Social housing is back as a cross-party priority

Recent policy and manifesto announcements reveal ambitious social housing targets but delivery will rely on joint ventures with the private sector

We’ve now had the housing policy proposals from the Conservatives, the manifesto from the Labour Party and pledges from the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party and the bidding war on new homes has kicked off once again.

300,000 per year – Liberal Democrats; 500,000 – Greens; Labour and Conservatives peak at 1 million homes. All agree we are not building enough homes and there is a growing consensus that homes are needed for rent as well as home ownership. There is a return to the term social housing, that had been banned from the lexicon of the previous Conservative administration.

We are already seeing a number of local authorities gearing up to build their own homes, either directly or by commissioning new building activity

However, what is most striking about the main policy announcements is the emphasis that is placed on the role of both local authorities and housing associations in helping to deliver the many needed homes. Specific reference to councils building homes is something that has been trailed over the past few months. It was an important theme in the recent Housing White Paper and has always been a principle supported by the current leadership of the Labour Party.

We are already seeing a number of local authorities gearing up to build their own homes, either directly or by commissioning new building activity. The recent announcement that the Royal Borough of Greenwich was investing in Meridian Home Start, a council sponsored company, to build low rent homes on Council owned sites is part of a growing trend.

We are also seeing Housing Associations becoming significant developers in their own right. In London, L&Q are regarded as a major housebuilder; Peabody are leading on the regeneration of Thamesmead, a small town. In the North, Your Housing has entered into a long term joint venture partnership to deliver 25,000 homes per year and six modular housing factories across the UK.

The challenge for this new generation of housebuilders will be supply chain management and understanding the market. Many are exploring joint ventures with the private sector, some are looking at different procurement arrangements to share risks and encourage SMEs to build more. There is a golden opportunity for Contactor/Developers to have a higher profile in supporting delivery.

Whoever wins the election, it is unlikely that there will be much, if any new money for housing. To deliver the numbers of homes and of the types needed, it will need a range of players, different methods of construction and different relationships between the public and private sector.

Come 9 June, it will be interesting to see who is invited to the first housing roundtable to discuss the plan for delivery.

Steve Douglas is a partner at Altair

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