The future of funding for housing building in the UK was the focus of the House Builders Association’s fringe on Tuesday.
“The key to this is devolution,” said Shadow housing minister Roberta Blackman-Woods MP.
She called for government to work with combined authorities to build local partnerships to bring together the public and private income to prioritise building new homes and communities.
“I think it is very important that Labour has a very strong commitment to devolution so we can pass powers down to local authorities.
“Where I think we have a gripe with the Government is that they are requiring one particular governance model and we do not think that sounds like devolution, we think it sounds like an imposing of a model on people that they did not particularly ask for or want.”
Jeremy Blackburn of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors said the fact that devolution is focusing on our major cities was a “great opportunity” because they have brownfield sites and as well a major demand for homes.
However, he cautioned that the commitments around devolution and funding are “too unclear” which means “we do not know what is really what is on offer.”
He called for the Government to produce a brochure to explain what funding options are on offer and explain what government wants to see in return.
The Shadow housing minister said that Labour was committed to challenging the Government “to follow through with funding when it comes to devolution” to prevent local authorities from having more power but without the funding to do anything.
Rico Wojtulewicz, Policy Advisory for the National Federation of Builders and House Builder’s Association, said a key to funding the future of housing was to “understand why we need more SMEs in the markets.”
“SMEs used to build two third of all homes and now 60% are built by the majors,” he said.
Mr Wojtulewicz advised that more SMEs in the housing market would lower house prices, help build organically, support the local economy, and avoid exasperating the local infrastructure.
A key to supporting SMEs further would be working with local authorities to have their borrowing caps increased as well as helping them retain “ownership of the land instead of selling everything off.”
“If the question is ‘how do we build enough homes?’ then we have to put homes first and worry less about the infrastructure,” said Mr Wojtulwicz.
Ms Blackman-Woods disagreed, saying “people don’t only live in homes, they live in communities.”
“If you want to bring the public with you in supporting more house building…they need to see those homes will be supported by the necessary infrastructure” such as health centres and schools, she said.
Surprised at Ms. Blackman-Woods reaction, Wojtulewicz said that politicians were failing to understand the problem and asserted that SMEs are in a perfect position to develop communities organically without exacerbating the local infrastructure.
He said a major problem is that there is too much of a focus on larger sites and not enough on small sites neighbourhoods.
Wojtulewicz expressed concern that instead of gradually building communities with a 5 to 20 homes annually, several hundreds of homes are being granted permission at once.
This week, Labour’s Shadow housing and planning minister, John Healey MP, release a pamphlet setting out how to move subsidy from housing benefits into bricks and mortar, supporting councils to deliver more council housing.
The MP for the City of Durham confirmed that Labour would campaign against the extension of Right to Buy to housing associations and highlight the damage caused by the 1% reduction in rent.
She said that the policy will cause housing associations to lose £100million out of their development budget over the next four years.
“This is actually going to damage the sector from being able to bring forward the housing that is needed.”