This page summarises the powers of the West of England Mayor and combined authority particularly in relation to housing, and sets out the latest position.
The West of England devolution agreement was announced in March 2016, granting the West of England new powers over transport, planning, skills and employment, and a £900m investment fund over 30 years.
The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) was established in 2017 and Conservative Tim Bowles was elected its first Mayor in May 2017, pledging to improve the region’s transport infrastructure, build homes while protecting the green belt, and support innovation and business growth.
The combined authority encompasses the unitary authority areas of Bristol City, Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) and South Gloucestershire. The WECA’s Cabinet comprises Mayor Tim Bowles, along with the leaders of the three unitary authorities.
The WECA also works closely with North Somerset unitary authority, which was a signatory of the original devolution deal but chose not to take part in the WECA area itself. WECA and North Somerset are part of the West of England local enterprise partnership and the West of England Joint Committee which is overseeing Joint Spatial Plan for the region.
Other than housing and planning WECA’s powers include responsibility for a devolved local transport budget, bus services, key roads, the 19+ adult education budget, control over a £30m per year, 30 year investment fund, and joint powers with the Government to design the national Work and Health Programme.
Housing in the West of England
The West of England draft strategy includes the aim to find ‘innovative ways of increasing the availability and affordability of a range of housing types creating communities where people want to live and work’. WECA have estimated 105,000 new homes will be needed in the region over the next two decades, 30% of which will need to be affordable. This would require doubling the number of affordable homes built each year to 1,600. The Mayor campaigned on a platform of protecting the green belt.
In March 2018 the Government announced that they had agreed an interim housing package for the West of England as part of which the West of England committed to accelerating housing delivery to 7,500 homes per year between 2018/19 and 2020/21.
A Joint Spatial Plan for the West of England is in the final stages of preparation. The Mayor has no formal role in this (it is led by the West of England Joint Committee) but he will be required to implement elements of it.
The Mayor (and WECA) will have responsibility for a Spatial Development Strategy, which must be approved unanimously by the WECA cabinet. Each local planning authority ‘shall have regard’ to the Spatial Development Strategy, although it is unclear what impact this will have in practice.
WECA has powers for compulsory purchase. These mirror the powers that Homes England and the local planning authorities also continue to have. Similarly, WECA has equivalent powers to Homes England over some aspects of regeneration and supporting infrastructure, which Homes England also retain.
Finally, WECA has the power to call in planning applications which are deemed to be of strategic importance, in the same way as the Mayor of London.
WECA has direct access to relatively little funding for housing provision. However the Mayor is aiming to secure a 20 year housing deal with the Government, which could see significant extra funding made available. As the first stage of this, the Government announced in March 2018 that they had agreed an interim housing package for the West of England, which included £3m of funding to establish a strategic delivery team to progress large sites for housing development. As part of the package the Government also announced that two West of England bids to the Housing Infrastructure Fund had been taken forward to the next stage of the bidding process.
Housing associations and their work in the West of England
Housing associations own 37,500 homes in the region, housing 10% of all households. Housing associations add an estimated £71.5m to the local economy and support an estimated 1,652 full-time jobs. In the next three years housing associations in the area are planning to spend more than £1.1bn on development projects including building 6,778 new homes.
The interim housing package agreed with the Government in March 2018 includes a commitment that ‘Government and Homes England will work with local stakeholders to explore the potential for a deal with WECA, working with North Somerset, and housing associations on affordable housing’.
Housing associations in the West of England are collaborating with WECA to support and help deliver on their ambitions for Housing Delivery Deal. Housing associations have come together and created the West of England Housing Partnership.
To discuss devolution and housing in the West of England, please email Nikki Knowles, External Affairs Manager for the region.