LONDON: Councils are focused on building new homes, but should give more attention to making the most of existing houses and flats in their area. This is one of the findings in a new national report by public spending watchdog the Audit Commission, which says that one in three councils struggles to understand the housing market on its own doorstep.


'Building better lives', published today, finds that councils feel pressured into focusing on building brand new housing – 94% of areas have prioritised new and/or affordable housing targets in their local area agreements, but fewer than a third prioritised targets relating to their existing housing stock, despite the financial savings, environmental improvements and social benefits of doing so.

The report finds that if all councils thought of housing more broadly they could do more to combat poverty, ill-health, educational under-achievement and help strengthen their local communities.

The recession makes a strategic view of housing all the more important. There have already been 24 100 home repossessions in the first six months of 2009, more than twice the number in the whole of 2005. Mortgage arrears have risen 50 per cent since 2008, and mortgage approvals are down by a third. New development starts have dropped by two thirds, and none of the national targets for building new or affordable housing set in 2007 will be met.

Without proper housing strategies in place, the report warns, local areas may also miss out on funding and support from the Homes and Communities Agency, and fail to influence markets and funding flows, as well as to deliver services.