Recently an important shift took place in local government with the election of six new metro mayors in areas across England. These new mayors are now taking control of wide ranging – if in places limited – powers over areas including transport, skills and housing. However, questions still hang in the air about what these new mayors will actually be able to do? And when it comes to housing, how much impact they are likely to have.
When it comes to housing this question is particularly pertinent as, regardless of whether you represent the Tees Valley, West of England or Greater Manchester, answering the housing question has to be top of the to do list. Indeed, across all areas the issue of housing was a central piece of the pitches made to voters by candidates from all parties.
The question over what the new mayors can do, however, is complicated. Not least because each devolution agreement is nominally ‘unique’. While they share similarities there are variations in the actual powers that they have been granted and, therefore, the approach they will have to take.
Despite this the aim of each should remain ubiquitous: delivery of more locally affordable housing.
Shelter has recently supported a piece of work undertaken by the Smith Institute looking into devolution and housing in more detail – halfway house: the opportunities and limits of devo housing in England.
This report dissects what powers mayors will now have, and what they might so with them. However, there is also something else that could – and should – be considered: allowing the devolved city regions to take forwards a new wave of Civic Housebuilding.
Our New Civic Housebuilding report is a vision for a new model across the country. But, as is outlined within the report, there is a clear role in this for the combined authority model, both in driving New Civic Housebuilding and in driving improvements in the existing speculative model.
For example, in New Civic Housebuilding we argue that powerful development corporations are key to successful delivery. These need to be able to assemble and acquire land, masterplan sites and parcel out land for development. Providing all metro mayors with the ability to establish such powerful development corporations – including the ability to CPO land – would be a sensible approach to delivering this.
Using this type of model to masterplan and deliver new developments would ensure that mayors are actually able to deliver those locally affordable homes that people in their areas need.
Of course, to some extent, mayors and combined authorities have been provided with powers that are similar to this.
What is now needed is dialogue between government and mayors about what additional powers and support are needed to enable them to really tackle housing supply challenges in their area. This dialogue needs to focus not just on how they can invest in and influence the existing system but also how they can take steps to radically increase the number, quality and affordability of homes.
In addition, mayors and government should look at some of the positive steps being taken by Sadiq Khan in London for an example of the powers that can drive improvements in the current market. The draft supplementary planning guidance (SPG) published by Sadiq, for example, proposes a number of changes that would also be worth taking forwards in other combined authorities (and more widely) including:
- Greater transparency over viability assessments;
- A threshold approach to viability assessment requirements;
- A strong minimum expectation for affordable homes.
Are mayors the answer to the housing crisis? Not on their own. But they can play a part in improving the situation and can join with us to lobby the next government to provide the powers that are necessary for unleashing Civic Housebuilding.
The accountability provided by elected mayors, coupled with the combined authority model, provides a real opportunity to focus in on increasing housing supply at this level. In New Civic Housebuilding Shelter has provided a vision for this – and we look forwards to working with the next government and the new mayors to achieve this.