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Social Housing Speed Read – Social housing in the spotlight? PM addresses the National Housing Federation

In this week's Speed Read, we take a look at the significance of Theresa May's appearance and announcement at the National Housing Federation Summit on 19 September 2018, and the responses from key organisations within the social housing sector.

PM’s promises

Theresa May became the first Prime Minister to speak at a NHF summit, stating that this illustrated her commitment to her ‘personal mission’ to fix the UK’s ‘broken housing system’.

May’s speech comprised of two main aspects: the announcement of an additional £2 billion in funding for social housing, and (in line with the Green Paper) highlighting the importance of changing perception of the sector and their residents.

Housing associations will be able to bid for the additional £2bn of funding from 2022, which May claimed would provide long-term certainty for the planning and construction of new projects. Nick Walkley, chief executive of Homes England, estimated that this funding would allow associations to deliver ‘a further 40,000 affordable new homes’.

May criticised politicians and wider society for looking down on social housing, leading to residents feeling ashamed to call these houses their home. May urged housing associations to use the tools the government has given them to build attractive, high quality developments with the additional funding, which will help alter the way society views social housing.

Key responses

David Orr, outgoing chief executive of the NHF, stated May’s speech represented a ‘total step change’ and agreed that the funding would allow associations to make long-term commitments to social housing programmes. Orr advised that following May’s endorsement, it is important that housing associations meet the Government’s expectations and deliver, but recognised the ‘ambition’ within the sector.

Boris Worrall, of Rooftop Housing Group, acknowledged that whilst ‘we need to see money, policies and the rest’, the narrative was an ‘absolute game-changer’ and marked the beginning of a positive relationship between housing associations and the government.

Despite the positive response, some were sceptical about the funding. The chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, argued that ‘homes are desperately needed now, not in 2022’. Lord Porter added the council’s inability to build new homes at a large scale were a result of Treasury restrictions, and the Government should take steps to ‘ensure all areas of the country can borrow to invest in new affordable homes’.

Similarly, Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders, stated that although the funding was welcome, the fact that it will not be accessible until 2022 means that it will have minimal effect on the ‘negative myths around social housing’ in the interim. He also expressed disappointment in both the Government and the opposition for failing to address the ‘broken planning process’.

What’s next?

The significance of the PM’s speech should not be understated. It certainly represents a shift in governmental attitude towards housing associations following David Cameron’s comments in 2015 that the sector lacked efficiency. Contrastingly, May pledged that the work of housing associations would no longer go under-appreciated. As mentioned, the speech also acknowledged that merely building social housing is not sufficient; May highlighted the importance of constructing developments that residents would be proud to live in.

Despite the importance of the de-stigmatisation of social housing, it is imperative that more homes are actually built. Approximately 1.15 million households are currently on waiting lists for social housing. Echoing the words of Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate, this speech ‘must be the start and not the end’.

Local authorities, tenant management organisations and housing associations alike will wait with baited breath to see if May’s focus on social housing is reflected by real, prompt investment into the sector in the 2019 Spending Review.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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