News from the Chartered Institute of Housing conference on June 20-23 Housing policy affects other targets

29 Jun 06
Efforts to improve health and education will fail unless more money is invested in housing for disadvantaged people, ministers have been told.

30 June 2006

Efforts to improve health and education will fail unless more money is invested in housing for disadvantaged people, ministers have been told.

Poor housing affects health and reduces a child's performance in school, according to a Chartered Institute of Housing survey.

The survey, published at the CIH's annual conference in Harrogate last week, showed that 92% of housing professionals believe health and education targets will only be hit if housing quality improves. Ninety-five per cent predicted that homelessness and overcrowding will rise without a major increase in affordable housing.

Addressing delegates on June 20, CIH president Barrington Billings said it was vital that the sector made a strong case for housing ahead of next year's Spending Review.

Unlike in the health service, where money is swallowed up in salary increases, it was possible to see the real effect of bricks and mortar on people's lives, he said.

Housing also offered excellent value for money. 'In what other sector is each pound of public money made to work so hard in levering in private finance?' asked Billings. 'Who else is doing more to recycle grants, to move from grants to loans and to deliver millions of pounds from efficiency savings?'

Savings should be redirected to frontline services at the same time as housing providers place more emphasis on customer needs. He said: 'We are reforming and modernising the sector as we search for better, more effective ways to provide homes and deliver services.'

A discussion paper published by the institute on June 21 calls for a modernised regulatory system to cover housing associations, local authorities and private developers that receive grants.

The study, undertaken for the Housing Corporation, says unified regulation would be simpler if the housing revenue account system was reformed to lessen funding differences between councils and registered social landlords.

Councils sign up to affordable housing protocol

Eleven local authorities have promised to make more effort to help social landlords and other developers build affordable housing.

After signing protocols with the Housing Corporation, the councils will be expected to ease planning procedures and make more land available for homes, in return for being given a say over which organisations receive grants.

The protocols, announced at the conference, follow a call last year by corporation chief executive Jon Rouse for councils and housing associations to work together more closely.

Speaking to Public Finance, Rouse described the new partnerships as 'absolutely crucial for the corporation' but said they depend on councils playing an effective strategic role.

He stressed that the authorities will not receive preferential treatment over funding. 'It's about establishing a more mature relationship,' he said.

Later, during a session on the Barker review of housing supply, Rouse urged associations not to sit on assets that could be used for new homes and raised the possibility of grants being paid over a five-year period instead of two.

During the conference, two out of the seven private builders who won development grants this year signed contracts with the corporation. 'The key question for us nowadays is not what sort of provider are you but, rather, what can you provide and how much?' he told delegates.

Nick Dexter, a divisional manager at the Department for Communities and Local Government and author of the government's response to Barker, said there was clearly a need to reform the planning and regulatory system. 'Planning should be more responsive to the market but it should not be a slave to the market,' he said.

The DCLG, meanwhile, has received 22 bids from councils hoping to become housing growth points, which together should lead to the construction of up to 10,000 extra homes per year.

Trust us, says RSL leader

A major review of regulation has not gone far enough in trusting social landlords to behave responsibly, according to the leader of England's housing associations.

The Housing Corporation has promised to reduce landlords' costs by at least 10% through cutting red tape.

But David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said RSLs still had to account for everything they spend. He called for the recent review by Sir Les Elton to be used as a platform for change.

'Housing associations need the consent of the Housing Corporation to do anything,' Orr told a fringe meeting. 'It traps potential rather than releases it.'

He added that the current housing and regeneration review, which could result in a merger between the corporation and the regeneration agency English Partnerships, provided a chance for associations to increase their capacity to improve communities.

Richard McCarthy, director general for planning and communities at the Department for Communities and Local Government, told delegates: 'Rationalising funding streams… is not enough on its own.'


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