Halfway house: the opportunities and limits of devo-housing in England

Paul Hunter is the Head of Research at The Smith Institute and is the author of the report

Available in: PDF

Published: 20 April 2017

The report can be read here.

The upcoming mayoral elections in six city regions will usher in a new era for devolution in England. Across the country many voters will have their first chance to elect a mayor, who will subsequently have a mandate to set priorities and shape local policies. Alongside new powers over local growth, transport and public services, the new mayoral combined authorities will also have powers and funding over housing and planning.

If the mayoral races in London are replicated elsewhere then housing is likely to be a top priority for voters and a central policy area for the new metro mayors. The combined authorities are largely city-region based, and although housing costs are not as high as in the capital, they face growing pressures on availability and affordability, long waiting lists for social housing, declining homeownership rates, rising homelessness and growing and ageing populations. The challenges are made more difficult still when set against the backdrop of cuts to local authority budgets, reduced funding for housing (notably capital and revenue spending on social housing), and welfare reforms. But what will change in the new mayoral combined authorities in respect of housing and place-making? What can be achieved under the existing settlements (including powers to coordinate) and what new policies, flexibilities and funding will be required to meet the ambitious plans combined authorities (and their Local Enterprise Partnerships) have already outlined? And what does this mean for areas which fall outside the new mayoral combined authorities, will they receive relatively fewer resources and have less autonomy over local housing issues?

In this talking points publication we begin by setting the scene of where housing sits within the new devolution settlements and relationships between local and national government. We then explore the housing challenges metro mayors will face and what could be achieved under the existing settlements, as well as what devolution might mean for those areas not included. The report concludes by highlighting areas where further devolution may be needed and asks some key questions about the challenges the metro mayors will face in realising their housing and growth ambitions.

Gill Morris, Chief Executive of DevoConnect, said:

“While the report highlights some clear limitations in the current round of devo deals for housing, the thrust of it is clear: joined up housing policy at a local level is the only way to combat serious housing issues in England’s big cities. London’s recent £3.15bn housing agreement focused on affordable housing shows that mayoral administrations can have a significant impact”.  

Richard Hill, Deputy Chief Executive of Sovereign, a 56,000-home housing association in the south and south west of England and a supporter of the research, said:

“Devolution presents a tremendous opportunity for regions to take greater control of the growth and success of their local area. This includes getting the right mix of housing to best meet their needs – and housing associations are ready to work with the new metro mayors, investing and innovating to ensure affordable homes are part of that mix. However, this report asks could devolution go further, making sure some areas are not left out and the new metro mayors have the powers and resources they need to achieve their ambitions.”

Siôn Simon MEP, Labour Candidate for the West Midlands Metro Mayor, said:

“Everyone should have the right to their own front door. Under the Tories, home ownership is falling, rents are rising and homelessness gets worse every week. By taking back control of the West Midlands, with a Mayor who is from here and will always put us first, we’ll meet these challenges – with a regional spatial plan, more council housing, and beefed-up brownfield reclamation.”

This report was supported by Shelter, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Sovereign Housing Association. DevoConnect led on the engagement. 

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