February 2016

The Northern Housing Summit is just around the corner and I look forward to welcoming you to Manchester as we meet to debate “Delivering the Northern Powerhouse: the role of housing”. This year we have two themes running through the Summit – unlocking investment and delivery in the north and delivering public sector reform. Both will be fascinating and have come up several times in discussions with NHC members as part of our work on the NHC Commission for Housing in the North (and more of that shortly!)

I’m delighted that we’ve got as usual an excellent array of speakers for the conference – including an opportunity to hear from several branches of government – we have Simon Ridley, the Director General  for Decentralisation and Growth. I met with Simon not long after his appointment and we discussed the need to rebalance the UK economy and how housing can contribute to drive up productivity across the North. This issue highlights the changing skill sets the sector may need to unlock investment opportunities as they flow into the North (or flow out if we’re not ready to capitalise on them…) I expect Paul Marsh of UKTI will also address this topic at the Summit as he talks about the scale of investment packages that he believes are available to the North. As with the NHC Commission for Housing in the North, the Northern Summit is not just about listening to government policy. It is absolutely about promoting the innovation that is happening across the North – in local government, the social housing sector and the private sector. Whilst promoting the great work that you do remains at the heart of the NHC, we also want to ensure that the NHC – both as an organisation and in our wider collective capacity and influence of our members – brings scale and agility to these innovative approaches.

The Northern Housing Summit is a timely event for us as it will take place shortly before the NHC Commission for Housing in the North issues its interim report. As you know we’ve been meeting with NHC members to get your input into the Commission  alongside taking evidence from a range of witnesses including UKTI, Andrew Standford (La Salle Investment Management), Grainger PLC, Sir Bob Kerslake, the CBI, and QSH to name but a few.

Some consistent themes are beginning to emerge from the work of the Commission – the need to place housing as part of the productivity debate, the benefits of collaborative working, the need for the sector to recalibrate its approach to risk and reward, the capacity challenge we face and how to resolve it. I’ve been struck when meeting with both witnesses and NHC members by the level of enthusiasm there is for the very real opportunities that are open to the north. That is not to downplay the challenges we will face in other markets and we will need to be realistic but optimistic, creative and agile to drive forward our ambitions. But the message I’m hearing from members is that the NHC Commission presents a real opportunity to shape our northern housing futures and we intend to fully grasp this.

See you in Manchester!