Memorandum submitted by Local Government Association (H&R 3)
Memorandum to the Housing & Regeneration Bill Committee
Local Government Association - 6 December 2007
1. The Local Government Association promotes the interests of nearly 500 member councils. This includes more than 20,000 elected members representing over 50 million people in England and Wales.
2. Councils want to build more homes, but their delivery must be locally led and we must continue to focus on improving conditions in existing homes and neighbourhoods.
2.1. Councils are elected to represent the ambitions and interests of the people and the places they represent, and have a vital leadership role in shaping our neighbourhoods and communities according to the particular ambitions and circumstances of their local area.
3. The Homes & Communities Agency
3.1. The LGA supports the creation of the Agency: a single national body must be better than two NDPBs and a clutch of programmes run directly by CLG. However, it must not be allowed to become an undemocratic leviathan, overruling the democratic mandate, local knowledge and technical expertise of local councils.
3.2. The existing power of the Secretary of State to assume the plan-making and development control powers of the local planning authority is carried over into the bill. We believe this provision to be outdated and at odds with the emphasis CLG has been placing, in the Local Government White Paper and Act, and the Planning White Paper and bill, on making planning central to councils' strategic and place-shaping role. Local planning authorities must be able to direct new developments in accordance with their Sustainable Community Strategy, the principal reflection of a local area's priorities and circumstances. There may be a case on occasions for transferring planning powers to development corporations or similar vehicles, but we believe this should only happen in future with the consent of the council or councils concerned.
3.3. The LGA calls for the government to recognise that councils are best-placed to ensure local people live in the kinds of homes and neighbourhoods they want, need and deserve. Past failures have shown us that building communities is far more complex than bricks and mortar, new homes must be built as part of well-planned and well-connected neighbourhoods.
3.4. Only councils have the knowledge of their place, their local housing market and local service landscape to coherently plan new developments. They also have the local democratic mandate to shape developments which support the social, economic and environmental well being of the community as a whole.
3.5. The LGA will be supporting amendments which clarify the role of the HCA, and which protect the important strategic role of local planning authorities.
4. OFTenant - The new regulator for social housing
4.1. On social housing, council landlords are willing to accept the same responsibilities and scrutiny as other providers. We support the remit of the new social housing regulator, OFTenant, to promote better performance with a focus on tenants. We fear that if all providers are not included equally from the outset, a two-tier system will be created.
4.2. The LGA has already made proposals to government on how such domain-wide regulation can work as part of the local government performance framework, based on careful work by an expert group of council officers. Neither CLG nor any other stakeholder has put forward any reason why our proposed model is not workable. We therefore see no reason why of council landlords should not be included in the remit of the regulator from its inception.
4.3. The LGA will support amendments to enable OFTenant to operate domain-wide from its inception. Missing the opportunity of legislating at this point will mean that the realisation of the Cave review's vision is contingent on further primary legislation, which will lead to delay, possibly lengthy. If OFTenant's initial remit is limited to housing associations, and local authority regulation bolted on later, there are considerable risks that its expertise and culture will be skewed towards housing associations, to the detriment of the effective operation of domain regulation. We agree with government that an expert group should be set up to work through the detail of how regulation should work in the council sector.
5. Sustainable Homes and eco-towns
5.1. Councils are committed to improving the carbon impact of existing communities, and the creation of new homes. Housing is one of the main themes of the report of the LGA's Climate Change Commission, published on 5 December.
5.2. Eco-towns may have a part to play in providing exemplars, but all new homes and communities must be built to the highest standards of sustainability, with attention not just to domestic energy use and supply, but other factors such as sustainable transport. Only councils are able to deliver this holistic approach to sustainability.
6. The broader role of housing associations
6.1. Councils welcome the duty for housing associations to co-operate with the preparation of sustainable community strategies at the invitation of local authorities. We also support strongly the Corporation's recent introduction of mechanisms for councils to feed back on the performance of local landlords. It is important this gets carried over into OFTenant's approach.
 A Climate of Change: Final Report of the LGA Climate Change Commission, LGA, December 2007 (see http://www.lga.gov.uk/Documents/Publication/aclimateofchange.pdf)