Independent Group Leader's Bulletin: 7 February 2020

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.

local government association - independent group

Group Leader's Bulletin

7 February 2020


Will 300,000 new dwellings every year be possible or desirable?

This Government has reiterated its 2017 desire to have 300,000 more dwellings built every year. That would be faster than anything since 1969. This is in order to “moderate the high cost of housing”, however whether building more does that, is yet to be seen. It seems to be the Keynesian idea of “supply and demand” - but we fail to control the demand. Anyone in the world can buy in the UK and they do, pushing up house prices and leaving many of our residents still unable to afford housing. If we endlessly increase the supply without a control on the demand, we can never reach the equilibrium the Government says it desires. Pushing councils to allocate more land than the market requires means that our Local Plans will always fail, and that opens the door to speculative developers to get permission on unallocated sites, creating a “free for all”.

Worse, councils and other public services then face demands that are increasing faster than their budgets, leading to poorer services and poorer roads. The drive for new housing is not accompanied by matching funds for essential facilities and infrastructure. That leaves our already stretched resources struggling and people angry with dwindling local services, including roads, health and care, hospitals and police.

The current drive for a lot more houses does little or nothing to make houses more affordable. With the pressure to get numbers built, councils allow developers to get away with far less affordable housing than is needed, based on the dreaded “viability” tests. If we cannot afford what is needed, with the matching services, then we are building problems. Nor does it help the homeless access the thinly spread services they need to get back on their feet.

In some areas, developers may not actually build anything on the green field sites, as they can make more profit elsewhere. Their books will show a profit as their assets have increased in value - but nothing has been achieved on the ground so the five-year land supply of housing and the local plan fails.

We have called for the ability to tax the land after five years, whether the houses are built or not. In some European countries the local government takes the uplift in land value partly up front to use for services, and the developer makes their money from the development itself.

Our Next Generation leadership cohort of members from all parts of the country have collated their thoughts and written to the Telegraph which published an article last Sunday (Local councils face showdown with housing minister as he threatens to strip them of planning powers / paywall). The biggest push on local councils for more housing is where the gap between earnings and house prices is greatest. Thus places like Sevenoaks have 93 per cent of land in the Green Belt, yet are required to more than triple their number of houses in their plan. Neighbouring councils are little better off, each unable to fulfil their own demand, so unable to assist.  Having got elected in May with the public’s view ringing in their ears, councillors are now expected to capitulate or give up the plan-making power to a Conservative council, perhaps deemed to be more malleable. Our members have appealed to the minister, Mr Jenrick. Just creating bigger unitary councils, large enough to over-ride local interests means we lose some of our democracy and that results in a risky disconnect between the residents and local decision-making.

The daft thing is, we struggle to get developers to build according to local need, in preference to straight profit. We want to focus on the right size houses of quality build with high energy conservation with attractive landscaping for our residents. A focus on numbers of houses and viability tests, distracts from the quality of life that our residents seek. We need to properly plan for local need, not relinquish that power to private interests or to the Government. Plans are made more vulnerable by having weaker “emerging Local Plans” as they take about two years to do and have to be reviewed every five years, hence we are thrown into a state of near-constant flux.

How is it sustainable to build all those homes? It will certainly need a lot of carbon sequestration in boggy reed beds and woodlands! Will the new housing counter all the savings we make in our carbon footprint?  Can we make better use of the housing we already have?

Building regulations

There has been a Government consultation on Future Homes. Our members have contributed to the response from the LGA in which we call for councils to have flexibility to require standards above the building regulations to ensure they can meet their own ambitions to achieve net zero carbon, support better quality housing, and develop and grow a skills base in the newly emerging green economy. It may be worth taking a look at this consultation and your council’s response to it.

Climate survey

We have designed a short climate survey for you to gather information on how far our councils have got on tackling climate change. Your answers will help inform our Climate Emergency Conference at the LGA on 14 February 2020. We want to make sure all members who want to attend can, so if you have yet to book your place please do so by emailing the group office on  

Hear from Next Generation Independent Group councillors around the country

Epsom and Ewell Borough Council (Control: Residents’ Groups) - Steven McCormick 
“Too many homes are being asked for. The target is for 685 per year in the future whereas over the past 15 years only 210 per year have been built. It is not possible to build so fast”. (Steven McCormick).

King’s Lynn and West Norfolk (Control: Cons) - Sandra Squire 
“We have had the number of houses ‘needed' reduced, yet it is still too many. Large developments in inappropriate areas are becoming the norm. We have unfinished estates with unsold houses, yet more are in planning. We are not building the right type of houses either. Four of five bedroom houses have no effect on our housing list or homelessness.” 

North Somerset Council (Control: Rainbow Alliance) - Bridget Petty
“An Inspector rejected the Joint Spatial Plan and told the West of England that they needed to build more. This housebuilding threat will not solve the housing crisis”.

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (Control: Cons) - Max McLoughlin 
“Solihull are expected to build around 1,000 homes per year. This is around 25 per cent more than we have been able to deliver, and has doubled our target. It should be a case of what we build not just how many”.

Central Bedfordshire Council (Control: Cons) - Silvia Collins 
“In Central Bedfordshire, we not only have ridiculous overall housing targets, but in one area which has the most serious need for social housing, we could be building 98 per cent of homes as full market value properties: as few as 62 of 3,100 homes would be ‘affordable’. Critically for residents, the social housing need here does not seem to have even been addressed. When you consider that this land is in the Green Belt, you realise just how reckless this is. It is an example of the sort of thing that happens when we are subject to ridiculous targets, dictated by central government.” 

Sevenoaks District Council (Control: Cons) - Maxine Fothergill
“I am very pleased with my council standing up to Government over our local plan; 93 per cent of Sevenoaks District is Green Belt.”

Letter of 21 January 2020 from the Leader of Sevenoaks Council to Robert Jenrick: Local councils face showdown with housing minister as he threatens to strip them of planning powers / paywall. The Inspector has told them to withdraw their plan as they have found space only for 88 per cent of the 11,300 homes they were supposed to allocate.  

Sevenoaks Local Plan returned by Government inspector

Wealdon District Council (Control: Cons) - Patricia Patterson-Vanegas 
"The Wealdon plan has failed inspection as it did not allocate all of the required housing. I have studied the projected population figures for our area and we are required to build thousands more homes that we can even fill”.

South Oxfordshire - Sue Roberts
Letter to the Minister, Mr Jenrick, “outlining the unfortunate consequences that nine years of forced growth has already had on South Oxfordshire. We are aware that high housing allocations are causing strain in communities across the country, and believe it is time for constructive dialogue to ensure development provides the right homes for the right people in the right places.” 33,000 homes is seven towns the size of Henley; it is one new home for every two existing homes in the district. Two-thirds of these are to be delivered between 2011 and 2034. Nine years into this experiment, we have experienced seven undesirable consequences of forced buildings’ growth.”

Kind regards,

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE signature
Councillor Marianne Overton MBE

Councillor Marianne Overton MBE
Leader of the Independent Group
Vice Chair of the Local Government Association

Dates for the diary

LGA Independent Group Climate Emergency Conference
London, 14 February 
Our Climate Emergency Conference will enable members to hear from experts, share best practice and develop clear ideas to implement in your councils. Free to attend and lunch will be provided. Please email if you would like to attend.

LGA county lines conference
Nottingham, 24 March

An all-day conference, free to all councils. Please contact for further information. 

LGA county lines masterclass
London, Tuesday 31 
LGA's one-day training course for elected members to learn about tackling county lines and wider criminal exploitation. If you would like further information or to book a place, please contact