The recent launch of Homes England’s Local Government Capacity Centre (LGCC) has been widely welcomed. Established to ‘develop, curate and deliver well structured, accessible offers for local government’ the LGCC aims to ‘increase capacity and skills to make homes happen in the short, medium and long term’. Homes England will be a source of accessible advice and support for technical, topic-specific delivery challenges, such as contaminated land, development appraisals, and site assembly. This summer’s learning programme is already oversubscribed.
In the run up to the announcement, Homes England consulted widely across the sector. Roundtables welcomed evidence from all parts of local government and a strong consensus emerged from all tiers, markets and geographies: councils do not lack strategic justification for new homes supply, many do not lack land or the ability to borrow prudently. It is capacity that is almost universally lacking.
Unfortunately, there are too few officers at frontline delivery, and where they exist, they are overloaded. We find widespread ambition to deliver projects covering a range of policy ‘hot topics’ including SME supply, self-build and community build, social stock retrofit, and design coding. Within local government there are sources of capability and expertise available, including the Planning Advisory Service, the One Public Estate regional advisor network, the Local Government Association’s Housing Advisor Programme and Local Partnerships. These sources share a determination to build capacity, not substitute for it.
Through our work with Calderdale and Bradford councils, Local Partnerships resolved complex challenges to stalled sites and provided an objective perspective on the role of a local housing company. We produced concept designs and cost plans to appraise brownfield land and filtered longlist council-owned candidate sites suitable for direct delivery to deliver a prioritised action plan. Our support to Cornwall, Tendring and Thurrock councils mapped out how councils can contract with local SME house builders. Working with Wirral council helped to improve the take up of land by housing associations.
We at Local Partnerships encourage authorities to take advantage of the LGCC and its offerings. Together, we can all aim to address the shortage of capacity and skills and help meet the Government’s ambition of creating 300,000 homes a year by 2024.
Judith Atkinson, Strategic Director – Housing, at Local Partnerships