How can a new labour government deliver, quickly, on social and affordable housing?

5 July 2024

A new Labour Government promises a renewed focus on housing delivery and on affordable housing in particular, with an aim of “the biggest increase in social and affordable housebuilding in a generation”. Andy Macintosh, Senior Associate, housing expert and sustainability champion at FCBStudios, is optimistic .

Unity Place

Although we can hopefully expect new ministerial roles and national plans to support this, the cornerstone of Labour’s housing strategy is to empower Local Authorities with greater funding and license to build homes directly. What will this mean for the design and procurement of those homes? How can all this construction be squared with the climate emergency?
We have woken to a new Labour Government at the helm of the country, with a significant majority. So even as the election dust settles, we need to look ahead to what this means. For the design and construction industry, the most eye-catching manifesto points have been on housing, although there is less on environmental commitments than many of us had hoped. (Lets save the “Warm Homes Plan” for a separate discussion when there is more detail.)
With ambitious housing aims, the government first needs to match its aspirations with some policy and funding. There have been calls for the Housing Minister to have more power and stability, after the fiasco of having had 16 housing ministers since 2010. FCBStudios has joined “Architect’s’ Action for Affordable Housing” which is calling for the Housing Minister to be elevated to a cabinet position and for a National Affordable Housing Plan. After the last Labour landslide election, back in 1997, we saw the introduction of CABE and similar bodies focused on design quality, but there is no indication yet of a move like that. Homes England’s role as the housing and regeneration ‘enabler’ of central government, and sometimes master-developer in its own right, is likely to become more significant. Their new strategic plan, launched in 2023 has already shifted their focus to a more holistic view of housing delivery including social value, sustainability, and place-making.
However, Labour have been clear that the increased housing supply will rely heavily on expanding the role of Local Authorities to develop and deliver housing themselves. Since the 2018 change to Local Authority borrowing, there has been a re-emergence of development directly by Local Authorities. Despite this, the numbers are still relatively modest compared to historical levels. For example, in the financial year 2019/2020, local authorities in England built approximately 2,500 new homes. In 2023/24 it was nearly 3,500, but this was still less than the number of affordable homes sold under the Right to Buy scheme, leading to a net loss in social housing stock. Compare that with the peak annual numbers of houses built by the public sector in the post-war period from the 1950s to the 1970s, which often exceeded 100,000 homes​. That is the level of output our new government would like to get back to.
London has led the way, due to its acute shortage of affordable housing, and the strong political drive and funding from the GLA to tackle the issue. London boroughs also benefit from larger budgets and easier access to expertise – architects,  developers, housing associations and contractors are all in plentiful supply in the capital. But other regional authorities are catching up, with Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and others all making strong headway. We need to hope that funding and political will from central government can even out this disparity.

Ladywell Park Gardens

Within London, FCBStudios’ Unity Place scheme — 235 homes for social rent for Brent Council — originated as a Regeneration Masterplan for the South Kilburn Estate in 2013. This led to a joint project by FCBStudios, Alison Brooks and Gort Scott, that would resupply homes and transform an area that has suffered from lack of social cohesion, crime and antisocial behaviour.  Other projects currently in progress include Ladywell Park Gardens for Lewisham Council, which will deliver 102 homes in a mix of council homes and shared ownership homes that will be prioritised for existing Lewisham residents. Camden Council’s Camley Street Regeneration, which is adjacent to Hawkins Brown’s regeneration of the Agar Grove estate, is a 15 year plan investing heavily in schools, homes, community facilities and commercial spaces that will attract a diverse and skilled employers, training and skills for local residents. What these projects have in common is not only that they are providing quality homes for existing borough residents, but that they look beyond housing to create communities that are economically and socially resilient.
Outside of London, Trafford Council are currently delivering a 15 year Area Action Plan that we developed for them to deliver 4,000 homes, developing and shaping communities on the edge of Manchester. And in partnership with Bruntwood, we are also working with Trafford Council to reinvigorate Stretford Town Centre with an improved shopping centre, public realm and 800 homes.
Our public sector housing projects have had a long slow history stretching back many years. If the Local Authority development is going to meet the new government pledges, it will need to be faster and more consistent across the country.
Politicians have not acknowledged that any huge increase in construction is inherently at odds with our environmental commitments. Even with the Future Homes Standard coming in next year, and the pledge to get to 100% clean energy by 2030, there is still a lot of embodied carbon to account for in 100,000 new homes. It seems we can’t rely on any policy on this imminently from central government, so tackling this paradox will fall to Local Authorities, and to the architects and design teams delivering the projects. Luckily many authorities are taking this seriously and have targets of their own for embodied carbon, often based on RIBA 2030 and LETI targets. At FCBStudios, our Carbon Calculator can be easily adopted as a free tool to estimate embodied carbon emissions at the early stages of design, ensuring that future projects hit important low carbon targets as well as delivering essential housing.
Let’s hope we can tackle the affordable housing crisis and environmental crisis at the same time, and that the Local Authorities and construction industry are up for the challenge.

Andy Macintosh

Top: Unity Place - 100% affordable housing for Brent Council. FCBStudios / Alison Brooks Architects / Gort Scott
2. Ladywell Park Gardens for Lewisham Council.