Devo deal or no deal

As the Government announces new housing devolution packages, we’re launching a new devolution hub on our website.

Katie Teasdale is External Affairs Manager at the National Housing Federation

Katie Teasdale is External Affairs Manager at the National Housing Federation

20 June 2018

When Kanye West implored his Twitter followers recently to ‘decentralise’, he rode on the coat tails of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), which in March announced four long-anticipated housing packages or deals. Deals, as we know, are in vogue.  

I am a devo fan girl. I like devolution because of local identity, political accountability and because it is different strokes for different folks. There is no homogenous housing crisis. We need flexible policy tools, which allow us to respond to different housing challenges, where that makes sense. The success story of the Greater London Authority shows that local control of housing investment can drive positive changes in affordable housing delivery. Its approach foreshadows what the regulator Homes England is now seeking to achieve by creating its own strategic partnerships with housing associations, heeding the calls of the National Housing Federation and the wider housing sector for a more efficient and flexible, and less bureaucratic and compliance-driven approach to investing in homes. Indeed, Homes England are also exploring the potential to unlock more land, provide money up front, guarantees and other ways to get more homes built.

What the housing packages are

So where do the MHCLG housing packages sit in the mix? These packages are explicitly and unapologetically mechanisms to boost housing supply in high value and fast paced housing markets. So far, packages cover Oxfordshire, the West Midlands, West of England and Greater Manchester. They are negotiated between the combined authority (or partnership of local authorities) and MHCLG. They tend to include:

the combined authority offers:

  • significant increase in supply, higher than National Planning Policy Framework figures
  • a combined authority-wide spatial plan/strategy to ensure delivery
  • constituent local authorities committing to line up their local planning arrangements/ Local Plans

and the MHCLG offers:

  • Progress Housing Infrastructure Fund bids, to fund big ticket, large scale infrastructure projects to unlock housing development
  • capacity funding to support planning
  • a Land Fund to support land assembly and remediation.

Firstly, these deals are welcome – particularly so in the West Midlands and West of England, where housing associations are explicitly named as key strategic partners. This is hard won and hugely deserved recognition for the contribution, commitment and capacity of housing associations to end the housing crisis. Bravo! We need to ensure our sector’s voice is heard throughout these negotiations as new packages are agreed across the country. We need to be on front foot about this, utilising our excellent local relationships.

It’s also positive to see the commitment from local authorities to coordinate spatial planning. We know getting planning right is the first building block to successful housing delivery. Greater investment in the capacity of combined authorities to play a strategic role in planning is a must if it’s to make a difference on the ground, where planning resources are stretched. It may also offer an opportunity for housing associations to share their own in-depth understanding of their local housing markets.

What the housing packages aren’t

But what these packages currently aren’t is a cure to empty homes, rural housing challenges or regeneration. The focus of remediation in the West Midlands package perhaps shines a light on how future deals could do more to assist the less well-understood and in some ways, harder to solve regeneration housing crisis.

We need to give more thought to imaginative solutions and reflect on how devolution housing packages could help us to deliver regeneration in places like the Tees Valley. Indeed, Brexit and the ‘repatriation’ of what were structural funds could and arguably should be devolved to combined authorities.

So what a difference does a housing package make?

These packages are positive steps, forging potentially game-changing partnerships between combined authorities and housing associations. They complement the tools already open to metro mayors to map public land, support land assembly, form development corporations, raise new investment and utilise planning powers. They give some (baby) teeth to metro mayors, who are seeking to galvanise their area’s approach to housing as Andy Burnham is doing with his Town Centre Challenge in Greater Manchester. More than anything, they provide extra tools and support, which a we must grasp and maximise to our full benefit if we are to deliver on our part of our deal with the nation to deliver 300,000 new homes each year.

We’ll be providing updates in the new devolution hub as these housing packages and other devolution supply initiatives progress.

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