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Government backs public sector land development jobs and homes scheme

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The government has announced that it is backing plans to create new jobs and homes (which I’m pretty sure is supposed to be a given?).

According to this press release, development of public sector land ‘could see more than 10,000 new homes built across England and 14,000 new jobs created by 2024/25’ – and a £15 million project has been brought forward to realise the vision.

Launched in 2013, the One Public Estate programme ‘encourages the emergency services, local councils and government departments to work more closely together by sharing sites’.

Apparently, the programme has ‘saved taxpayers £24 million in running costs, created 5,745 new jobs and released land for the development of 3,336 new homes’. Sounds good.

In the latest round, the programme will deliver cash and support to more than 100 local public-sector partnerships across England.

Oliver Dowden, Minister for Implementation, said: ‘Getting the best use out of publicly-owned land can help to regenerate our towns and cities and give people improved access to the services they need.

‘This programme shows that when government works smarter, with public authorities coming together, taxpayers get better value for money, new jobs are created and space is freed-up for vitally needed new homes.’

Now, would you like some examples of where the programme’s latest funding is going? Of course you would:

  • £680,000 for projects in Waltham Forest, including proposals to bring forward the redevelopment of the 100-year-old Whipps Cross Hospital and sites in public and private ownership for housing development in the Forest Road Corridor
  • £505,000 for projects in Devon and Torbay, including the regeneration of land around St David’s station in Exeter
  • £405,000 for projects in Northamptonshire, including plans to release land around Kettering railway station for the development of new houses and station improvements
  • £410,000 for projects in Worcestershire, including delivering new housing and regeneration around Redditch station, as part of the Rail Quarter development

Brexit: RSH writes to housing sector as deadline day approaches

Retro alarm EU clock representing the countdown until Brexit.

If you haven’t noticed, things are becoming quite fraught in Brexit Land – and now the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) has written to every registered provider to make sure they are clear about the ‘expectations of them during this period of uncertainty’.

With only 43 days to go before something as yet unknown happens, the letter urges RPs ‘to share examples of what providers should consider when stress testing their businesses’ before reminding them of the regulatory expectations:

  • Have in place an appropriate, robust and prudent business planning, risk and control framework
  • Carry out detailed and robust stress testing against identified risks and combinations of risks across a range of scenarios, and put appropriate mitigation strategies in place as a result

You can read the whole letter here.

The RSH goes on to say that, in the ‘current context’ (which is a longer way of saying ‘Brexit’) RPs are expected to have ‘identified the risks to which their businesses would be exposed; stress tested their business plans to reflect these; and identified specific, deliverable and timely mitigations, to ensure viability is maintained and tenants and social housing assets are protected’.

So, things are becoming rather crucial. As luck would have it, here at HQN Towers we have created a Preparing for Brexit event that addresses this very issue.

The CPD-accredited event, which has been designed specifically to help those in the sector respond, identify gaps and plan beyond 29 March, regardless of the outcome, will deliver a fully immersive ‘what if?’ scenario, throwing housing professionals into a post-Brexit world and posing all sorts of challenges to find out if they will sink or swim.

Preparing for Brexit will focus on supply chain impact; business continuity preparations; and action planning for your organisation.

Because Brexit’s happening everywhere, we’re holding the event in Birmingham and Manchester, so click either of those links to book.

Towards a housing finance system that works

By Alistair McIntosh, CEO HQN

It’s baffling, isn’t it? You go to see a housing association and they tell you how hard it is to get social rents to stack up. And they’re right. Then you read the new Shelter report which says social housing pays for itself. And they’re right too. How can this be?

It’s because we are looking at everything the wrong way. Shelter is bringing in the savings to benefit bills from charging social rents instead of private rents. They are saying that this is how the Treasury should do its sums.

That’s how to get to the true costs and benefits. But this is not part and parcel of the viability appraisals done by individual associations. And for a very good reason. As things stand it doesn’t matter a jot. They stand or fall based on their own accounts, not those of the UK. This is what is leading to short-term every-man-for-himself thinking. It’s got to change. We must take the blinkers off. And we are not the only ones.

Hitachi is telling our government that they’d get things done faster if they just bit the bullet and nationalised big projects. Of course, they are talking about nuclear power stations. But there is something in this for us, too. If we are building new towns or doing a complex regeneration, it could be a good idea to get government to hold the ring. The risk is just too big for associations, councils or companies to take on by themselves. Something is bound to go wrong. It usually does. You will always hit technical problems that you didn’t foresee. That’s just the way it is. And if you are relying on profits from sales, that will come back to bite you at the worst time.

A few years ago, I was talking to some tenants on an estate that was going to be flattened. And, boy oh boy, did it have issues. Something needed to be done. The developers were promising to replace it with the New Jerusalem.

Yes, every tenant would get a splendid new home. It did look very exciting. What did I say? Don’t bother listening to these promises. The people making them will not be the ones delivering them down the line. There will be some type of cock-up and the plans will change.

It won’t be for the better. The risk would be a lot less if the state was in charge from the get-go. And of course it would bring in investors and experts to do the day to day lifting. If we gave tenants firm promises at the start we could break some logjams, couldn’t we?

So, for the really big stuff I think we do need to look to government. But most of the time councils and associations are the right answer. The Green Paper needs to make them more accountable. But how do we put them on a better financial footing? We need a new financial regime for housing.

At the moment we have a clash. Housing associations and councils struggle to put the money in place to build homes at social rents. It doesn’t stack up. Yet the Treasury should be crying out for them to save money and boost the economy. How do we get back on track?

First things first. The Treasury should run a check on the Shelter figures. They will be right as Capital Economics put them together and they are a top-notch outfit. But there is always room for debate on these things as there are so many assumptions about what happens and when. So knock the heads together and just agree a figure on the savings and use it to boost the grants to councils and associations today. That’s a quick fix.

But we also need to change how we do accounts for social housing. These need to show the savings to the benefits bill of low rents. And landlords must be compensated for this by the government so they can stay viable. According to the Shelter figures, there should be enough money in there to keep the landlords and the Treasury sweet.

Does this sound fanciful? Well, it’s the best I can do. And it’s a hell of a lot better than going on a roller coaster ride of relying on sales. You’re bound to come off at some point. It’s time for a fresh start. We will need to save money and boost the economy under Brexit. Cutting rents and building homes is a win-win. Go for it.

Government finds £9 million to build 200,000 garden town homes

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The government that’s just about still running the UK has announced a £9 million package to put towards the construction of 200,000 homes in new market towns.

According to this press release, the more medicinal-sounding than financial ‘cash injection’ will ‘speedup the locally led building of new garden towns and villages across the country’.

The government believes the Garden Communities project will deliver 200,000 homes by 2050, with the latest funding going towards the preparation of 21 sites.

Housing minister Kit Malthouse had this to say: ‘We have not built enough homes in this country for the last three decades, and we are turning that around as we work towards our target to build 300,000 properties a year by the mid-2020s.

‘This £9 million funding boost is giving councils the support and cash injection they need so they can finish planning new developments and get diggers on site.’

Would you like a list of how the money’s being split up, number of units, location etc? Well, you’re in luck:

Place/Capacity award/ Homes
Aylesbury £420,000 15,000
Basingstoke £695,000 10,000
Bicester £770,000 13,000
Harlow & Gilston £715,000 24,000
North Essex (Colchester, Tendring & Braintree) £1,000,000 43,000
North Northants (Corby, Kettering & Wellingborough) £725,000 33,000
Otterpool Park, Folkestone £1,250,000 10,000
Taunton £550,000 15,000
Bailrigg £100,000 3,500
Culm, Mid Devon £300,000 5,000
Dunton Hills £100,000 3,500
Halsnead £300,000 1,589
Handforth £150,000 1,650
Infinity, Derbyshire £150,000 3,200
Longmarston £300,000 3,500
Longcross £125,000 1,700
West Oxfordshire £150,000 2,200
Tresham £300,000 1,500
Welbourne £300,000 6,000
West Carclaze £300,000 1,500
St Cuthbert’s, Carlisle £300,000 10,000

Housing minister hails new letting law protection for tenants

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The housing minister has heralded a new law that aims to protect tenants from unfair letting fees.

According to James Brokenshire MP ‘tenants across the country should not be stung by unexpected costs from agents or landlords’ – which the Tenant Fee Act addresses.

From June this year, tenants will see their deposits capped at five weeks’ rent and will apparently be protected from ‘costly fees imposed by landlords or agents’.

The government reckons the new law will save English tenants ‘at least £240 million a year’. Read the press release if you don’t believe me.

The act also addresses tenants being charged ridiculous sums for damaged items such as cheap smoke alarms. From June, landlords will only be able to claim ‘reasonably incurred costs from tenants and must provide evidence of these costs before they can impose any charges’.

And there’s more: the new law also insists that tenants that have been charged unfair fees get their money back ‘quickly by reducing the timeframe during which landlords and agents must pay back any fees that they have unlawfully charged’.

MP Brokenshire added: ‘This act not only delivers on our promise to ban letting fees but also caps deposits at five weeks’ rent and sets out how and when landlords can charge tenants fees – helping renters keep more of their hard-earned cash.

‘This is part of our ongoing action to make renting fairer and more transparent and make a housing market that works for everyone.’

So, let’s wait and see how this all works out.

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