s speciality being the general power of competence in s.1 Localism Act 2011.
Naturally, given the nature of Local Authorities as creatures of statute, there are some inherent limitations on the use of those powers. Matters of vires, additional regulatory requirements and governance must all be addressed.
Nevertheless, successful innovation and housing delivery is certainly possible. Indeed it is happening in practice, with some notable examples.
Traps for the unwary
In what is a uniquely high risk environment for local authorities, legal challenges can come from several angles. The use of statutory powers, procurement processes and state aid issues all require careful consideration. The extent to which potential challenges can be anticipated – and mitigated – will be critical to avoiding costly legal roadblocks which could derail best laid plans.
Maximising the chances of success
Not all delivery vehicles will succeed. Clear objectives are essential from inception, allied to the capacity and commitment to deliver outputs over a sustained period of time. That commitment, in particular, must be secured at both officer and member level. Scale is also important – examples to date have seen relatively modest numbers delivered.