Policy priority 1: A quick win

Get more houses built

  • Signal your intent to build more homes by developing a more ambitious strategic plan for the city region
  • Use the mandate and political capital of office to call for a strategic review of local green belts
  • Look for ways to make development attractive for sceptical communities
  • Widen the scope of the Bristol Land Commission to the city region

One of the West of England’s greatest strengths is its economy, but this also brings challenges which must be managed. That is most evident in terms of housing, with house prices in the city region being 10.9 times more than average local income, compared with 9.8 nationally.2 And this is of great concern to businesses and residents: Centre for Cities’ polling of firms3 and residents4 found that both groups expected the metro mayor to prioritise investment in housing in their first term. The demand and cost of housing is increasing because of a lack of house building in the area, an issue which the metro mayor must address.

Signal the intent to build more homes by developing a more ambitious strategic plan for the city region

To tackle the area’s housing affordability crisis, the metro mayor needs to plan for new housing in the highest demand areas. In particular, they need to be ambitious in meeting the area’s long term house building shortfall, as this will be essential to support future growth in the city and to stabilise housing costs. The current Joint Spatial Plan (which includes North Somerset) goes some way in doing this, but needs to be more ambitious. It sets out plans for 45,000 new homes, and recognises the need for an additional 38,000 homes on top of that target, to get close to the objectively assessed housing need. However the desperate shortfall in affordable housing shows that this will not be enough.

Use the mandate and political capital of office to call for a strategic review of local green belts

To get the homes the West of England needs built, the metro mayor must take up the difficult but necessary task of strategically allocating more land for housing across the local authorities. This will involve political battles because any realistic plan for housing growth in the West of England must include a rational reassessment of the green belt.

As Centre for Cities research shows, without reassessing the green belt, the city region cannot meet its housing needs.5 In Bristol itself, the green belt only makes up about 5 per cent of its land, but it is a much larger share in South Gloucestershire (46%) and Bath and North East Somerset (70%). This imbalance makes the political reality of taking tough decisions on the green belt more difficult for local authorities, but will be unavoidable for the mayor. Having been elected by residents across the city region, they must support local councillors in making the case for reassessing the green belt – looking in particular at the most accessible and poorest quality green belt – to local residents on behalf of the whole West of England community. The metro mayor, with the visibility and mandate that the position affords, will be in a strong position to make this case and drive change through.

Look for ways to make development attractive for sceptical communities

To justify a strategic release of green belt land to residents, the metro mayor will need to use a robust and evidenced approach to allocating land, and must also ensure that residents in these areas benefit from investment in infrastructure alongside the new homes. This could mean transferring publicly owned land to developers on the condition that they deliver more affordable homes.

Alternatively the community could realise some of the land value uplift in areas where planning consent changes. This would initially be administered through the limited tools available such as Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy, but the metro mayor could also make the case to Whitehall for the West of England to be a pilot for a Development Land Charge model, to effectively capture land value rises from planning changes. The metro mayor will be in a unique position to make this case to Whitehall, given their mandate and decision-making responsibility over an area which desperately needs more homes and has a stronger economy than average.

Widen the scope of the Bristol Land Commission to the city region

While supplying the land that is needed for homes will require releasing a small proportion of the most accessible and poorest quality green belt land, the metro mayor will need to consider other housing options too. To ensure that enough developable land is available in the city region, the metro mayor should enhance the Bristol Land Commission and make it a city region-wide initiative. This will help bring brownfield sites which are suitable for housing into use across the city region.

Footnotes

  • 2 Cities Outlook (2017), London, Centre for Cities: https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/cities-outlook-2017/
  • 3 Clarke, Edward, and Jeffrey, Simon, (2015): Firm views, London, Centre for Cities: https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/firm-views-business-take-on-devolution/
  • 4 Semple, Brian, (2016): Metro mayor polling, London, Centre for Cities: https://www.centreforcities.org/press/new-polling-west-england-city-region-shows-public-back-powerful-metro-mayor/
  • 5 Clarke, Edward, Nohrová, Nada, andThomas, Elli, (2014): Delivering change: building homes where we need them, London, Centre for Cities: https://www.centreforcities.org/publication/delivering-change-building-homes-where-we-need-them/