by Kerry Tromanhauser
Earlier this month, our social housing team was delighted to host a webinar entitled “Social Housing Investment Bite-Sized Session. At a time of such political change, we were lucky to secure Peter Denton, Chief Executive of Homes England, as our keynote speaker.
Mr Denton began by reflecting on the role of Homes England in the current economic climate. He noted that Homes England could do more to articulate the breadth and scope of its role and what it does to support registered providers of social housing.
It is understandable, given the scale of affordable housing grant allocations that Homes England is responsible for, that it is regarded primarily as a funding provider. However, there is much more to its remit than that.
The largest land buyer in the country
Homes England is the largest land buyer in the country and Mr Denton sees a fundamental part of its role to help resolve challenges – e.g. planning issues, or the remediation of contaminated land – as these can deter even the largest housebuilders. Homes England can assist with resolving these, facilitating partnerships that allow building to commence without delay.
In addition to facilitating development, Homes England is also responsible for a £4 billion infrastructure investment programme. From bridges and tunnels to new roundabouts, cycle routes and bus lanes, it has enabled the construction of circa 170,000 new homes as a result.
Filling the gap with funding
The agency can also help with viability gap funding where appropriate, which can lead to transformation of urban areas and real ‘placemaking’, providing a vision for what an area could be. Salford is a great example of what can happen when it comes to regeneration and real placemaking. Homes England can act as a catalyst for this kind of transformation.
The agency also has significant statutory powers, such as compulsory purchase, which can be just as important for social housing as funding. Homes England can accelerate and stimulate the build-out of homes, stimulating a healthy and diverse market, focusing on partnerships and bringing organisations together – so shared skills and resources can deliver more.
Less programme based, more customer-driven
Going forward, Homes England will articulate better how it can assist and be more customer-driven, increase awareness of all that is being done and clarifying how Registered Providers can access this. It will strive to be less programme-based and build deeper and stronger relationships with local authorities and all other stakeholders with a greater geographic and resource focus.
Of course, with a new government, there will be changes. The Levelling up White Paper expresses a desire to see equalisation of prosperity and opportunity across the whole country, especially in areas of significant deprivation. Homes England can encourage a stronger and more empowered local voices.
We will see a re-focus, not exclusively on the Midlands and the North but wherever growth needs to be stimulated, including places like Bristol, Norwich and Plymouth. The Agency has significant, but yet still finite, resources. It will continue to use Continuous Market Engagement to be as agile as possible.
Quality and integration
The ambition to be more customer-focused means supporting housing development but more than just the numbers, it means quality and integration into place, caring about what and where we build.
Mr Denton urged all social housing organisation to respond honestly and fully to the Rent Cap consultation, providing real examples as to the impact this will have. He is keen to understand the trade-offs that will have to be made in these difficult times. He concluded that the fiscal challenge is profound, with the build costs of infrastructure projects soaring. What other ways, apart from funding, can Homes England do to help? They are exploring everything from deregulation to planning changes to the variation of funding conditions – but our insight is key. Recognising the financial strain, they will continue to look for ways to share the capital cost burdens, engaging with private sector and institutional investors who can be part of this solution.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Mr Denton for sparing the time in a hectic schedule to be our speaker and thanks very much too to all those who attended. We hope you found the session informative and thought-provoking.
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