UCL News


Local authorities face significant challenges to deliver affordable housing despite desire

5 February 2024

Local councils are growing more pessimistic about delivering sufficient affordable housing in the future, despite a desire to directly engage in housing development again, finds a new report by UCL researchers.


The report found that the vast majority of councils across England are now directly involved with housing delivery, but are facing significant challenges preventing them from scaling up their development of new housing. Local authorities reported that a combination of a lack of funding, lack of land and lack of expertise were preventing them from delivering more.

One of the biggest reported obstacles councils face in increasing their housing stock is the increased costs of retrofitting existing housing for issues such as fire safety, energy efficiency and mould. These upgrades are taking up resources that would otherwise be allocated to the development of new housing.

Overall, 50% of councils reported they were pessimistic about the future prospect of increasing the supply of affordable housing in their area, up from 23% in 2021, the last year of the survey.

The role of local authorities in building housing has increased significantly over the past decade. According to the team’s 2023 survey, 79% of local authorities report that they are directly developing new housing, a level similar to the 80% reported in 2021 but a significant increase from the 69% reported in 2019 and 65% reported in 2017.

The report is the fourth in the series of studies released every two years which bring together desk research, direct questionnaire surveys to local government officers, roundtable discussions and case study interviews to reveal the role of local councils in housing.

Lead author Professor Ben Clifford (UCL Bartlett School of Planning) said: "This new research continues our work since 2017 charting the reemergence of local authority housebuilding. Housing provision, particularly delivery of affordable housing, is a significant corporate priority for the vast majority of local authorities across England and local government appears motivated to engage in direct delivery of homes as a core function again.

“There are, however, a number of pressing challenges and congested priorities preventing these motivations being fully realised. There is a range of things that could be done, including by central government, to help deliver the radical programme of council house building that is desperately needed."

The study did highlight a few bright spots. Despite the higher costs and lower land availability, the boroughs of London are delivering more affordable housing than any other part of England because of the support of the Mayor of London’s Affordable Housing Programme. They highlight the programme’s five-year funding cycle as a model that other regions could adapt as elsewhere in the country affordable housing funding is made available on a scheme-by-scheme basis through Homes England, leading to inefficiencies.

The report also put forward a series of policy recommendations for both local and national governments. These recommendations include increasing funding for the Affordable Housing Programme for building new homes, as well as increasing the funding for retrofitting existing homes. The researchers recommended also the abolition of the Right to Buy scheme in order for councils to retain their affordable housing stock, and the elimination of the First Homes programme to redirect focus towards securing genuinely affordable housing.

The research was supported by the National Planning Forum, the Planning Officers' Society, Savills and Willmott Dixon.



Media Contact

Mike Lucibella

  • E: m.lucibella [at] ucl.ac.uk