One of the greatest challenges facing both central and local government is how to increase house building to a level which can meet the demand for new homes, while also addressing the ever-increasing backlog. We are currently building only half the number of new homes we need per year in England and the housing crisis has never been more evident.
In terms of the devolution of powers, clearly there are some powers that are best held locally and could be usefully devolved to local authorities to empower them to better address the housing crisis – for example, if central government were to lift the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap, it would give individual local authorities across England the ability to borrow against their assets and invest in building new homes. This move could be a real game-changer for house building in this country and one that the Federation of Master Builders strongly supports.
However, in terms of housing and planning, it would be wise to ensure other powers continue to be held centrally – the power to set planning fees should not be devolved to local authorities. Any suggestion of locally-set planning fees would be met with considerable distrust by small house builders unless very high standards of transparency and accountability could be demonstrated.