James Brokenshire has pledged that councils will be on the ‘front-line of house building’ following a government decision to lift borrowing caps.
Speaking at the County Councils’ Network annual conference, the housing secretary said the removal of the cap on councils borrowing against assets to build new homes was a ‘game changer’.
‘Councils will once again be on the front-line of house building and it’s been great to see how warmly this has been welcomed by councils up and down the country,’ said Mr Brokenshire.
‘It’s wonderful to hear the ambitions so many have to take this chance to deliver the next generation of social housing, and why with the long-term funding that we have committed to the housing association sector too, I think there is a real opportunity to drive innovation and look at different ways in which that can be provided,’ added the housing secretary.
The abolition of the cap was announced last month by the prime minister, Theresa May at the Conservative Party annual conference in Birmingham.
‘But county councils’ involvement won’t just end here, because a key part of ensuring we have a housing market that works for everyone is to make sure we build to last,’ added Mr Brokenshire
‘When it comes to initiatives such as neighbourhood planning, county councils can engage well and ensure buildings reflect local tastes and preferences.’
The housing secretary also touched on the issue of local government reorganisation, following the recent decision to abolish the districts and county council in Buckinghamshire and replace them with a single authority.
‘Reorganisation of local government, through unitarisation and mergers can improve services, as well as drive efficiencies,’ said Mr Brokenshire.
‘But they shouldn’t be viewed as a quick switch to deal with immediate pressures and it’s never been the policy of this government to impose top down solutions. While I want to work with you and support this work, I have no intention of forcing reorganisation on local government where it isn’t wanted or needed.
‘Our criteria for unitarisation and mergers mean that only innovative proposals that improve services, enhance accountability and deliver financial sustainability will go ahead,’ he added.
Local enterprise partnerships
CCN chairman and Kent County Council leader Cllr Paul Carter, also spoke at the conference and told delegates that relationships with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) will be ‘crucial’ for economic growth.
‘The proposed downgrading of local government representation on LEP Boards are a backward step. We must not get embroiled in governance in arrangements when we need to support the Government in accelerated housing delivery and economic growth,’ said Cllr Carter.
‘If government is to devolve the skills agenda to LEP geographies, these governance arrangements become even more important.
‘I am convinced that empowered as strategic authorities, counties can rise above the parapet and be an even more visible presence in non-metropolitan England,’ added Cllr Carter.