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Social housing may be in line for a boom

Published on 16th November 2018

Some new developments may mean that local authority housing could be in line for a renaissance. We look at what this could mean for the architectural profession.

Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed in his recent budget that from next month councils will be able to borrow more money to build social housing.

Forty years ago, local authorities were a major force in the housebuilding market, and built more than 40% of all new homes. Councils built more than one million homes in the 1970s, but the figures plunged in the 1980s, when ‘right to buy’ let tenants buy their rented homes at a huge discount. Most were not replaced.

Despite a continuing - and even increasing - need for social housing, the proportion of homes built by local authorities had fallen to less than 2% of all homes by last year.

Housebuilding in general collapsed after the financial crash falling from more than 215,000 homes a year in 2007/8 to 130,000 in 2012/13. Numbers have gone up since but are still nowhere close to the pre-crisis level. Any recovery in local authority building has been hampered by rules and regulations as well as a lack of cash.

This may have changed thanks to the Chancellor’s decisions. Councils are expected to be given new freedoms to build homes once again, whilst also being encouraged to assess local needs and set targets to construct more housing in their area. There may be a more relaxed approach to planning restrictions, including the opportunity to build on green belt margins.

The government has already set a target of building 300,000 homes a year across the UK but his target is based on need rather than what can realistically be achieved.

Certainly, the current figures fall short. In 2017 private housebuilders accounted for 159,310 units, housing associations built 32,320 and councils just 3,280.

This adds up to a figure that is more than 100,000 homes short of the target.

The Chancellor's announcement, part of his promise that austerity is coming to an end, suggested that this is the end of six years of strict controls on how much councils are allowed to borrow, and provides the promise of cash for the sector. Funding development of new social housing has been welcomed as a bold policy to try to solve the problem of homelessness and the housing crisis by giving councils a lead role in housebuilding again.

But does it also mean more commissions for architects?

Fortunately for the professional – and for the quality and variety of architecture across the country – the days when the council’s chief architectural officer would issue standard plans to a council construction team seem to be over. While specifications for materials may not be as generous as in some areas of the private sector, the importance of quality is now more likely to be recognised. This certainly means that the building of identikit homes and streets is no longer acceptable in the private sector, and there are clear signs that variety and design quality have become key issues for local authorities. One current approach may be for the council to develop the masterplan along with a list of requirements, and to call upon outside suppliers to provide a variety of solutions to meet them.

This has even extended to self-build.

Self-building, once the preserve of grand designs and one-off homes, is now being used in large developments. Surprisingly, it is actually being driven by councils working with local people.

This has already happened in Lewisham, South London, where a group of local residents who had thought themselves priced out of buying their own homes are working with the council. The council is providing the land at what, for London, is a nominal price, a contractor will build the shells and the residents will have an important role in designing the interiors and specifying the finishes.

The scheme will provide 40 self-build homes, with five council houses and a number which will be reserved for shared ownership.

Similar schemes are being trialled across the country, with Oxfordshire and Cornwall both being the sites of projects that may not be exactly ‘self-build’ but are certainly heavily dependent on input from residents. ‘Self-finish’ might be a better description.

Apart from the cost benefits, there are some social benefits. Several commentators see it as increasing involvement with individual homes and therefore providing a basis for a stronger community.

What does this mean for architects?

Anything that increases the number of homes built in the UK is probably good news for the profession, especially if design work is being outsourced.

If these proposals are brought into common practice, it seems there could be plenty of opportunities for architects to work alongside local authorities, and with would-be tenants.

However, in many cases, money will still be short, and finding the necessary funding may be key to moving the project forward.

At Rangewell, we can help you and your clients find the finance required for all types of development. For large projects with multiple homes and mixed-use masterplans, sums of £15 million or more can be arranged.

We make no charge for our services, and in fact, we could even provide an additional income for your practice. Perhaps even more exciting, by helping your clients find the finance they need, you may be in a better position both to secure projects, and ensure that your client can build them to the specification you want.

Whatever the size of the project, at Rangewell, we can provide the scale of funding it needs.

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Richard Mitchell

Richard Mitchell

Content writer
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