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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Mayors need radical housing powers to prevent London-style housing crisis

  • Government aim of expanding home ownership by building a million new homes at risk as Mayors lack full powers to build more homes.
  • Mayors set to take charge in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and Liverpool City Region must be able to make the big decisions – such as building on regional greenbelts.
  • The capital city itself needs more powers to address its housing crisis.

England’s major cities risk a London-style housing crisis unless radical powers over housing are handed to Mayors, according to a new report.

IPPR North’s report Closer to Home sets out the big housing challenges facing the new wave of ‘Metro Mayors’ set to be elected for the first time in May 2017.

It argues that England has not one housing market but many – and that Mayors are best placed to tackle housing issues, like the difficulty facing first time buyers getting a foot on the housing ladder, and a possible fall in private sector housebuilding as a result of Brexit.

Unless significant powers over planning and housing are handed to new Mayors, the government risks missing its housebuilding target – and a repeat of the London mayoralty, where successive mayors have lacked real powers to address major problems in the capital’s housing market.

The report states that that brownfield land is in too short supply to meet the government’s million homes target. It highlights figures from leading consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, based on DCLG data, which show that:

  • the North West has brownfield capacity for 166, 211 homes and a long-term need of 263, 168 new homes
  • in Yorkshire and Humber, there is brownfield capacity for 71, 555 homes and a need for 271, 602 homes
  • in the North East, there is brownfield capacity for 44, 407 homes and a need for 115, 025 homes
  • in the West Midlands, there is brownfield capacity for 66,635 homes and a need for 266, 391 homes.

The government has devolved some powers to some councils, the report notes – for example the ability to integrate new housing with other infrastructure projects, such as transport or economic hubs.

The report argues that government should go further and adopt a deal-making approach to housing devolution. It argues that the following powers should be devolved:

  • control over the greenbelt, so mayors can potentially allow development on strategic parts of this – in consultation with local residents
  • handing Mayors stamp duty proceeds from new build homes as an incentive to increase supply
  • the ability to put levies on empty homes.

But in return, mayors should themselves set out to government how they will meet a number of challenges – including:

  • releasing sufficient public land – and identifying private sites – to meet housebuilding targets
  • setting out plans to speed up the planning system for developers – for instance, by relaxing planning rules
  • showcasing how they will help small and medium businesses enter the market, for instance in breaking up larger developments into smaller chunks.

The report will be launched on Monday 31 October in central Manchester, with speakers including DCLG director-general for decentralisation Simon Ridley, shadow housing minister Roberta Blackman-Woods and Conservative candidate for Greater Manchester mayor Sean Anstee.

Charlotte Snelling, report author and researcher at IPPR, said:

“England has not one housing market but several. The problems facing Kensington in London, and the problems in Kensington in Liverpool, are very different and best tackled locally.

“There is no doubt that successive London mayors been successful in using their significant levers on transport, but the powers given to Ken, Boris and Sadiq over housing even today are still too piecemeal and partial.

“The last thing we need is the new wave of Mayors facing a London-style housing crisis. Government should devolve powers and Mayors must set out exactly how they will help the government meet its housing targets.”

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, added:

“The Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine will be driven by Mayors, and it’s vital they have the powers to build enough homes – recreating a London housing crisis in regional cities would be a disaster.

“Brownfield land is limited, and it is best decided locally how to meet local housing needs. This includes difficult decisions about the greenbelt.

“If the government is serious about its One Nation credentials in expanding home ownership, it should remember radicals like the revolutionary Birmingham mayor Joseph Chamberlain and let city-regions really take back control.”