Councils face tough times on housing, warns new body chief

By Doug Morrison

Local authorities will be under increasing pressure to find resources to build new homes

The political conference season is upon us and inevitably the two main parties will resume their respective pleas for the need for public finance “constraints” or “cuts”, while devolving more power to local government.

In housing terms this has translated into government plans to encourage local authorities to return to council housebuilding. The Conservatives also suggest offering councils incentives to build more affordable homes. “Localism” is the politicians’ new mantra.

Reflecting this new direction, Local Partnerships was formed last month to help councils and other public bodies deliver better services and infrastructure as well as housing.

Andrew Rowson:
“Greater appetite for transformative agendas”“Our position is that, whoever wins the next election, it’s going to be financially a very tough climate for local authorities,” says Andrew Rowson, director of housing and property at Local Partnerships, which is owned equally by the Local Government Association and Treasury-backed Partnerships UK.

Rowson believes the political and financial pressure on councils will result in efficiencies. This will lead to more creative thinking over supply and “place-making”, through private finance initiatives or public-private partnerships, such as local housing companies.

“There does seem to be this encouragement of local authorities to pursue innovative approaches to regeneration, housing and asset management, which is being spurred by the financial difficulties,” he says. “It was happening before but there’s a greater appetite at the local level for some authorities to pursue some of the more transformative agendas.”

One of Rowson’s first jobs will be to report this autumn on a review of council property assets in the West Midlands, which identifies nearly £700m of savings over 10 years. This study, he says, could be applied to every council.

It also reflects the town hall view of “localism”, as summed up at the July launch of Local Partnerships by chairman Edward Lord: “Local public services are under enormous pressure to do more with less.” (Doug Morrison, Property Week, The Sunday Times)


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