Welcome to the fifth edition of the Environment, Housing and Planning Bulletin.
The Local Government Association's (LGA) Environment and Housing Board has been advocating, on your behalf, to urge the Government to reconsider any decision to exclude social tenants from the new Affordable Warmth target fund. Our response to the Green Deal Consultation was submitted in late January, following feedback and work with LGA member councils.
Responding to the Court of Appeal's verdict that the Government's proposed cuts to Feed-in Tariffs would be illegal, we have highlighted the waste of money and damage to local economies caused by the Government's announcement of the cuts at such short notice. We will continue to urge the Government to go back to the drawing board and ensure that its reform of Feed-in Tariffs does not price the most vulnerable in society out of solar energy.
Earlier this month I chaired the LGA's housing reform event for councillors. This successful event, which was attended by around 65 elected members, saw the launch of a joint LGA/HCA publication for councillors. The publication 'Meeting local housing demand', lays out many of the options available to councils. It makes some suggestions as to how they could go about delivering new homes, improving existing ones and making housing central to local areas.
We have also been working with councils to prepare the LGA's response to the Government's Right-to-buy Consultation. We will argue strongly for councils to be able to set the discount locally and to keep 100 per cent of receipts from Right-to-buy sales locally. I have also met with Association of British Bookmakers to express our concerns regarding the clustering of betting shops on high streets, and the need for greater local control so councils can help shape their communities in the best interests of residents and local businesses.
Finally, I would encourage you to attend a number of forthcoming LGA events. On 27 February the LGA will host its 'Planning for growth - from rhetoric to reality' conference. I will chair this event which should be a valuable opportunity to think about how we will generate and sustain local economic growth through planning. The LGA's Planning Advisory Service (PAS) are also running a series of free events on strategic planning including one specifically for councillors. To book your place at either event please visit www.local.gov.uk/events or call 020 7664 3000 and ask for the Events team.
This bulletin provides further updates on our policy, regulatory and improvement activity in relation to the sustainability of the environment, including issues of housing, planning and waste. However, please do feel free to email the team at email@example.com with your suggestions and contributions and, in particular, any information about any good work your council is doing.
Councillor David Parsons CBE
Chairman, LGA Environment and Housing Board
The Government's consultation 'Reinvigorating Right-to-buy (RTB) and one-for-one replacement' closed on 2 February. The Government's main proposals were to stimulate more RTB sales by increasing discounts and to use any additional receipts generated to fund replacement homes (the Government has committed to 'one-for-one' replacement). The main view put forward in the LGA's response is that there should be local discretion over the level of discount for RTB and full local control over receipts from sales. Allowing councils to retain 100 per cent receipts is the most effective and efficient way of using the funding available to support replacement homes. Cllr David Parsons has also written to Grant Shapps MP, Minister for Housing, on this issue and officers continue to discuss the policy changes with Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) officials.
The Future Homes Commission, instigated by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is chaired by British business leader Sir John Banham. The commission is conducting a major national inquiry into the quality and delivery of newly-built housing. The Future Homes Commission has called for evidence in the areas of internal design, designing local communities, housing marketplace and finance and affordability The Commission is particularly interested in responses from local authorities.
The deadline for responses is Friday 23 March 2012. If you are planning a response to this, the LGA would also be very pleased to receive a copy of your submission or any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information, including how to submit evidence please visit the HomeWise website.
In November, DCLG announced that councils taking on debt in the move to the new system of self-financing for council housing would have to borrow on 26 March 2012 in order to access the reduced PWLB rate that had been agreed for Housing Revenue Account purposes. Councils had previously been told that they would be able to access the reduced rate between January and March.
The LGA has argued that the revised arrangement exposes councils to the risk of market fluctuations and interest rate changes on a single day. We have raised the issue with Danny Alexander MP, and with officials at HM Treasury and the Debt Management Office to explore potential solutions for spreading the borrowing risk.
However the Treasury has informed us that, given the size of the transaction, certainty of timing of the money flows is important for the management of public finances and that confining borrowing to one day will be fairer as all councils have access to the same rate.
On 1 February, the Government published the final determinations for the move to self-financing. The total amount of debt councils will take on will be Â£340 million lower than the draft determinations published in November. About half of this is as result of stock transfer and the other half as result of data changes, including adjustment of GDP deflator to reflect latest forecasts and an estimate of RTB sales in 2011/12 which were missing from the November draft. This translates to a small reduction for almost all authorities.
The Cabinet Office has launched a red tape challenge on housing and construction regulations. The review lists a large number of regulations under the following themes: private rented sector, social housing, building regulations and construction. The LGA would like to get your feedback on which regulations are essential to retain and where regulations can be simplified and streamlined. The consultation runs to the 17 February. Please send your comments and feedback to email@example.com.
On behalf of the LGA, Councillor David Parsons (Chair of LGA Environment and Housing Board) and Tony Bradford (Head of Countryside Management, Hertfordshire County Council) gave oral evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee on 25 January. This was part of the committee's inquiry into the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP). Alongside the LGA witnesses on the panel was Dr Huw Ellis from the Town and Country Planning Association. The committee questioned witnesses on the future of the natural environment, and how the white paper could further this. The value of natural capital, and the possibility of biodiversity offsetting were the main themes of the session.
The LGA has developed a guide for councillors to support them in the move to self-financing for the Housing Revenue Account which takes place in April. The short guide is intended to help councillors get to grips with the main principles of the reform, setting out the key decisions that are needed along the way, and to highlight the likely options and opportunities that there will be to bring forward investment. The guide is in two parts: the changes to the system – what are they and what are the financial issues; and moving towards an effective business plan for the HRA going forward including a useful checklist.
The LGA has developed a series of five briefings for elected members covering the implications of recent housing and planning reforms. The briefings outline key changes and provide practical advice and information to support councillors deliver for their communities.
The LGA, in collaboration with the Homes and Communities Agency, launched a publication for elected members at our joint housing conference on the 23 January. This document helps elected councillors to better understand the shifting housing and growth agendas, to ask the right questions of their staff and partners and to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way and think about how these ideas might apply locally.
Conservative Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) secured a well-attended backbench business debate on 17 January to call for a 'level playing field' for high streets. The importance of town centres to the UK economy 'could not be underestimated', MPs heard, with Jones citing various factors in the decline of the high street, including car parking charges and out-of-town developments. Jones welcomed the Portas review's conclusions, while emphasising that the Government should ensure the 'town centre first' policy and the sequential test were retained in the final NPPF.
Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Stoneham of Droxford moved a debate on 19 January to consider the national housing agenda as set out in the coalition Government's housing strategy for England – 'Laying the foundations'. Speaking from his interest as chair of two housing associations, First Wessex Housing Group and Housing 21, Lord Stoneham said he believed housing needed "to be higher on our national agenda as it defines our national life and so many issues-the economy, health and social well-being and energy conservation-impinge on it". The LGA's briefing, which went out to peers ahead of the debate, can be found here.
Planning for growth – From rhetoric to reality
27 February 2012 | London
Smith Square Debate: Planning reform: help or hindrance?
Wednesday 21 March, 6.00pm – 7.00pm | Local Government House
Housing and Planning Masterclasses: Free events for councillors
15 March 2012 | Leeds
19 March 2012 | Liverpool
23 March 2012 | London
27 March 2012 | Taunton
2 April 2012 | Birmingham
Following abolition of regional strategies, new arrangements for strategic planning under the Localism Act's duty to cooperate came into effect in November 2011. Although this is essentially a planning requirement (local authorities will be tested through their local plan process) its effects will be much wider and will impact on many other corporate activities.
The LGA's Planning Advisory Service (PAS) is in the process of preparing a support package for local authorities and as part of this process is holding a series of free events for both officers and councillors (the councillor-only event will take place on 9 March – see the PAS website for further details). The strategic planning leaflet explains why effective strategic planning arrangements are important and what the new duty means for local authorities and others.
Responding to the Government's launch of a Â£250 million fund to support weekly bin collections, Councillor Clyde Loakes, Vice Chairman of the LGA Environment Board, said: "In areas where financial considerations have held councils back from operating weekly collections this new money will come in useful, particularly at a time when councils are having to cope with cuts of 28 per cent to their budgets."
Responding to the Court of Appeal's verdict this morning that the Government's proposed cuts to Feed-in Tariffs would be illegal, Councillor David Parsons, Chairman of the Local Government Association's Environment Board, said "The notification of this cut and the decision to appeal has created huge uncertainty. It is imperative that Government now acts swiftly to try and resolve the uncertainty by setting out a workable and fair way to promote renewable energy and make solar panels affordable.
An LGA statement issued to the media ahead of the announcement of a Government consultation on reducing bin fines was quoted in nearly all national newspaper coverage of the story. 'The Sunday Telegraph', 'Sunday Express' and 'Independent on Sunday', as well as Monday's 'Daily Express', 'Mail' and 'Mirror' all quoted Environment Board Chairman Cllr David Parsons saying that fines were only used by councils as a last resort. On Sunday, Cllr Parsons was interviewed on 'Sky News' and 'Radio 5Live Breakfast' where he said that most residents were overwhelmingly happy with the waste collection service they receive.
30 January 2013