What does the Levelling Up White Paper mean for housing associations?

08 February 2022

The highly anticipated Levelling Up White Paper has now been published. We are pleased with the breadth and ambition of the white paper and its recognition that housing associations will play a key role in levelling up across the country.

We’ve summarised below the key announcements within the white paper that will affect housing associations, and outlined our next steps. There are still questions around the details of funding and how the new proposals will work in practice; we will continue to engage with the government on the implementation.

Regeneration and delivering social housing

  • The white paper states: 'there is significant unmet need for social housing, leaving people paying high rents in the private rented sector unable to save for a home of their own'.
  • We know housing associations are key partners to delivering this unmet need.
  • Although we did not see any new funding in the announcements, the paper contains a welcome emphasis on regeneration and clarifies where existing funds will be directed.
  • The white paper proposes a much welcomed wider remit for Homes England, something that we’ve long advocated for. Homes England will support Mayors and local government to ‘drive their ambitions for new affordable housing and regeneration in their area’.
  • We are pleased to see the removal of the ‘80/20 rule’ that has directed most housing funding towards areas of 'highest affordability pressure' in recent years. There is no indication yet of what will replace this rule, and we will work with members, the government and Homes England to shape their thinking as it develops.

Local government and devolution

  • The white paper proposes a ‘new model of government and governance of the UK’ to unite and level up the country. It commits to a ‘London-style’ devolution deal for every part of England that wishes to have one by 2030. 
  • The first nine areas invited to begin new mayoral negotiations are Cornwall, Derbyshire & Derby, Devon, Plymouth & Torbay, Durham, Hull & East Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire & Nottingham, and Suffolk.
  • The white paper also announces negotiations for a new Mayoral Combined Authority deal for York and North Yorkshire and an expanded Mayoral Combined Authority deal for the North East, as well as negotiations the West Midlands and Greater Manchester to extend their powers.
  • These new structures could provide opportunities for the strong partnership working between housing associations and combined Mayoral authorities needed to tackle our homelessness and affordable housing crisis.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund

  • The government also provided an update on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF).
  • Funding will be delivered through local authorities, with three priorities: communities and place, local business, and people and skills.
  • Importantly, people and skills funding will only be available from 2024, although there will be some flexibility for organisations delivering provision that would be under threat from the withdrawal of EU funds. More detailed guidance is promised later this year.
  • We’ll continue to work closely with the government, Communities that Work and our members, to ensure housing associations can make best use of the UKSPF to support the communities they work in.

Planning reform

  • The white paper makes little mention of the previous Secretary of State’s headline planning reforms.
  • However, work to digitise the planning system makes it in to levelling up plans, with the aim to make the system quicker, and more accessible to the public.
  • An Infrastructure Levy is also mentioned, with the department continuing to look at ways to capture the most value for communities from development. We will continue to work with DLUHC to ensure any new system delivers at least as much affordable housing as Section 106 currently does.

Resident voice and quality of homes

  • The white paper commits the government to introducing the Social Housing Regulation Bill – a welcome step towards delivering the commitments the government made following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and something we have consistently called for. 

Supply of older peoples’ housing

  • The white paper noted that the government will increase the choices available to older people trapped in low quality or unsuitable accommodation.
  • A new Task Force will be launched to explore ways to address regional inequalities in supply for older peoples’ housing.
  • We welcome and support the introduction of a new taskforce and we will work with DLUHC to make sure housing providers have a voice.

Next steps for housing associations

  • We have been engaging with the government and the opposition on how housing associations can play a key role in levelling up and will continue to meet with senior political stakeholders as we further explore the details of the Levelling Up White Paper.

We are also preparing a briefing for NHF members, with details on how to engage with the white paper.

In the meantime, if you would like to get in touch to share your views on levelling up or have any urgent questions, please contact our Policy team.

Who to speak to

Marie Chadwick, Policy Leader