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Localism: Reality must match rhetoric

Localism could be good news for delivering much-needed new housing if Government can deliver a reality that matches the rhetoric, says South East England Councils (SEEC).

But SEEC’s housing conference revealed councillors’ worries that the new system could be more complex and costly for councils than at present.

SEEC Chairman Cllr Paul Carter told the conference. “There are clearly opportunities for local authorities but the balance is currently too much towards challenges rather than cutting red tape and giving us genuine flexibility to lead, innovate and meet local needs.

“Getting a development off the ground in England costs 25% more than it does in mainland Europe because of all the bureaucracy,” he added.

“We welcome the idea of incentives such as the New Homes Bonus but the details need refining to make sure the system is fair, accountable and something that will encourage communities to take on new building.”

SEEC Executive Committee member Cllr Elizabeth Cartwright also questioned the complexity and cost of the new planning system. “Rules around consultation, referendums and public examinations for each neighbourhood plan may deter communities from getting involved while, for councils, the cost of supporting multiple plans could be very expensive.”

Key issues raised at the conference covered:

  • The need to give councils freedom & flexibility to develop new approaches to development – for example through innovative partnerships with the private sector
  • Incentives may be needed to encourage communities to step up on planning
  • Incentives are likely to be required to encourage private sector landlords to take on Housing Benefit tenants to relieve pressure on the social rented sector
  • Concerns that caps on benefits in high cost areas and changes affecting housing associations could reduce the supply of social housing and increase homelessness
  • Councils need to be aware of the impact of migrants – both on local housing markets and the value they can add if filling gaps in the economy.

Conference speakers included local and central government representatives, developers, housing associations and the charity sector. Agenda and presentations will be available on the SEEC website.