Thursday 19th September 2019 – York
Members were joined by Editor of Inside Housing magazine Martin Hilditch in York on Thursday 19th September as part of a series of member engagement sessions organised by the Northern Housing Consortium. We run a range of senior member engagement sessions, and all full member organisations are invited to at least one of these every year.
- Inside Housing wants to hear from Northern members to be able to ensure that coverage is balanced and Northern issues are addressed.
- Concerns regarding the post-Brexit environment remain important for members and Inside Housing aims to track the policy direction of potential future governments as well as how members are preparing for, and responding to, any developments.
- Members and Martin agreed that the issue of affordability should be placed firmly back on the agenda within the sector.
- Concerns regarding the capacity of local authorities were raised as a priority for both members and Inside Housing, as well as the Northern Housing Consortium.
- The regeneration of “left behind places” was discussed with members focussing on communities in areas with a high number of privately rented homes.
- Issues surrounding fire safety and regulation, and the implications for members, remain on the agenda.
Contact address for further information regarding this event:
Northern Housing Consortium’s Chief Executive Tracy Harrison began the conversation by outlining the importance of being able to constructively craft the message that the sector, and Northern members in particular, want to communicate.
It was stressed that this ability to be able to effectively tell the story of members’ experience is particularly pertinent during this period of unprecedented uncertainty. Martin Hilditch echoed this approach, outlining Inside Housing’s “open door” policy which enables members in the North to influence the focus of coverage in the magazine, he has previously written about this here.
He emphasised that the nature of Inside Housing’s research and analysis will be developed around the issues that members’ themselves have identified and their ideas on the best ways in which to frame them. Discussion moved to the main priorities of Inside Housing for the next 6 months and members’ responses to these, a summary of the discussion is set out below.
Conversation between members and Martin centred heavily around affordability, Inside Housing are keen to get the issue of affordability back on the agenda with the aim of being able to lead the conversation on this.
Martin’s main focus regarding this topic would be to ask the following question: “What is affordable housing and what is it there for?”. He was clear that this would include grappling with what affordability means to different regions within the UK. Members used this time to raise issues about social housing and discuss with Martin how these themes were best framed in the housing media. This was discussed through an exploration into Inside Housing’s coverage of the 100 year anniversary of the Addison Act earlier this year and how this was able to engage central government about social housing.
Martin outlined that this campaign was extremely effective in sending out a positive message about social housing that heavily involved the voices of communities by celebrating local achievements. The response received by the magazine shows that these positive messages gained a wider reach with a strong level of engagement. Affordability is also high up Northern Housing Consortium’s agenda with research due to be published in the coming weeks.
The Political Landscape and EU Exit
Unavoidably, Brexit remains high on the agenda for the housing sector with Martin open to ideas from our members about current issues of most concern and those for the future. This links back to Tracy’s introduction about the uncertainty of the spaces that the sector, and other sectors, are operating within and how these are best covered by Inside Housing. Tracy outlined the concerns about the current geographical differences in development across the UK and how Brexit will affect this. Members discussed these themes with a focus on local economies, many of which are low-wage, unstable and heavily reliant on a few major employers in the area. Lenders are now taking a proactive approach to understanding the extent to which the local economy will be exposed to the effects of Brexit. Discussions included the example of Nissan in Sunderland with members stressing how many people’s livelihoods are put at risk should relations between Nissan and the local area drastically change, as well as potential lenders’ attitudes towards this.
It was acknowledged these concerns about the post-Brexit environment rely on the direction that government will take on housing as well as other areas such as welfare policy. This will be determined by the outcome of a prospective General Election and the policies that the prevailing government will embark upon. Martin noted the current administration’s focus seems to have been solely on home ownership so far, which Martin has previously written would be “terrible news for those most in need of secure, affordable housing”.
More recently, Esther McVey’s first speech as Housing Minister at the RESI Convention this month further hints that government policy will focus heavily on home ownership. Members expressed their concerns about the effect of the policies of this government or the next regarding issues such as Universal Credit and precarious employment contracts on tenants. This will affect areas of the UK in different ways. More clarity regarding potential housing policy in the future will come in the coming months when parties have had their Conference and during the run-up to a possible General Election.
Council Delivery and Partnerships
Martin discussed at length the priorities of Inside Housing regarding local authorities with the aim of research and analysis being able to identify the skills that already exist and locating the gaps where further skills are needed. Members agreed that there needs to be a focussed campaign on this as partners are not always able to fill the gaps left by the cuts to council’s powers and funding. This issue is particularly connected to members’ in the North as there is a high number of Band A homes that do not generate as much income for local authorities as other regions to be able to fund the services needed in local areas, especially for more vulnerable tenants and the impact on health and social care. A key concern is local development and the lack of local authorities’ capability; the Northern Housing Consortium are currently working with researchers to be able to quantify councils’ capacity and explore how this has disproportionately affected the North. Martin agreed that there needs to be coherent research of this nature, adding that the subject of “left behind places” requires robust but sensitive attention from both within and outside the sector.
Inside Housing’s “End Our Cladding Scandal” campaign was successful in reaching audiences outside of the housing sector, which Martin notes is sometimes difficult to achieve. It focussed on empowering local voices and putting pressure on local politicians which in turn received coverage in the local and national press. A broader campaign regarding fire safety has followed.
Pete Apps (Deputy Editor of Inside Housing) spoke at length about the pressures that regulatory changes may put on members such as the costs of retrofitting sprinklers which, due to funding, could affect the development of other areas of concern. Members said they were uneasy about the current lack of consistent messaging when it came to fire safety, particularly regarding a “stay put” or evacuate policy that has been central to the post-Grenfell discussion.
Inside Housing agreed that there is a lack of objective advice on these issues and commented this is frequently discussed at their Fire Safety Network. Pete discussed the current government’s focus on the new build sector and how the fire safety issue may not be at the top of their agenda but predicts that it will not disappear. Martin and members added that these conversations would also have to include questions about sustainability and long-term investment in safe, decent and energy efficient homes in the North.
The Northern Housing Consortium thanks Martin for speaking at such a fantastic event for our members where we are able to help set the agenda for the sector and ensure the voice of the North is heard. Inside Housing continues to support the work taking place in the region, please look out for future events with Martin and other senior sector figures.