Sunday, 30 April 2017

MIPIM: delivery drivers

Affordable housing may not be part of the common parlance here at MIPIM – but it has been given a platform fairly consistently over the last two days.

Much of the talk here is around ‘placemaking’, and how housing fits into regeneration and infrastructure investment.

But ‘placemaking’ isn’t possible without a strategy that encompasses housing provision for all.

Housing minister Gavin Barwell has been in Cannes addressing the housing white paper and the multi-faceted approach needed to boost supply.

Reiterating that there are no ‘silver bullets’ to the supply problem, his focus has been on a number of key pillars: unlocking land and devising local plans; connecting planning permissions with build out rates; and understanding who would build the houses and how – including modular.

Those topics set the scene for some of the talking points during our wide-ranging housing session yesterday, hosted by the Manchester delegation and exploring the routes to increasing housing delivery, with Social Housing facilitating.

Can off-site construction deliver a better quality product than traditional build?

Why can’t more housing associations collaborate rather than compete?  Can the same go for housebuilders?

And how can more associations better use their balance sheet capacity?

Our panel included Sir Ed Lister, chair of the Homes and Communities Agency – soon to be Homes England – was joined by Eamon Boylan, chief executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and Stephen Haigh, chief executive of Live Verde, which is the new off-site construction joint venture launched by Your Housing Group.

We were also delighted to welcome the HCA’s new chief executive Nick Walkley for the Q&A.

Sir Ed started the event off with an overview of the key areas of focus for Homes England, alongside the messages from the Housing White Paper; unlocking land, accelerated construction, investment and partnerships.

There was lots to take away from the session, but in particular, comments around collaboration and capacity well resonate with housing associations.

There were some broad-brush numbers around housing associations’ capacity gear up – one included that the total balance sheet capacity of the top 26 associations is £70bn, yet they have an average gearing ratio of 40 per cent.

It was suggested that taking that up to 65 per cent would provide £18 billion of further capacity.

Gearing – as we know well – is a particularly sticky subject and very difficult to define or apply on any consolidated level. There are also considerations around legacy loan agreements, and a debate to be had over how highly-geared charitable and not for profit organisations should be in any case.

Where the debate did lead, however, from the perspectives of both Stephen Haigh and Nick Walkley was that housing associations have the capacity to increase delivery.

Both used Your Housing’s off site construction ambition as an example of one way forward.

And it was the HCA’s new CEO who also said that associations should be working more collaboratively, rather than in competition.

Speaking to one housing association chief executive after the event, it seems that some view the HA collaboration debate as just that: easier said than done.

It’s not necessarily new and in practice, the shared management of schemes and programmes is difficult, especially when partners have decided to opt out two or three years later.

What does this all say for the role of housing associations?

For me, it is welcome that housing associations are being offered as part of the solution at the world’s biggest property conference.

Perhaps though, there is more to be done in the way of offering examples where they are effectively using their balance sheet; and in particular, where they are successfully collaborating.

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