Councils could be offered new incentive to release land for housing

Cash-strapped local authorities could be allowed to borrow more funds, in return for supporting housebuilding in their area.

Housing Minister Gavin Barwell MP suggested the arrangement in a speech to the District Councils Network last week, saying that local authorities with strong housing growth could in future be granted greater borrowing flexibility.

With councils struggling to fund statutory services after six years of budget cuts, and the prospect of further falls in Government funding up to 2021, council leaders have been pressing for restrictions on local government borrowing to be lifted. Clearly the Government wants to obtain the best possible return from any accession to this request – boosting housing delivery rates is an obvious strategic opportunity.

Mr Barwell’s speech came as rumours continue to swirl about the publication of the Government’s Housing White Paper – expected first in November, then in January, then last week. Whilst the Government’s focus on triggering Article 50 before the self-imposed deadline of March partly explains the delay, a clash between housing growth-focused DCLG ministers and a risk averse No.10 has also reportedly pushed the Paper back.

A new round of speculation has put forward this Tuesday as the publication date, with The Sun reporting that new incentives to build extra storeys on existing properties will be included. The Paper reported Senior Conservative MP John Penrose confirming the Tuesday date and welcoming the build-up measures, saying:

“At last it looks as though we are making progress.

“This change would regenerate hard-pressed high streets, make housing cheaper to rent and buy, reduce pressures to build on the precious green belt and would make it easier to find affordable accommodation in our wonderful cities and towns again.”

Assuming the Paper is published on Tuesday, or indeed at all, it looks set to be a bulky document. Hints from ministers over recent months have suggested a plethora of measures set to be included in it, from centrally-set annual housing quotas for councils failing on housing land supply, to penalties for not developing consented land, through to comprehensive planning fee reform. Less White Paper, more pot of gold for all the different parties with an interest in planning policy.

The published document will have high – and faintly contradictory – expectations to meet.

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