Saturday, 25 March 2017

MIPIM: councils set out their demands

The scale of ambition – and confidence – at the MIPIM conference is one of the most prominent things on show here.

And on the stands at least, the message is about local authorities making sure they are the ones in control of their vision as opposed to being directed by the want of consultants, developers, investors – or housing associations.

‘We’ll work with anyone that brings the right attitude for what the borough wants to become,’ said the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s leader Darren Rodwell, as they launched their new regeneration company Be First.

Sir Bob Kerslake – the chair of Peabody, and also unveiled here in MIPIM as Be First’s new chair – told Social Housing that the company is looking to work with a host of partners on regeneration: developers, housing associations, housebuilders.

But the appeal of the new company for him was the council’s ambition and determination to deliver ‘what it wants to deliver’.

That includes more than 50,000 homes, ‘a great place’ and long-term change, with a particular onus on affordability. (Mr Rodwell told an audience yesterday that he is ‘still proud that we don’t have a £1 million house in Barking and Dagenham’).

For most associations looking to scale up their housing delivery, relationships with local government are critical.

Another council suggested to me that housing associations are back in the picture as the UK government eases its policies on home ownership.

Before that, their relationship had faltered when some providers ‘were not really interested’ in doing social or affordable rented housing.

Closely linked to meeting local authority needs is the demand for quality homes, which is one area where the various partners appear to find common ground.

One major housebuilder said the quality issue became a focus during investor updates for the first time recently – something that they welcomed.

It was also a message from Barking and Dagenham’s Mr Rodwell, who said in no uncertain terms that they would be looking for quality above all else – including for their regeneration and housing schemes such as Barking Riverside, which is being delivered by L&Q.

Quality is also a theme that feeds into the debate around the growth of and investment in the private rented sector (PRS).

PRS is one of the main areas of focus for Social Housing here, and it’s been interesting to hear the different views on how it differs from its sub-sector, build to rent.

Some long-term operators who are committed to build to rent view it as a more holistic approach to creating places where people want to rent – including families – complete with on-site services and minimum quality standards.

However, others pointed out that while quality may fluctuate more across PRS, it is largely down to the sheer scale of a private rented market serving over 5 million households compared with a build to rent market that’s yet to get much ‘out of the ground’.

Getting to a point where there is scale – as well as quality – will be what opens up investment in homes for rent at unprecedented levels.

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