A cross-sector approach – including communities – is the only way to make the most of the housing delivery models now available
Housing demand is huge, the mechanisms to build it exist, and there is investment in search of projects. So how do we get delivery moving? Land value and slow land release are underlying challenges, but two years of reviewing planning committee summaries shows that the biggest day-to-day obstacles boil down to lack of shared skills and understanding between developers, planning officers and elected officials. We must start getting this right the first time.
Shared skills were part of our 10th October Direction roundtable, the third GVA and Future of London session on Housing Delivery Models, supported by BLP Insurance, Oak Foundation and Lewis Silkin. Anonymised highlights are below; this and sessions on Investment and Delivery will be combined with FoL interviews and new GVA research for a November briefing.
As with the two first sessions, we were joined by a range of voices from the public, private and third sectors. See the end of this post for a list of all the roundtable participants.
Resourcing issues & recommendations:
- A few participants pointed out that there is top-tier negotiation and delivery expertise in local authorities. Having cut the most experienced cadre in the first local authority cuts, though, boroughs are forced to move mid-level officers up too fast. Often overworked and with slashed training budgets, few have the knowledge to make and deliver housing deals with confidence. Supporting this middle tier is critical.
- One proposal was to hire more graduates and allow for a five- to eight-year learning curve. Two challenges are that (1) housing – particularly affordable and/or complex projects – must be delivered now and (2) ‘as soon as people get good, they get poached’ by the private sector or other active organisations. Within those challenges, options included the below…
- Move new hires between departments for broader knowledge and networks, e.g. every six months as one private-sector participant does. Some public-sector organisations do this, but more could be done at local level.
- Seasoned consultants should actively mentor younger colleagues. These day-rate professionals, often borough directors who took redundancy during the cuts – could be tasked with sharing their knowledge as part of their remit and the council’s investment.
- The new Public Practice initiative could help under the right conditions. The project aims to place young planning, design and regeneration practitioners where they’re needed. The caveat was that this doesn’t build corporate memory in the host organisation; a requirement to share knowledge between temporary and permanent staff is key.
- New ideas and education must be shared beyond single decision-makers. Workload and personnel churn make it hard for councils to absorb new ideas, whether about innovative finance, tenure options or alternatives like co-housing. Both a property consultant and a land trust champion said it took around a year to educate borough decision-makers on new initiatives – if/when that person goes, the work and sometimes the project is lost. More organisation- and sector-wide education must be sanctioned – in digestible chunks.
- Finally, it was pointed out that other departments at all levels must be involved: finance, legal and strategy (along with assets, employment, care, education and so on) currently only touch on housing delivery at certain points, but have insight to share throughout.
The political landscape:
- London’s May 2018 local elections may sharpen opposition to public–private partnerships, as an ascendant Labour party shifts to the left, potentially in opposition to many Labour-run London councils. Scrutiny and resistance – both within councils and by public and political activists – are likely to be more common. Involving communities early and meaningfully will need to move to the fore across London.
- Engaging with local authorities should be about more than just housing. One developer pointed out that supporting councils with skills, employment, environmental and other priorities – as well as offering secondments or backing training – is a worthwhile investment, broadening the contact base and helping partnerships survive change.
- Delivery models must be resilient to change at all levels. On top of local change, Brexit means ongoing political and economic uncertainty, including amongst commercial occupiers (though a slow-down there could help housing construction). Sterling is still relatively low but interest rates are set to rise, and while this government may be warming to social housing, its tenure may be precarious.
- London can’t rest on its laurels, as regional competition warms up. Participants noted that London’s thorny politics and continued high land prices already have developers and investors looking further afield. Watch for more of that in coming years, as combined authorities and councils across the UK raise their game.
- Build-to-rent housing was seen as a strong part of the mix in and beyond London, offering a rental alternative that suits city demographics, provides financing alternatives and a long-term asset, and can start to professionalise the whole private-rented landlord sector.
- The idea of an equity-and-debt fund seeded by the GLA or government and then becoming self-sustaining was raised again; one investor challenged what additionality it would add to the market; the argument was that a state-backed fund could be more flexible.
- A proposal for assembling portfolio sites also went back and forth, with borough officers saying they can’t always be made to match local planning policy and/or don’t always flex with political or market change, while a developer countered that where they can be made to work, add-ons like skills support are easier to deliver.
- Identifying and then buying or partnering on land about to climb in value under new policy got a strong positive response. This proposal for a public-sector task force to secure strategic parcels was proposed (most recently at least) by a Leaders Plus candidate.
Housing Delivery Models – Programme background:
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.
To help, Future of London and GVA, with input from a diverse range of stakeholders and supported by Lewis Silkin and BLP Insurance, are assessing which delivery models are being used across the capital, how they’re performing, and where we go from here.
The first stocktake was based on an assessment of nine representative London boroughs; that report can be downloaded below. Data for all London local authorities will be released to participants at the 26th Sept roundtable and included in the final report.
Making Delivery Models Work for London – Initial research briefing: Download
Three by-invitation roundtables to gather cross-sector insight, plus launch:
- Sept 12th – Investment
- Sept 26th – Delivery
- Oct 10th – Direction
- Nov 21st – Report launch, with stakeholders responding to programme findings
- Quantitative research on what models are being used by local authorities, GLA, TfL and related public-sector entities; qualitative research on housing association involvement and alternatives such as land trusts; relevant case studies for both streams.
- A short report, akin to FoL’s Delivering Estate Renewal report, which combines findings from the roundtables, supplementary interviews, qualitative data and two May 2017 Future of London events.
Roundtable Participants (Sept 12, Sept 26, Oct 10)
- Rachel Bagenal, LB Hackney / Naked House Community Builders
- Dave Baptiste, LB Ealing
- Chris Brown, igloo Regeneration
- Jonathan Bull-Diamond, GVA
- Luke Burroughs, London Councils
- Tom Chance, National Community Land Trust Network
- Tom Dowman, GVA
- Vicky Evans, Arup
- Pete Gladwell, Legal & General Investment Management
- Ben Greener, Department for Communities & Local Government
- Lester Hampson, Transport for London
- Dan Hawthorn, LB Haringey
- Pat Hayes, Be First
- Stephen Hill, C20 futureplanners
- Kate Ives, Wates Residential
- Chris Jones, LB Wandsworth
- David Jowsey, Crossrail 2
- Anna Kear, UK Cohousing Network
- David Lunts, Greater London Authority
- Jonathan Martin, LB Waltham Forest
- Nicola Mathers, Future of London
- Oliver Maury, GVA
- Gordon More, Homes & Communities Agency
- Paul Nichols, LB Harrow
- James Pargeter, Greystar Europe Holdings Ltd
- Liz Peace, Old Oak & Park Royal Development Corporation
- Clare Reddy, Lewis Silkin LLP
- Jonathan Reuben, Lewis Silkin LLP
- Joe Richardson, Home Group
- Jim Saunders, Pinnacle Regeneration Group Ltd
- Danny Sutcliffe, Red Loft Partnership
- Harry Swales, Homes & Communities Agency
- Lisa Taylor, Future of London
- Janet Townsend, London Legacy Development Corporation
- James Varley, Countryside Properties
- Kim Vernau, BLP Insurance
- Mark Wells, Aviva Investors
- Jo Wilson, Future of London
- Eleanor Young, Blackstock Partnership