The LGA has given evidence to parliamentarians on homelessness.
Many councillors will be familiar with the work of select committees in the House of Commons and House of Lords and know how useful they are in scrutinising government policy, sharing the good work of councils, and the changes we want to see.
Another way the LGA seeks to influence the work of Parliament is through our engagement with all-party parliamentary groups, more commonly shortened to APPGs.
The number of APPGs has grown in recent years and the LGA is kept busy contributing to the work of groups covering the vast range of services that councils deliver, as well as the APPGs directly supported by the LGA (such as the APPG for Devolution) and our own special interest groups.
These groups bring together members of both houses to discuss issues of interest, and while these groups are informal, their meetings are frequently well attended and often hold inquiries – such as our own inquiry into the Levelling Up White Paper – that inform debates elsewhere in Parliament.
This was highlighted a few weeks ago, when the LGA gave evidence to the APPG for Ending Homelessness and the APPG for Housing Market and Housing Delivery during a joint inquiry into housing solutions for homeless households.
As part of the inquiry, we also submitted written evidence.
Opening the session, the Co-Chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness, LGA Vice-President Bob Blackman MP (Con, Harrow East), asked for the LGA’s views on converting commercial properties into residential buildings and whether this was a viable option in addressing the current housing and homelessness crisis.
In response, we stated that councils believe there is potential scope to use commercial-to-residential conversions to deliver the affordable housing units needed across England.
However, we called for this to be done through the planning application process rather than the prior approval process through permitted development rights.
This would ensure schemes are developed in line with local policies, contribute to local infrastructure requirements – including affordable housing – and are subject to all relevant legislation and regulations for developing sustainable, quality homes.
Asked how the negative perceptions of commercial conversions could be addressed, we called for better standards and the need to look at local factors such as access to amenities and support for vulnerable residents, all of which are critical and could be taken into consideration if conversions were subject to the planning process.
During the session, the LGA also shared the need to fully understand the impact of commercial-to-residential conversions on councils’ revenue accounts, because of the loss of income from business rates.
The APPG’s evidence session was an important opportunity to remind Parliament of the challenges faced with revenue accounts and will, we hope, have contributed to the LGA’s recent success in persuading the Government to allow councils to retain Right to Buy receipts for a period of two years.
We continue to work on making this change permanent through direct contact with government, briefing parliamentarians, and through evidence we continue to submit to select committees and APPGs.