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Solace blog

22nd July 2016

Delivering Accelerated Housing Growth

‘Delivery’ and particularly ‘accelerated delivery’ are the keywords we have been hearing from Government, and this is consistent with the new Government Ministers. The recent changes in Government have resulted in having a new Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, who has indicated that as a result of the European Union referendum outcome to leave the EU, there is a need to increase investment in infrastructure.

As a representative body for local authority chief executives and senior managers, Solace is well placed to make the case that, in order to stimulate economic growth, we need to understand both the hard and soft infrastructure needs.

Developer planning contributions alone will not deliver the infrastructure that is needed; however, having the right infrastructure in place accelerates development activity.

Housebuilders, like any business, will deliver a business case if risks are reduced. At West Lindsey, we have been doing this through activities such as site assembly; site remediation; and streamlining the planning process where appropriate through use of local development orders, as well as creating a partnership of Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), landowners, agents, and business ambassadors, to demonstrate that we have a “Place Team” as an attractive proposition for investors and builders of all sizes.

Martin Swales and I have been having ongoing discussions with the DCLG and the HCA about taking forward some of the proposals from the Solace Housing policy paper, ‘Addressing the National Housing Challenge’ that we published last December. These discussions provide an excellent opportunity to see how we can work better together to enable the delivery of more housing.

Last week the new Chief Executive of the HCA, Mark Hodgkinson, spent the day at West Lindsey to see the HCA/West Lindsey launch of an Investors Prospectus. Mark’s key messages were “flexibility” and “innovation”. As long as we can demonstrate we are meeting the Government’s policy aims, such as increased housing ownership and housing units (simple as that), the door is open to discuss reshaping the HCA’s enabling funds such as the Starter Homes funding. Within this context, councils must make more detailed cases if we need more social rented
housing. The evidence base and case for more social rented housing that meets specific needs, such as extra care, has to be part of a place-based commissioning of housing delivery. The diversity of delivery may be achieved by Registered Providers (RPs), housebuilders or councils, with the council moving from its role as ‘planner’ to ‘enabler’ to ‘Commissioner’ and ‘market maker’.

Likewise, with the Greater Lincolnshire devolution work with the Government, it feels like we are pushing at an open door as long as we have well-evidenced business cases, can show partnership ambition, and can deliver homeownership solutions such as Rent to Buy, shared ownership and Starter Homes when it comes to discussions with the HCA and the DCLG.

Our commissioning role in the delivery of housing, in partnership with other local partners and Government, is challenging but necessary. We must work on increased engagement of landowners, RPs, developers, and builders.

The feedback received from investors and the HCA last week was that investors and developers want to see the “joined up” Place Team – a role we are well-placed to carry out. However, some of the challenges will lie in developing the skills base, including the commercial skills to ensure delivery.

By Manjeet Gill, Chief Executive, West Lindsey District Council and Solace Deputy Spokesperson on Housing