HCA to 'cane' councils that fail on housing delivery targets?

The views expressed in this and other blog posts are entirely those of the author and not those of the Empty Homes Network.

It was disturbing to read of an HCA chief apparently threatening - according to Inside Housing - to 'hammer' or 'cane' councils that fail to deliver housing targets.  The Inside Housing story (subscribers only) reports:

WHITE PAPER: Local authorities which fail to deliver housing delivery targets set through standard measures will get “caned”, the Homes and Communities Agency chair has warned.

Speaking to Inside Housing at the British Property Federation’s National Residential Investment Conference 2017, Sir Edward Lister suggested that the Local Plans shake-ups in today’s Housing White Paper were the “most important” factor in the government achieving its target of building a million homes by 2020.

He said: “It is about Local Plans and about five-year housing supply being identified sensibly and properly. And there’s all sorts of stuff in the White Paper about that and having to have a five-year housing supply and a Local Plan and if you don’t you’re going to get caned.”

The headline of the piece reads:
HCA chair: we will hammer councils which fail to deliver targets
This features the slightly less sado-masochistic term 'hammered', a dubious piece of editing if the word used was actually 'caned'.  To be fair, it is not clear who the 'we' is. As actually reported, the HCA chair Sir Edward Lister does not say that he or the HCA  will be doing any hammering or caning.  Nor is it totally clear whether what are to be delivered by local authorities are houses or - more probably - targets for houses. So the story could have done with some greater clarity and is unjust to Sir Ed if he did not actually claim to be wielding the hammer or cane: as written the headline makes him sound like some strutting Gauleiter rather than a public servant whose job involves working in partnership with organisations led by people democratically elected to represent local communities.

However, in the context of housing need, the idea that housing delivery is primarily constrained by local authorities - or their 'targets' -  is so preposterous that anyone proposing it lacks all credibility, except possibly in the role of a ventroliquist's dummy for those that want to divert attention from where it really belongs. For example, had the government not scrapped Regional Spatial Strategies, more robust and appropriate housing targets might have been established years ago.  Even so, the National Planning Policy Framework already gives developers plenty of scope to push developments forwards if sufficient land supply is not identified in local plans: many appeals are won on just that basis.

The current housing crisis is not associated with the era of rent controls and massive social housing programmes that were adopted by  governments of all hues in the post-war period, but with the unfettered neo-liberal market ideology of more recent decades. Sufficent and affordable housing is essential infrastructure: the market has failed to produce it and governments will continue to fail too, until such time as they respond accordingly. 

Between the 'caning' comment and the TV broadcast showing the great and the good with their multiple-property portfolios discussing the housing white paper in Parliament yesterday I couldn't help being reminded of the classic scene from Oliver Twist where the boy seeks more of another basic human essential i.e. food:


The position of local authorities is much closer to that of Oliver Twist than that of the complacent and hypocritical workhouse governors.  In fact, I could not help seeing a physical resemblance between Harry Secombe playing the role of Mr. Bumble and Sajid Javed in the musical version.


I think this blog post has something to do with empty homes, but don't push me too hard on that.