Why metro mayors need more power

England’s major cities risk a ‘London-style’ housing crisis unless radical powers over housing are handed to Mayors, according to a new report.

IPPR North’s report Closer to Home sets out the big housing challenges facing the new wave of ‘Metro Mayors’ set to be elected for the first time in May 2017.

It argues that England is not one housing market but many – and that Mayors are best placed to tackle housing issues – such as the increasing difficulty facing first time buyers getting a foot on the housing ladder, and possible fall in private sector construction as a result of Brexit.

Unless significant powers over planning and housing are handed to new Mayors, the government will miss its housebuilding target – and risk a repeat of the London mayoralty, where successive mayors have failed to address major problems in the capital’s housing market.

“City devolution offers the opportunity for the first time to link housing, transport and infrastructure together to create sustainable, thriving healthy and happy communities,” RIBA President Jane Duncan said. “It is crucial that, as part of the developing devolution agenda, they are also equipped with the tools to drive up both housing supply and the quality of new homes.

“English cities like Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester have a proud history of strong civic and business leaders working together to rejuvenate urban spaces and better the lives of their citizens. I’m confident, with the necessary powers devolved from central Government, our new Metro Mayors can build on this tradition.”

The report states that that brownfield land is in too short supply to meet the government’s million homes target. It highlights figures from leading consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners, based on DCLG data, which show that:

  • the North West has brownfield capacity for 166,211 homes and a long-term need of 263,168 new homes;
  • in Yorkshire and Humber, there is brownfield capacity for 71, 555 homes and a need for 271, 602 homes;
  • in the North East, there is brownfield capacity for 44, 407 homes and a need for 115, 025 homes;
  • in the West Midlands, there is brownfield capacity for 66,635 homes and a need for 266, 391 homes.

The government has devolved some powers to some councils, the report notes – for example the ability to integrate new housing with other infrastructure projects, such as transport or economic hubs.

The report argues that government should adopt a deal-making approach to housing devolution. It argues that the following powers should be devolved:

  • control over the greenbelt, so mayors can potentially allow development on strategic parts of this – in consultation with local residents;
  • handing mayors stamp duty proceeds from new build homes as an incentive to increase supply;
  • powers to levy tackle empty homes – are still within central government control, the report notes.

But in return, mayors should themselves set out to government how they will meet a number of challenges – including:

  • releasing sufficient public land – and identifying private sites – to meet housebuilding targets;
  • set out plans to speed up the planning system for developers – for instance, by relaxing planning rules;
  • showcase how they will help small and medium businesses enter the market, for instance in breaking up larger developments into smaller chunks.

“England is not one housing market but several,” said Charlotte Snelling, report author and researcher at IPPR. “The housing crisis manifests itself very differently – the problems facing Kensington in London – namely supply – and the problems in Kensington in Liverpool – namely quality and decent homes – are best tackled locally.

“There is no doubt that successive London mayors been successful in using their significant levers on transport, but the powers given to Ken, Boris and Sadiq over housing even today are still too piecemeal and partial. The last thing we want to see the new wave of Mayors facing a London-style housing crisis in the future.”

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