A Christmas Message from NHC Chief Executive Jo Boaden

jo-boadenAs 2016 draws to a close there will be many things we will reflect upon – significant political developments both nationally and internationally, a recognition that housing should be seen as part of the nation’s infrastructure needs, the planned creation of a separate regulator for the social housing sector, changes to the Housing & Planning Act and many many more.

One of the highlights of the year for me has been the work of the Commission for Housing in the North and I’d like to thank those members who have supported the Commission. You have all given your time and expertise to help shape what I hope is a powerful voice for the North and the springboard for us to secure the right framework to deliver the right homes in the right places. I was pleased that the residential offer element of the Northern Powerhouse Strategy echoed the work of the Commission in so many ways.

It was not just the outputs of the Commission that I valued so much but also the way in which it represented how the NHC can and will be working. At its heart was the NHC acting to connect members which each other and with new partners or stakeholders. The Commission has also demonstrated the value that we can drive by ensuring we are close to our members, engaged with you across all aspects of your businesses.

I am looking forward to continuing this approach in 2017 and we have reshaped the way in which we work to ensure we can be in the best place to support you in achieving your aspirations.

On behalf of everyone at the NHC I wish you a Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2017.

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!

January 2016

Across the North of England the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 has been characterised by Storm Desmond, Storm Eva and unnamed but continuous rainfall this week across the North East. For me, the rain and storms have caused minor inconvenience but for some communities it has resulted in devastating losses – homes in Cumbria have been flooded multiple times, in parts of Greater Manchester and Lancashire and Yorkshire homes were hit on Boxing day forcing many families to move out into temporary accommodation, community facilities have been affected.

I know NHC members will have been working tirelessly over the Christmas and New Year period to do what they can to ameliorate the conditions their customers were facing. Obviously there will be freak weather events which will impact in unforeseen manners but for me I was left with a sense of the need to focus on resilience.

The government has committed to build more homes, but we must do all we can to ensure all new homes are sustainable and resilient. The Housing Bill reading late on Tuesday night saw an amendment tabled by Alec Cunningham the Labour MP for Stockton North calling for a statutory duty to give due consideration to resilience. He argued:

“A failure to address the issue, however, and choosing to push ahead with non-resilient development is likely to increase costs in the economy, not to mention ruining people’s homes and livelihoods at the same time as threatening critical national infrastructure”

He also made the point that retro-fitting resilience, or indeed dealing with the after effects of non-resilient developments are not without impact and I believe may indeed bring additional costs. Pre-emptive investment to protect communities and save money has its merits. Which brings me onto my second consideration of resilience – how we build resilience in our communities.

The messages from NHC members responding to the floods and the impacts on their communities spoke of the fragility of some households circumstances. Whilst families may be coping with low income wages, zero hour contracts, cuts in welfare what they lack is a safety net. Just as government will make spending cuts knowing that there may be consequential impacts but fervently hope not, so too do low income families – our members report that too many of the households affected by the floods did not have contents insurance – on a sunny day moving into a new home perhaps the prospects of the devastating impacts of floods were not on a tenants mind, perhaps customers didn’t know these schemes existed and were not prohibitively expensive.

We know from our own tenants contents product that initial claims submitted in relation to Storm Desmond range from a few hundred pounds to several thousand – imagine the stress of trying to replace several thousand pounds worth of belongings. Resilience can bring reassurance. Thinking about how we can work with our members to support and grow resilient communities providing opportunities to build self- reliance and community peer support is one of the ways in which we can reduce the devastating and potentially costly impact of trying to retro fit resilient solutions.

Finally the theme of housing continued into the New Year with the Prime Minister’s New Year’s message as the government become a direct commissioner of new homes. We are interested in the outcomes of this approach – particularly as it focuses on SME developers who were previously such a vital component of the delivery chain. We will be looking at what learning we can take from the five pilots as part of my final thoughts in this blog – how can we build a resilient North.

For me it comes down to strong partnerships, I blogged previously about my fears that the way in which Local Authorities and Registered Providers were being treated with respect to new policy could lead to a rift developing. The recent round of member engagement sessions we held before Christmas has reassured me – I was delighted when RP members fed back to me the great benefit and insight they took from participating in sessions with Local Authority colleagues and vice versa and that the Consortium is uniquely placed to facilitate these relationships. It is through our shared endeavours that we can truly build the capacity to bring greater resilience across the North.

We haven’t yet used the word resilience in talking about the Commission for Housing in the North but on reflection it’s a strong persuasive argument – the Commission has taken evidence regarding how to unlock investment in the North, how to scale up innovative schemes such as rent to buy, how we can bring together housing & health to develop housing and service hubs for people living with dementia. We talk rightly so about supporting a vibrant Northern Powerhouse and at the heart of that sits a resilient thriving housing offer and we’re proud to support our members to deliver this. I wish you all a healthy, happy and resilient 2016.

Manifestos are designed to provoke a response: the Tories certainly did that with right to buy

Writing a blog this week couldn’t be about anything other than the Tory manifesto proposals on right to buy.

As ever before an election, manifestos are designed to be slogan based policies to catch headlines and provoke a response. The Tories certainly did that, but I would argue that the important issue is to show what can be done to meet the need to build the right homes in the right places and to provide evidence on what can, or in this case will not work. Read more

Call of the North

This article originally appeared on the Inside Housing website.

It has become fashionable again to talk about regions. This is absolutely right – the northern regions are different to those in the south. They are as distinct as they are diverse. Living here can offer the most fantastic quality of life providing, for example, affordable homes in vibrant cities or the chance to live in incredibly beautiful countryside. There is another side, though, which is still deeply unfashionable to talk about – wrongly in my view – and that is about the challenge we face in tackling housing obsolescence. Read more