Applause for PM’s NHF summit speech, but a reminder not to forget the need for social housing

THE housing sector – as much as the politicians – is reminded not to lose sight of the need for much more social housing amidst the applause for the Prime Minister’s speech to the NHF summit yesterday.

In a historic speech, where she became the first PM to speak at a National Housing Federation (NHF) conference, Theresa May turned tail on the disdain the sector has experienced from previous government figures in recent years.

At the NHF’s Housing Summit in London, the PM said: “I can announce that new longer-term partnerships will be opened up to the most ambitious housing associations through a ground-breaking £2 billion initiative.

“Under the scheme, associations will be able to apply for funding stretching as far ahead as 2028/29 – the first time any government has offered housing associations such long-term certainty.

“Doing so will give you the stability you need to get tens of thousands of affordable and social homes built where they are needed most, and make it easier for you to leverage the private finance you need to build many more.”

Responding to the announcements, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s deputy chief executive, Gavin Smart said: “The Prime Minister’s announcement is an important sign of the Government’s recognition of the vital role played by housing associations, and social landlords more generally, in building new homes and in providing people with a place to live that they can be proud to call home.

“Long-term certainty will give housing associations the confidence they need to invest. And long-term partnerships will enable more housing associations to take the lead in developing their own land and reduce their reliance on private developers, helping to boost the numbers of new homes we build as a nation.

“But, as the Prime Minister recognises in her speech, it’s crucial that Government investment helps housing associations to build the right kind of homes at the right prices. In practice this means building more homes at the lowest social rents – which is often the only truly affordable option for people on lower incomes.

“The Prime Minister’s announcement is an important sign of the Government’s recognition of the vital role played by housing associations, and social landlords more generally, in building new homes and in providing people with a place to live that they can be proud to call home.”

Up North, Yorkshire Housing’s chief executive Mervyn Jones welcomed the announcement that housing associations have a central role to play in building the homes we need.

“The Prime Minister has recognised the leading role housing associations can play in fixing the broken housing market and the extra funding is welcome,” he said. “Yorkshire Housing is building more homes than ever and with government help we can do more, especially for those people with the least choice in the housing market. We can give everyone the opportunity to live in a quality home they can afford.”

Homes for the North, a coalition of 20 housing associations operating in the North of England (including Yorkshire Housing), tweeted its welcome of the Prime Minister’s announcement, but express concerned that the Government’s approach to calculating housing need doesn’t quite reflect the North’s real needs.

Home Group tweeted its chief executive, Mark Henderson, who said: “It’s exactly the approach we need to explore if we are to do things differently.”

Paul Fiddaman, group chief executive of North East housing association, Karbon Homes, said: “It is very encouraging to hear the Prime Minister commit the Government to long-term funding for much needed new homes.

“I think there are two interesting things for me. One is she set out very clearly the way in which Government has responded to the housing sector’s requests for assistance from government, and I think that was quite powerfully argued by the Prime Minster.

“But also, she’s laid down a significant challenge for housing associations to step up now that the conditions are right for them to get involved and take a more active part in leading the recovery and producing more homes, delivering better services to tenants, and eliminating the stigma that sometimes goes with social housing.

“With the Government providing greater certainty for the decade ahead, we look forward to delivering the scale and quality of development we know our communities need.”

The National Housing Federation, as hosts, naturally appreciated the Prime Minister’s words. In the wake of her announcements, outgoing chief executive David Orr said: “The announcement of £2 billion of new money for social housing is extremely welcome – but the really big news here is the Prime Minister’s long-term commitment to funding new affordable homes. This represents a total step change. For years, the way that money was allocated meant housing associations couldn’t be sure of long-term funding to build much-needed affordable housing.

“Now, by changing the way in which they allocate funding, ministers have given long-term confidence and confirmed that we are trusted partners in solving the housing crisis, building new homes and communities.

“Ultimately, this will have a huge impact on building the affordable homes that thousands of people across the country desperately need.”

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, was rather less sanguine. The organisation’s chair, Lord Porter said: “Councils have always been proud of their housing and tenants and the positive recognition of social housing by the Prime Minister today must be shared by all.

“Our national housing shortage is one of the most pressing issues we face. Any new access to funding for housing associations to employ more brickies and less bureaucrats and build more affordable homes is positive but does not go far enough.

“Homes for affordable and social rent are desperately needed across the country now, not in 2022, and the measures announced today fail to provide the funding certainty councils also need to play a leading role in solving our housing crisis.

“The Prime Minister is wrong to suggest that councils are not capable of building the new homes at scale without recognising they are being hamstrung by Treasury restrictions which prevent them from borrowing against their existing housing stock.

“The last time this country built homes at the scale that we need now was in the 1970s when councils built more than 40% of them. Councils were trusted to get on and build homes that their communities needed, and they delivered, and they can do so again.

“If our country is to get back to building the 300,000 homes a year we need, then the Government needs to ensure all areas of the country can borrow to invest in building new affordable homes and the necessary infrastructure to go with them.

“The Government’s renewed emphasis on social housing and its tenants must be backed up in the forthcoming Spending Review.”

NH

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