The NHC Northern Housing Summit – Save the date

Tuesday 2nd November – AM & Thursday 4th November – AM

The Northern Housing Summit is back for 2021 as an online event! Taking place during Glasgow’s COP26 and hosted over two half days, our focus will again be firmly on decarbonisation and net zero as a key priority for our membership.


Day 1 will feature high-impact keynote speeches from leaders and influencers on the net zero agenda. We will also launch the findings from our Tenants’ Jury, a group of tenants from our Northern membership who are considering the design and implementation of decarbonisation measures across the home. The conclusions drawn by the Jury will enable members to truly embed the tenant voice in the design and delivery of domestic retrofit measures.


Day 2 will be focused, practical workshop sessions – we know from last year’s feedback that our members enjoy the opportunity to get together in smaller groups to learn, discuss and challenge. Join us on day 2 for discussion-oriented, informative breakout sessions.


There is no charge for members to attend the Summit, and details on how to book will be available soon. Do keep an eye out for speaker announcements over the coming weeks – we’ll be delighted to see you there.

Northern Regeneration: National Opportunity

Prior to the pandemic, the argument for levelling up the North was largely about inequality: it was recognising the decades of under investment that had led to the North’s economic under performance and was no doubt also driven by the Brexit referendum result, which clearly signalled the frustration and anger felt by those living in ‘left behind’ places – many of which were in the North. This frustration was further demonstrated by the dismantling of the so-called political ‘Red Wall’ across the North at the 2019 General Election.

And despite the potentially huge distraction caused by the pandemic, which has brought the whole country – including our nation’s economic engine room, London – to its knees, Government has continued to pledge its commitment to the levelling up agenda (no doubt recognising that those former red wall Tory MP’s are unlikely to enjoy their position beyond one parliamentary term unless the people who broke a lifetime’s tradition by voting for them start to enjoy some tangible pay-offs from their gamble).

But the pandemic has created new arguments to support taking the heat out of London and the South East and levelling up our regional economies.

Firstly, there’s ‘us’ as human beings. Never before has our health been under such scrutiny. The mental health impacts of our collective experience have yet to be fully felt (although there seems to be a widespread recognition that a tsunami of issues looms large as people start to process their experiences over the past 12 months or so); whilst the potential precarity of our physical health has been demonstrated more clearly than at any point in the last century. ‘Wellbeing’, once the sole preserve of yoga instructors & herbalists, is now a term in common parlance and certainly one that everyone, from teachers to business leaders to politicians, are acutely focused on.  Because poor wellbeing costs the nation dearly, both in financial and productivity terms (not to mention the obvious human costs). And we have irrefutable proof now that wellbeing – physical and mental – is not supported by living in over-crowded environments without access to green space. Given that we now know COVID is likely to be a feature of our lives for years to come (with further pandemics promised), surely this is something we cant ignore?

And then there’s the technological argument for levelling up that COVID has gifted us. Overnight, millions of us shifted to home working. Something that many organisations had dreamed of and hoped to achieve a degree of over the course of their 5 year strategic plan suddenly just became a reality – because needs must when the devil rides. Now, for many jobs, where you actually live in relation to your registered office address and the corresponding transport links available to you, has become completely irrelevant. All that really matters now is your broadband speed and having space to work comfortably from home.

So, doesn’t it make sense to try and disperse the populace to where this can be achieved more easily, by investing in the North? Particularly when this can be done whilst still affording a high level of protection to our politically sensitive greenbelt?

This is not the same as the Northern Powerhouse business case. Northern Powerhouse was about agglomeration – harnessing the potential of the North at scale, largely by improving transport connectivity. And whilst arguments were made about North East – North West rail links versus North to South links and which ones mattered most (and many stood on the sidelines of the debate muttering about whether HS2 and HS3 really mattered, because wasn’t it all really about intra-connectivity and buses anyway?), COVID snuck in and showed us just how many of us need never really worry about transport into city centres again. That’s not to say that transport infrastructure no longer matters, and the North is certainly desperate for investment and improvements having been starved of them for so long, but the economic argument has potentially shifted away from the agglomeration model.

The North has so much to offer. We have land, stunning coastlines and spectacular countryside, as well as rich physical and cultural assets. But we also have a shortage of jobs, failing town centres, and a high percentage of unfit housing, much of which is a sad relic of our industrial past.  Now is the time to recognise the massive regeneration potential of the North. The opportunity exists to reimagine our failing places and breathe new life into them, so that having a home, and a job, and enough space to work from home if you can – and perhaps even a garden – becomes a reality for future generations of Northerners (those born and bred here and those who will be attracted to relocate here). And in doing so, we can boost the economy, take pressure of our beloved NHS, and protect our wellbeing.

The past 12 months have shown us that the seemingly impossible can happen in a heartbeat if there’s a will and a need. Let’s not waste the lessons that COVID has taught us but use them to fuel an ambition to create a future that benefits us all, because supporting a Northern regeneration and levelling up has advantages for the whole country.

Who will retrofit a million homes in the North? Lord Best – Guest Blog

The Commission for Housing in the North showed us what needs to be done: a million homes in the North of England require upgrading. Most are owner occupied, often by people with relatively low incomes. But the worst conditions are found in the PRS. Quite apart from relieving fuel poverty and the miseries of cold and damp homes, the decarbonisation ambitions of government require action now. But who is going to organise and carry out the work to all these properties?

Private landlords are frequently unable or unwilling to invest in defective properties. Having expanded exponentially the PRS is, in any case, being reined back by tax changes and regulation. Poorer homeowners are even worse placed to find the money and organise necessary building works. The government’s Green Homes Grant scheme might have helped but this has proved a failure.

Thirty years ago I would have said: ‘By 2021 the Home Improvement Agencies – the Staying Put and Care and Repair organisations – will have covered country and branched out from Disabled Facilities Grants to comprehensive upgrading work’. My prediction would have been entirely wrong! Unlike housing associations that were created, or revived, in the 1970’s and 80’s, the HIAs have remained small, scattered, and under-resourced.

So what about social housing landlords?

These face problems of their own in improving their stock, achieving Decent Homes Mark 2 and taking advantage of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund in the future. Some of them have big problems in rectifying cladding and other defects, with government not keen to bail out their rented properties. But realistically it is the social housing landlords – Councils and housing associations – that surely represent the best option in actually delivering what we all agree is needed. These are the bodies already engaged in construction activities, in working with local communities, in handling large sums of public money, and often in supporting training and jobs. And they are in every town and city. They are fully regulated and know how to work with central and local government.

The Affordable Housing Commission recommended that as part of the post-pandemic recovery, government should establish a National Housing Conversion Fund. This would enable social housing landlords to acquire properties from some of the private landlords now exiting the market (not least because of the Covid consequences in rent arrears and the hassles of seeking repossession in the Courts). The Fund would achieve serious payback in achieving several goals: preventing homelessness, improving unfit property, generating jobs and skills, fulfilling levelling up ambitions, and saving health and social care costs.

The AHC recognised that the often-painstaking work of upgrading and reletting individual properties may not suit the operating practices of today’s large scale social landlords. We thought it likely that in some places a partnership with smaller, community-based organisations would achieve the best of all worlds.

Could this theme be extended to cover partnerships with new or existing HIAs? In times past several housing associations had Home Improvement Agencies linked to them. Hanover, for example, had 21 such bodies covering different geographical areas. These provided advice and guidance, handyperson services and organised Disabled Facilities Grants to improve accessibility. Over time, Hanover shed these subsidiary bodies, some of which continued independently.

Is the time right for a revival of these partnerships, capturing the strength of the social housing sector to address the crying need for a huge national catch up in modernising outdated stock?

Will it be the zero-carbon agenda that triggers the level of new investment from central government to get the social housing landlords to take on this hugely important task?

Homes England launch Local Government Capacity Centre

Homes England, the Government’s Housing Agency, has launched its Local Government Capacity Centre with a programme of summer learning for local authorities.

This will run from 14th to 25th June and includes sessions on brownfield sites, development appraisals and viability, and an update on latest planning policy relating to design. Officers working in local government can view the programme and book free places via the Homes England website.

The establishment of the Local Government Capacity Centre follows extensive research engagement by Homes England with stakeholders, including a session for Northern local authorities delivered in conjunction with the NHC.

Commenting on the launch of the Centre, Housing Minister, Rt Hon Chris Pincher MP, said:

“Local government is crucial in creating the homes and places people need and Homes England has a central role to play in supporting their capacity and skills development. I look forward to seeing how the new centre supports local government in delivering the homes this country needs.”

Research by the NHC published last year quantified the reduction in housing and planning capacity in the North’s local authorities over the last decade. Our study found:

  • The average net spend on housing in northern councils has fallen by 54% since 2010/11, compared to a reduction of 34% in the rest of England
  • The average net spend on planning in northern councils has fallen by 65% since 2010/11, compared to a reduction of 50% in the rest of England.

Commenting, NHC Chief Executive Tracy Harrison said:

“I welcome the launch of Homes England’s Local Government Capacity Centre, which I hope will make a valuable contribution to capacity in coming years. The NHC’s research shows the stark reductions in spending on housing and planning in the North. We have always perceived a role for a national centre of specialist expertise, and it is important that this is coupled with re-establishing capacity within the North’s local authorities themselves. This is an issue we will continue to push in the approach to the Spending Review this Autumn.”

Two New Networks formed between Northern Housing Consortium Members

In recent months, the NHC has brought together it’s membership of Housing Associations, Local Authorities, and ALMO’s to form two new Networks. The new groups, which will offer members a space to network, share learning, and collaborate, focus on two of the most pertinent issues facing the North’s housing sector today – building safety, and raising and enforcing quality in the Private Rented Sector.

To receive further information on either network including future meetings, join the Network Mailing List by contacting Kristina Dawson, Business Intelligence Assistant, Northern Housing Consortium:


Building Safety Network

The Building Safety Network has been formed as part of the NHC’s support to members around the introduction of regulatory and legislative changes found in the Social Housing White Paper.

The core focus of the group will be measures found in Chapter One of the White Paper: To Be Safe in Your Home, and relate to the Draft Building Safety Bill, currently making it’s way through Parliament, revolving around a nominated manager responsible for health and safety, and the development of a tenant engagement strategy based on existing good practice.

As with other NHC member networks, meetings will enjoy input from colleagues at Ward Hadaway who will inform discussion based on their expertise covering health and safety and building construction law.

The first meeting of the network highlighted that, despite clarity as of yet, NHC members were being proactive in reviewing their building safety operations and developing new teams and systems to meet the forthcoming regulatory environment. Discussion covered for example Fire Risk Assessments, training and competency frameworks, developing new tenant engagement strategies, innovative uses of data, and relevant out of scope work.


Private Rented Sector Network

In recent years, the Northern Housing Consortium’s longstanding interest in the regeneration of mixed tenure communities has led to a focus on raising and enforcing standards in the North’s Private Rented Sector.

Building on the NHC’s work in support of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Housing in the North’s Inquiry into Property Standards in the North’s PRS, and development of the final report No Homes Left Behind, the NHC has convened a Network for members focussed on the PRS. The Network is chaired by Dr Julie Rugg, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York. Julie is a renowned academic focusing on the PRS and a central figure behind influential publications such as The Evolving Private Rented Sector: Its Contribution and Potential and Safer Renting: Journeys in the Shadow Private Rented Sector.

This PRS Network will look to complement, not duplicate, the valuable peer-to-peer networking already taking place between NHC members in their own regions and will instead offer a space for pan-northern knowledge sharing, develop a northern voice in the national debate on Renter’s Reform, and offer a bridge to academia, Landlord Bodies, Tenant Unions, and devolved authorities.

The first meeting of the Network saw Dr Jugg give an introductory presentation entitled An Agenda for the PRS in the North: Current Trends and the Next Big Question. This wide ranging talk for example covered the future purpose of the PRS, how the PRS market is reconfiguring in towns and cities, the impact of ‘outside’ investment, the particular challenges of the PRS in rural areas, and the network’s priority focus of how to raise and enforce property quality.

Subsequent discussion amongst attendees outlined a programme of focus for future meetings; good practice in joining up strategic housing functions across strategy, planning, and private sector enforcement, innovative uses of data and tracking / ‘predicting’ property tenure and condition, a discussion with the Land Registry on landlord identification, learning from MHCLG pilots covering exempt accommodation, and engaging with health professionals and social prescribing.