How metro mayors will determine building policies
The general election campaign may have been centre stage in recent weeks, but the metro mayor elections in city regions across England last week will have their own significant implications for these parts of the UK.
While experts have been analysing the results - along with local elections elsewhere - in terms of how this might translate into the general election a month from now, the new mayors have been gearing up to start work on delivering their manifestos.
Housing will be a key area of the mayoral responsibilities, irrespective of the policies put forward in national manifestos over the coming weeks and subsequently implemented after June 8th. Nearly all the mayoral candidates have emphasised the need to build more homes, with various ideas being projected about how to go about it. That means it can be expected that insulation fitters will be kept very busy in Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Liverpool, the Tees Valley, Cambridgeshire and around Bath and Bristol.
Greater Manchester's new mayor Andy Burnham was one of two Labour candidates elected, along with Steve Rotherham in the Liverpool City Region. Mr Burnham has outlined an approach to housebuilding in the area that will involve revising both the Greater Manchester Housing Fund and Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, both with a view to expanding the housing options in the city region. In particular, he wants the funding to be shifted to enable councils and housing associations to build many more social and affordable homes. This is also part of his plans to reduce the scourge of homelessness in Manchester.
The issue of development is another one Mr Burnham has vowed to address. In recent years the city centre has seen a plethora of new apartment buildings being constructed, and many more are on the way - including more skyscrapers of increasing height. He has pledged that the same "ambition and vision" shown in the core of the conurbation will be applied to outerlying areas during his time in office.
Peripheral areas are also on the mind of former John Lewis boss Andy Street, who narrowly won the West Midlands election. The Conservative candidate sneaked home in the run-off by just 4,000 votes, and will now consider how the housing needs of a region including Britain's second largest city, two medium cities in Coventry and Wolverhampton, the various towns of the Black Country, the leafy suburbs of Solihull and the rural 'Meriden Gap' can be met.
This challenge may be encapsulated as much by Birmingham as in the metropolitan county as a whole, with the former Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield, which was added to the city's territory in 1974, having been earmarked for some of the new building needed to meet the city's housing targets. At around 1.1 million, Birmingham's population is back around its all-time peak before Sutton Coldfield's addition, and parts of the green belt on the fringes of the royal town have been cited as essential to meeting Birmingham's housing needs by a city council insistent that there is not enough brownfield.
Mr Street's manifesto has taken this issue head-on, with a "brownfield first" pledge aimed at ending what he called the "decimation" of the Sutton Coldfield green belt.
Tim Bowles, the new Conservative mayor for the West of England - which includes Bristol, Bath, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire - also pledged to focus on brownfield construction, accusing Labour councillors of a "central Bristol" agenda and saying construction on the green belt has often been the "easy" option.
Other new mayors include surprise Tory winner in the Tees Valley Ben Houchen and a more predictable Conservative victor in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer.