Local Government Lawyer Insight December 2018 Insight 27 In her foreword to the housing White Paper Fixing our broken housing market presented to Parliament in February 2017, the Prime Minister stated that, “Our broken housing market is one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today. Whether buying or renting, the fact is that housing is increasingly unaffordable – particularly for ordinary working class people who are struggling to get by.” According to Ministry of Housing statistics, in 2017 there were 1.15m households on English council housing waiting lists and, by the first quarter of 2018, there were approaching 80,000 homeless households in temporary accommodation provided by the same councils pursuant to the main housing duty. Whilst the White Paper did not mention a specific target for the number of new homes to be built, the government had committed itself to an ambitious figure of 250,000 each year in England. By the Autumn Budget 2017, this target had increased to 300,000. In the White Paper, the main role of local authorities in boosting housing supply was identified as strategic, in enabling the private sector to deliver much needed new homes using their planning powers. This article explores three alternative roles for councils in boosting housing supply: (i) as house builders, (ii) via their strategic role as planning authorities and (iii) through the use of local housing companies. Local authorities’ traditional role as house builders Local authorities’ traditional contribution towards increasing housing supply comprised building subsidised council- owned homes. This model has a long history, dating back to the Housing and Working Classes Act 1890, and is epitomised by the large number of council estates that sprung up around the country in the post-war years. In the 1950s and 60s the delivery of council homes in England ran at about 200,000 new homes a year. In 1969-1970 the figure was 135,700. By 1999-2000 it had crashed to 60. What happened to cause this collapse? The enactment of the Right to Buy (“RTB”) in 1980, which entitled tenants to buy their council homes at substantial discounts, together with strict restrictions on local authorities’ use of RTB receipts, is the obvious answer. More generally, local authorities fell out of favour with central government as suppliers of social housing. Social housing grant was targeted at the housing association and charitable sector. From the first such stock transfer by Chiltern District Council in 1988, successive governments encouraged large scale transfers of council housing stock to housing associations, as the preferred providers for delivering decent homes for social tenants. The resulting shift in the social housing sector can be illustrated by the statistic that by 2015 there were some 1.6m council homes, as compared with 2.4m housing association homes, an almost exact reversal of the figures in 2003. Significantly, from the perspective of central government policy in this area, housing association borrowing to finance the delivery of new homes is not counted as part of the Public Sector Net Borrowing (“PSNB”, in old money, the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement). A move by the Office of National Statistics in 2015 to reclassify housing association debt as part of the national debt was reversed in 2017 as a result of deregulation of the housing association sector Matt Hutchings QC considers how local authorities can boost housing in their areas through their roles as house builders, planning authorities and through the use of local housing companies. The role of local authorities in housing supply