Will the new Prime Minister maintain the Government’s pledge to end homelessness?
Despite the success of the Government’s initiatives to tackle homelessness since 2019, the rising cost of living has sparked numerous organisations from across the UK’s housing and homelessness sector to call for further action from Liz Truss. Principal Planner, Jake Lambert, looks at the planning system’s role in minimising homelessness.
One of the key elements of the Conservative Party’s 2019 election campaign involved a commitment to end rough sleeping in the UK by May 2024. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated efforts to achieve this ambition, with the ‘Everyone In’ initiative launched to distribute emergency funding ensure that rough sleepers were safely accommodated to protect them, and the wider public, from the risks of Covid-19. The Government then established the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, to provide funding to local authorities to provide more permanent accommodation for rough sleepers in England.
This funding stream has seen local authorities partner with Housing Associations and other developers to deliver significant levels of affordable housing on Council-owned land. Since 2020, Bidwells have secured planning permissions for four sites emerging from these funding streams.
In our experience, local authorities have worked collaboratively and diligently to validate and determine these applications efficiently, without pre-commencement conditions, to enable rapid delivery on site to meet immediate housing needs and strict funding timeframes.
For example, the development of Webster Court in Norwich, quickly provided affordable housing for homeless people. On behalf of Broadland Housing Association, we worked with Norwich City Council to manage and deliver the planning application for the scheme. Planning permission for Webster Court was issued in January 2021, the project itself was completed in late 2021, with residents moving to the modular apartments in December 2021. The project, which was shortlisted for an RTPI Award for Planning Excellence earlier this year, showcased the success of the Next Steps Programme, and the planning system’s role in facilitating rapid delivery of affordable housing for vulnerable people.
The Autumn 2021 Budget and Spending Review promised to maintain the momentum launched by the ‘Everyone In’ initiative, with funding secured up to 2024-2025 to continue to reduce street homelessness representing a “cash increase of 85% compared to 2019-20”. Part of this funding package included a commitment to delivering 6,000 new homes to bring people off the street and into safe and secure accommodation.
These funding commitments are enabling local authorities to continue to proactively identify sites within their portfolios for development, and to maintain their relationships with local developers to deliver sites for vulnerable people at pace.
However, both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak were criticised for remaining silent on homelessness issues in their Conservative Party leadership campaigns. In an open letter, 28 organisations from across the UK’s housing and homelessness sector, including Crisis and Shelter, called for both leadership candidates to maintain the 2019 election promise to end homelessness by 2024. The letter expressed concerns that, despite the progress made since 2019, homelessness remains a significant challenge in the UK, and continued Government support is required to prevent the predicted increase in homelessness caused by the current cost of living crisis. In response, both candidates expressed their commitment to the election pledge.
Now that Liz Truss has won the leadership election, her Government will need to maintain funding streams, while supporting local authorities to address homelessness at a local level. Council’s need to continue to be empowered to identify sites and to work with developers to deliver sites for affordable housing.
The planning system also requires support to ensure that planning applications for affordable housing continue to be processed and determined rapidly. While local planning policy is often clear in its support for affordable housing, a stronger overriding directive in the NPPF to support those developments aimed at addressing homelessness could be introduced to add further weight to such projects in the planning balance. Increased integration between local authority Housing and Planning Officers and Planning Committee Members would also assist in ensuring that all parties are aware of acute housing needs and timeframes associated with funding for affordable housing.
In summary, while the Government has made significant strides in the fight against homelessness, momentum needs to be maintained to achieve the Government’s 2019 election pledge.