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Council housing is the missing solution to the housing crisis

LHG’s new report on council homebuilding – called ‘The Missing Solution’ – is launched at Labour Party Conference today.

As a country we have not built anything like enough new homes since Thatcher virtually ended council housebuilding in the early 1980s. The other sectors – private sector and housing associations – have been left to shoulder the burden but have never got close to bridging the gap.

Despite its faults, council homebuilding is a proven model, it is tried and tested, and it works. Grant is put in at the start to make it viable to build and to meet infrastructure costs, but no subsidy is needed thereafter – subsidising investment rather than consumption is the best use of resources. Because rents are much lower than market-related homes, large savings in housing benefit are made over the lifetime of the homes. And huge savings will be made in other services like health and education because so many more people will live in high quality, affordable and suitable homes. It’s a great investment in bricks and mortar that will eventually pay for itself – and contribute hugely to mitigating climate change.  

After a decade in which the government virtually ended support for new homes at council rents, there has been a spirited fight back in defence of council homebuilding. Councils are doing as much as they can to get building again, but they need a better partner in government. Councils must have the confidence to plan, better powers and resources to buy land and regenerate sites, more support from government to manage the risks inherent in a growing programme, and support generally to build the capacity needed to run a large programme. The responsibility is on government to provide sufficient grant and to reform land and planning to make the job doable.

If this government doesn’t act, Labour needs to think through now what is needed to hit the ground running when re-elected into government. There will be no time to lose.

The report makes a big start on this task. Written by a range of political figures who have recent experience of building council homes around the country and a range of experts who have worked in the field for many years, it considers the gamut of financial, governance and organisational issues that have to be tackled, with lots of local examples of successes and challenges.

Lucy Powell’s speech to Conference this afternoon and the excellent composite resolution moved by Labour Housing Group Chair John Cotton, followed by the launch of the report, are a good start. As John said, the aim of all this work is to make a reality of Labour’s commitment to build 150,000 social rent homes a year including 100,000 council homes by the end of a Parliament. Detailed work and a comprehensive plan are needed to make this ambition a reality. We hope the report will help us in these tasks. 

The report is available here: https://labourhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Missing_Solution_Online_20-09-21.pdf

And the Executive Summary is available here

https://labourhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Missing_Solution_Executive_Summary.pdf

THE MISSING SOLUTION: COUNCIL HOMEBUILDING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Is edited by Rachel Blake, Nick Bragger, Steve Hilditch and Sheila Spencer, with additional editing and design by Simon Hilditch, and contributions from Rachel Blake, Steve Cox, Aileen Evans, Paul Hackett, Steve Hilditch, Jenny Hill, Alison Inman, Satvir Kaur, Janice Morphet, James Murray, Julia Park, Steve Partridge, Jerry Swain, Sharon Thompson, Mike Todd-Jones, Ed Turner and Martin Wheatley.

<strong>Steve Hilditch</strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick blog.
Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

3 replies on “Council housing is the missing solution to the housing crisis”

Absolutely right. Council housing can and should set a benchmark for quality, Affordability and value for money. It can offer long-term hope and stability. The potential benefits extend to education, health and community well-being.

I was pleased to see a number of contributions that highlighted the need for zero carbon in new building. Building is the only sector where we have the knowledge and technology to go carbon negative/energy positive for new and existing buildings. Construction carbon including that embodied in services and infrastructure is emitted in the short term that is far more damaging than carbon emitted/avoided over the life of a building. To me, Goldsmith Street (see cover photo) looks like a building where levels of construction carbon outweigh the passiv house effect. I would like to see councils finding a space in ‘retrofit first’ that is the best way of avoiding construction carbon and when, including sub-divisions, enabling the heating and insulation of fabric and space meeting housing needs.

According to the Government, over 75% of people in social housing want to own their own home. Why can’t we simply remove the largest barrier to this and let people choose to move into a new home, freeing up social housing units for those who choose that tenure. Rentplus-UK is facilitating this – allowing renters to become homeowners – and a large % of these are our key and essential workers.

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