This was the question posed at our latest property seminar when we brought together a number of leading housing experts to discuss whether collaboration across public and private sector organisations, such as government, housing associations, lending providers and house builders, can address the housing crisis in the UK.
Our line-up of eminent speakers included Susan Emmett, Head of Engagement at Homes England; Geraldine Howley OBE, Group Chief Executive of Incommunities; Andrew Weaver, Chief Executive of Strata Homes; and Richard Irving, Managing Director of ID Planning.
The work of Homes England
Susan Emmett provided insight into the work of Homes England, a national agency charged with supporting the increase in housing supply around the country. Bringing together land, money, expertise, and planning and compulsory purchase powers, with a clear remit to facilitate delivery of sufficient new homes, it has a particular focus on areas with affordability challenges.
Having been set up just over a year ago, Susan believes that Homes England has a major role to play in fixing the housing market, which is suffering from decades of underinvestment. The organisation’s strategic five-year plan has the aims of improving affordability and creating a more resilient and diverse housing market at its core. It comprises six objectives: unlocking land; unlocking investment; Increasing productivity (by improving and incorporating Modern Methods of Construction); driving market resilience by supporting smaller builders and new entrants, promoting better design and higher quality homes; supporting local areas by working with local communities; and delivering home ownership products to help people onto the property ladder.
Susan believes that collaboration is key - Homes England is committed to forming strategic partnerships through which they will provide long-term funding, access to resources, tenure flexibility and MMC and, in exchange, they expect their partners to be ambitious, build quality homes and be focused on place-making.
Incommunities - The social housing story
Geraldine Howley explained her organisation’s vision of ‘improving lives Incommunities’- this means providing great homes in great neighbourhoods and helping people to build better lives for themselves.
Formed in 2003 following a stock transfer from Bradford Council, Incommunities is one of the largest social housing providers in the UK. It creates and maintains affordable high-quality housing for neighbourhoods and has already invested over £400 million in modernising customers’ homes, as well as building over 700 homes for rent, shared ownership and outright sale.
Again, Geraldine stressed the importance of place-making and the focus on partnerships with other agencies, discussing the challenges they face. Incommunities is committed to building the right homes for the right communities, particularly around mixed tenure which makes more cohesive communities. Another aim is to help people on benefits into work; to help regenerate by replacing substandard housing with quality family homes; and to improve infrastructure which will help support improvements in housing.
ID Planning’s view
Richard Irving explained how ID Planning had been established as an independent planning consultancy in 2005 to provide creative and innovative planning solutions to complex development proposals.
He discussed how we can deliver collaboration and streamline the planning process as long delays mean that it is simply taking too long to build properties. While there are initiatives to streamline the development process, doing so requires dealing with a huge variety of different groups and people – how do we get everyone on board? Richard also looked at different ways to involve communities and his experience of the various planning stages and the challenges faced.
Consultation and collaboration tend to be difficult for developers because people generally do not like developments being built near their homes. However, there is a need to educate local councillors about how they can best support developers to ensure their applications get through as quickly and smoothly as possible.
The role of private house builders
With its head office in Doncaster, Strata Homes is an established home builder with 18 current developments across Yorkshire and the Midlands. Chief Executive Andrew Weaver explained the company’s focus on design and its passion for providing a unique and outstanding customer experience. They run a ‘no more magnolia’ campaign that resonated with a market searching for design innovation.
He believes that in order to enable collaboration, an organisation needs to have a deep sense of purpose. Following the global financial crisis, people don’t trust experts anymore and companies have to be more agile and democratic.
Andrew also discussed the lack of privately-owned home builders as well as the terminal skills shortage and the problems presented by an aging workforce with few young people entering the industry. He outlined the problems of second-hand stock, often 100 years old and in poor condition. Generally, he believes the house building industry is a closed shop, run by people who are risk averse; Strata are disrupting this traditional model.
Strata Homes has been able to make use of opportunities on the urban fringe, exploring different tenures, using data to become more analytical and to deliver to its target market. It has identified a new target customer profile - millennials, living in the urban fringe. The company also hosts events in its show homes as part of its commitment to bringing people together in a natural way and giving them a sense of belonging.
Many thanks to all our high-profile speakers for giving their time to share their perspectives on the current issues and opportunities facing the sector. We hope that our many clients and contacts who attended the event found it engaging and informative too!
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