Leader of Birmingham City Council, Cllr John Clancy, gives his verdict on the Government’s Housing White Paper.
The Government’s Housing White Paper appears, on the face of it, to be a welcome if somewhat overdue admission that the housing supply market is broken and cannot be fixed if left entirely to the vagaries of free market forces.
In a change of direction, the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, has made it clear that state intervention will be necessary if the number of homes required to address the housing crisis are to be built, and that local government must play a leading role in overseeing a sharp increase in the rate of construction.
Indeed, commenting on social media after publication of the White Paper, Mr Javid said something with which I am able to agree entirely: “Our broken housing market is the biggest barrier to progress in Britain today.”
This council’s strategy of working with all housing providers is I am sure being recognised by Government as a model to follow. We now need the Housing Minster to emphasise that local government’s role should include the provision of new social housing as well as providing homes for private rental, and that the Government is serious about affordable home ownership.
Two themes in particular running through the White Paper will be welcomed in Birmingham.
The first, a £3 billion fund to help smaller building firms challenge major developers, should improve the supply side and help to create and safeguard jobs in the construction industry. It is vital that a broader range of organisations be encouraged to build homes, rather than the ‘usual suspects’ of five or six construction conglomerates, that have failed to deliver adequately in the past.
The second theme, reducing the time allowed between planning permission and the start of building from three years to two years, will serve as a clear signal to developers that they cannot sit on land once planning permission has been granted and must get on with the job.
As the White Paper notes, correctly: “There is concern that it may be in the interests of speculators and developers to snap up land for housing and then sit back for a while as prices continue to rise.”
The Government’s proposed housing strategy comes not a moment too soon if the pressures on all councils to meet the growing needs of citizens are to be met. I’m pleased to report that the Birmingham Development Plan (BDP), setting out how we intend to respond to the demand for new homes, has been approved by the Government.
We must not underestimate the scale of the challenges that lie ahead. The BDP makes it clear that some 89,000 new homes will be required for Birmingham citizens by 2031. We estimate there is sufficient space within the city boundary for just 51,000 homes, leaving 38,000 properties to be built in neighbouring local authorities across the city border.
It has been necessary to identify a small proportion of the Birmingham green belt, in Sutton Coldfield, to build up to 6,000 homes. This is a strategy that has been wholly endorsed on the grounds of “exceptional need” by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Radical plans to build new homes in Birmingham city centre are taking shape. We expect over the next few years to deliver 10,000 properties at Smithfield, Snow Hill and Curzon Street, an unprecedented rate of growth in city living.
It is precisely because we have been able to identify extensive city centre land for housing development that we can limit building on green belt land.
The housing crisis can only be fixed through local government intervention and Birmingham city council stands ready to play a leading role through the Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust, which has built over 2,000 new homes for sale or affordable rent since 2009, with plans for up to 500 homes for affordable rent also in place.
I also note with interest the following statement in the White Paper: “Housing markets are different right across the country, and we are interested in the scope for bespoke housing deals with authorities in high demand areas, which have a genuine ambition to build.
“We will look seriously at any request from local authorities for Government powers to be used to support delivery in their local area, and will be prepared to consider all the levers at our disposal to do so, so long as this results in genuinely additional housing being delivered.”
Birmingham is certainly a high demand area for housing, and this council has a genuine ambition to build, so we will be taking the Government up on its offer.