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.