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Concern on land release and policy for new housing provision

Following this week's Commons Select Committee's concern that the government has failed to develop and execute an effective strategy to meet land disposal targets over releasing land, we have been speaking to Sir Steve Bullock, Chair of the Housing and Finance Institute and also of the Sutton Housing Partnership, for his insight, ahead of our housing briefings and discussions this summer.

By October 2019, the Commons Select Committee has asked the Cabinet Office to write to it to set out a clear strategy for how the government will meet its targets for new homes. It claims the government will miss its target to sell enough land by 2020 for 160,000 new homes, by a considerable margin of 91,000 homes. It also stated that in future, the government should set targets that are challenging but fully supported by a clearly explained rationale and robust evidence on what is achievable.

Sir Steve was formerly Vice-Chair of Homes for London, and gained considerable experience in housing working at Lewisham Council, before taking on his role at the Housing and Finance Institute. The HFI promotes a 'dramatic expansion of both social rented homes and private ownership'. He commented on the importance of being clear about how land will be used:

'If your objective is to create more affordable housing then appropriate master-planning from the outset is very important. You have to have a clear vision about what the land is to be used for. In the London boroughs it has worked quite well when councils go into a joint venture with private sector developers, so that the role of promoting the site and marketing the properties is carried out by professionals.'

He also noted that there is beginning to be a generational shift - particularly in the ages groups under 40 - on accepting greater density in housing provision, if improved security and amenities such as private balconies and attractive public realm are offered by developers.

Much debate has also taken place over whether the NPPF has properly addressed the issue of commercial conversions to residential use, and provision for the elderly. Business & Partnerships Consultant at Colchester Borough Council's Amphora Trading, Karen Turnbull spoke to us recently about the drive to create more residential in town and city centres:

‘We need a mix of housing types – it all seems to be terraces now and nothing for the elderly. Also, councils need more power to challenge poor quality conversions from commercial to residential under ‘permitted development’. The NPPF does not reflect this issue. We also need jobs in our town centres, although adding residential can ensure more life at all times of day and in the evening. There are worries in Colchester that we cannot afford to staff a new hospital so what is the model for ensuring new population growth is properly served for healthcare. What is the mechanism under the NPPF to ensure jobs are planned for alongside other developments?'

Colchester has created three new council-owned companies for housing, energy and trading (Amphora Trading) – the last to help address the funding gap created by decline in central government funding. The council has been tasked with adding 920 homes per year until 2033.

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