Making housing delivery models work

Cross-sector partnerships are on the rise again in the quest to deliver housing and regeneration more effectively. The emphasis now is on structures that give councils more control and help them retain assets for long-term revenue, but most models, from joint ventures through council-owned companies to new tenures and types, are relatively new; gathering best practice from concept to delivery is difficult at best.

What is clear is that local authorities – and sometimes housing associations – are outgunned in ways that can be addressed. They bring valuable property to the table, along with community and delivery experience. However, the enabling cash and expertise needed to get deals and development moving often come from the private sector. There’s an emerging need to balance skill sets, and for partners to better understand each other’s drivers and processes.

To help, Future of London is launching a programme with GVA – supported by BLP Insurance and Lewis Silkin LLP – to assess which delivery models are being used across the capital, how they’re performing, and where we go next. The work will include:

  • A delivery model ‘stock-take’ in July – this briefing will be publicly available online
  • Three autumn roundtables – Investment, Delivery and Direction – to gather cross-sector insight
  • A short report, akin to our Delivering Estate Renewal report, which combines findings from the roundtables, supplementary interviews, qualitative data and two May 2017 Future of London events
  • A report launch where a range of stakeholders will respond to programme findings

FoL is also developing a senior-level programme to hone public-sector strategic skills and to help cross-sector staff leading partnerships understand each other’s worlds better. This small-group course will combine technical and ‘cross-cultural’ sessions, evolving from FoL’s Leaders Plus and Housing Zones Network. To find out about partnering and/or applying, get in touch.

For a taste of best practice, here are some excerpts from two recent FoL discussions:

  • Rationale: All parties, especially boroughs, must consider why to undertake a joint venture or other partnership: why this structure, why now, and most importantly throughout, what outcomes do you want?
  • Assets: Identifying and assembling land is a huge challenge. There is some help available through One Public Estate, which issues grants to local authorities for site assembly work. A Homes for Londoners task-and-finish group chaired by Liz Peace CBE will also offer findings and recommendations this summer.
  • Timeframe and risk: It’s critical that all parties understand the timescale of large development partnerships, including that return on investment both takes time and is not guaranteed.
  • Council involvement must be at all levels and across all departments, whether directly or indirectly involved, so that all senior executives and their teams understand objectives, timescales and process.
  • Transparent communication is critical, especially with the public and elected members, and especially where risk is concerned. What level of risk is being undertaken? Why is this acceptable or preferable to another option? These must be communicated clearly.
  • Opposition: Whether political or community-based, opposition to any venture calls for clarity, respect and communication, as above – as well as recognition that addressing concerns will take time and resource that must be planned for.
  • Procurement is in desperate need of a rethink. If simpler systems were used, the millions in resource and time that companies of all sizes put into complex bids could be delivering housing and other needs. That being said, boroughs net invaluable evidence, knowledge and relationships from long processes. Could this be gained in other ways?
  • Skills: The aphorism about public-sector talent is ‘the minute they get good, they get poached’. We see that at FoL – but we also see a strengthening cadre of people making good professional development decisions; entities ‘trading’ talent; and formerly weak teams strengthening as leadership and projects emerge to retain them. There is the siren song of commercial salaries, but we also see people moving from private to public sector because of the ethos and opportunities.

It’s our view that London and Londoners will benefit from a cohort of people with energy, skills and good intentions moving between sectors – including the third sector – continually learning and sharing as they deliver projects. Housing and regeneration delivery models could be a useful focus for this effort, so watch this space for how Future of London and partners intend to continue this work.