Disruption is the word of the moment. It was the theme for this year’s RESI Conference, with a focus on proptech and the precision manufacturing of homes.
And earlier this month I chaired a housing debate hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank that brimmed with practical but disruptive ideas ranging from the adoption of a German-style social housing system (more subsidy, fixed-term tenancies) to reforming property taxes (rebalance in favour of taxing assets rather than transactions).
Yet there is one idea that can be contentious but is not new: strategic planning across different local authority areas. There is a concerted effort at all tiers of government to integrate housing and regeneration within major transport infrastructure.
Government is promoting the East-West Rail Link to connect East Anglia with central, southern and western England; the West Midlands Combined Authority and partners are exploring how HS2 can support regeneration; and the mayor of London and Transport for London have plans for Crossrail 2. Clearly these efforts will require an approach that is larger than local to make the most of the opportunities they present.
Ministers have recognised this. The creation of directly elected mayors within combined authorities allows a more strategic approach to places, especially major urban areas. The ‘duty to co-operate’ has been strengthened and the Department for Communities and Local Government’s housing white paper proposed ways councils could co-operate further on local plans.
This is all welcome and while there is little appetite to go back to regional planning, this sort of co-ordination is important.
Indeed, co-operation will be intensified now the government has published its consultation on standardising the way housing need is assessed in England, identifying a housing need of around 266,000 homes for the country.
Strikingly, housing need falls in almost as many areas as it increases. While Tower Hamlets has one of the biggest increases, Blackpool has one of the largest falls.
Nonetheless there is no escaping the often substantial increase for some authorities, capped at 40% for those with a local plan, with the aggregate for London standing at more than 70,000 homes. The mayor has started to prepare for this and the new housing strategy set out plans to take a proactive role in the land market to help meet the capital’s housing requirements.
A clear opportunity is to focus on development within the growth corridors linking London to the wider South East and east of England. These corridors have been a feature of policy for many years.
A clear opportunity is to focus on development within the growth corridors linking London to the wider South East
This isn’t only about the Thames Gateway, perhaps the most high-profile corridor, but includes those from the capital to Luton-Bedford, Stansted-Cambridge-Peterborough, the so-called Western Wedge encompassing Heathrow and the Wandle Valley. There is already good co-operation in many of them.
In the north, the Stansted corridor is supported by a consortium of more than a dozen authorities and in the south, Croydon council is a member of the Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership. There are other opportunities too, notably Bexley borough’s plan to extend Crossrail 1 from Abbey Wood to Kent, supporting development along the riverside.
With increasing creativity needed for places to benefit from and manage growth, the importance of these transport-led corridors and the need to co-ordinate them has never been greater. These efforts are working in many places and they warrant government attention. Making them a bigger feature of policy and funding is now crucial.