Despite the recession, there are some areas where building continues, and where the churches are working hard together to respond to challenge. The new coalition government has already made some sweeping changes in policy and funding and more are in the pipeline. Significant announcements have been made in the following areas:
- Funding cuts
- £780m Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) budget
- £683m Department for Transport budget
- £405m local government funding channelled through CLG
- £840m Homes and Communities Agency’s funding uncertainty for projects
- £600m cuts to quangos, including £270m from ending “lower-value” regional development agency spending
The Government has announced it intends to abolish these bodies and replace them by Local Enterprise Partnerships (yes, LEPs). The thinking here is part of the ‘big society’ strategy, to put decision making about development, planning and regeneration into the hands of local partners.
3. Regional Spatial Strategies
Along with the RDAs, these will be scrapped. Strategic planning will become the responsibility of local authorities, who, working with partners, will identify housing needs as well the land on which to build new housing.
A document on the Government's 'Big Society' plans, published by the Cabinet Office, says that the new administration will "radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live".
The implications of this are far reaching, and could open up possibilities for the churches to help form local strategy. It makes it even more important to work ecumenically at this level, so the churches can speak with one voice.
4 Garden Grabbing
Gardens are no longer brown field sites! Now they come under different rules for planning consent, which will make it more difficult in some places for people to build houses on their gardens.
5 Benefit reforms
Housing benefit is in the sights of Iain Duncan-Smith. The implication could be that Housing Association rents will be forced down, with a knock on effect on their ability to invest in housing stock.
Some local churches are collaborating in local areas in helping to shape the Church’s response to housing developments. It seems that the goal posts are moving, but the needs for decent housing are still there. Some of the new government’s proposals will make this work more protracted, as more schemes are put on hold, but other opportunities are opening up. For advice and information go to the Church in New Areas website.