Housing Delivery Models: Delivery

Creative approaches marked second Delivery Models roundtable

Delivery was the focus of Future of London and GVA’s second roundtable on Housing Delivery Models, supported by BLP Insurance and Oak Foundation, and hosted by Lewis Silkin. Anonymised highlights are below; this and sessions on Investment and Direction will be combined with new GVA research for a November briefing.

The 26th September roundtable kicked off with GVA’s Oliver Maury outlining new findings about what the various models across London are producing. As the early data showed, the higher the council control, the higher the affordable housing. Final analysis will be included in the November report.

Despite caveats about choosing the right model and inconsistent or scarce expertise, there is real potential in partnership and council-led homebuilding. As one borough participant put it, “it’s exciting to see a new generation of municipal housing; we have the local expertise and the long-term interest, and we are custodians of place and neighbourhood.”

So what will it take to deliver that housing more effectively? The roundtable represented developers, housing associations, TfL, third-sector and SME builders as well as local and central government, legal, insurance and property advisors. They came up with diverse and practical recommendations; interestingly, though relaxing the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap came up, central government grant appeared to have moved off the table as the sole answer to the housing shortage.

Recommendations:

  • Set (and share internally) consistent planning policy across a given authority, so individual sites can have locally relevant development AND developers of all sizes can still work across an area without reinventing the wheel every time.
  • In the same vein, allow for increased cross-subsidy of truly affordable housing through a portfolio approach; this can range from Transport for London’s massive estate focus to LB Croydon’s Brick by-Brick small sites initiative.
  • Support more SME delivery by e.g. lobbying for their inclusion; providing access to the necessary contacts; establishing a funding pool (our Investment post cites a proposal for a London equity-and-debt fund); providing more accessible procurement tools or avenues; and otherwise supporting their entry to and involvement in the market.
  • Allocate a portion of stamp duty receipts for homebuilding, especially affordable homes.
  • Improve awareness of delivery and investment models so stakeholders, especially local authorities, know what’s out there and can tailor options to local need (this was also a theme for Investment).
  • Don’t underestimate the ‘messy’ elements of any development plan (not least the politics); this can be fatal for smaller projects or partnerships, but will slow schemes of any size. Invest in scoping and stress-testing objectives and delivery before getting started.
  • Use the Social Value Act more, to support community and environmental requirements. Consider when and how much the public sector should intervene in the market.
  • The public sector can/should take more risk, especially to support smaller/SME suppliers and delivery of affordability or sustainability targets.
  • Incentivise innovation such as modular construction, community building or better design by e.g. discounting the Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy.
  • To defend against the problems caused by ‘silo’ working and thinking, make sure all stakeholders and internal departments are aligned, and know their materials; one participant said project leads often don’t read or understand what they’re signing.
  • Don’t sacrifice sustainability when viability is weighed up against other tests; we’re still recovering from the short-term building of the ‘60s and ‘70s. One speaker referred to the ‘sliders’ of sustainability v. skills and employment or skills v. affordability, but another said there must be some room for all, with profit margin being included as more of a variable than an incontestable fact. Another referred to the ‘lifecycle cost’ of community as opposed to just building fabric.
  • Given that perhaps the most frustrating thing for local people is losing control of what is happening in their area, all parties working on housing, development or regeneration must make a clear, open and compelling case – whether the decision is popular or not.
  • Make sure the mechanism and/or the response to a given local need is proportionate, whether that’s about housing or infrastructure or other community needs. Sometimes the best answer is simply not viable, and must be cross-subsidised by other development or otherwise funded. Housing associations and portfolio development are especially well-suited to this.
  • Acknowledge that most of major sites remaining across the capital are difficult: straddling boundaries, contaminated or flood-prone, in multiple ownership or tied up in the courts. Focus effort on bringing those forward.
  • At the same time, enable smaller sites, singly or in portfolios. The London Community Housing Hub can help as it grows, but boroughs have a central role, e.g. LB Ealing delegates planning for any development under 50 homes. Conversely, LB Hackney is aiming to build 70% affordable housing through its Housing Supply Programme on small sites and 50-50 on its larger estate regeneration projects.
  • Increase the focus on integrating older people’s housing options – at mixed incomes and values – with varying levels of care. This is a prime area for cross-subsidy.
  • Making any sort of business case for many of the above recommendations requires stronger evidence of value – for good placemaking, elder care or community involvement etc. see Future of London’s Placemaking work for research and signposting on valuation.

Debate: There were two key areas where participants were at different places on a spectrum:

  • Should we have London-wide planning policy for consistency and clarity, or borough (or neighbourhood) policy to reflect local concerns?
  • Actively increase local engagement (esp. early on) or allow that difficult decisions need to be made and discount the sometimes unrepresentative voices of protest (at planning)?

We’ll investigate where to take some of these and previous recommendations in the 10th Oct final roundtable on Direction.

Housing Delivery Models – Programme background: 

Cross-sector partnerships are on the rise again in the quest to deliver housing and regeneration more effectively. The emphasis now is on structures that give councils more control and help them retain assets for long-term revenue, but most models, from joint ventures through council-owned companies to new tenures and types, are relatively new; gathering best practice from concept to delivery is difficult at best.

To help, Future of London and GVA, with input from a diverse range of stakeholders and supported by Lewis Silkin, Oak Foundation and BLP Insurance, are assessing which delivery models are being used across the capital, how they’re performing, and where we go from here. 

The first stocktake was of nine representative London boroughs; that report can be downloaded below. Data for all London local authorities will be released in the final report.

Making Delivery Models Work for London – Initial research briefing: Download

Next steps:

Events: Three by-invitation roundtables to gather cross-sector insight, plus launch: 

  • 12th Sept – Investment
  • 26th Sept – Delivery
  • 10th Oct – Direction
  • 21st Nov – Report launch, with stakeholders responding to programme findings

Research:

  • Ongoing quantitative research on what models are being used by local authorities, GLA, TfL and related public-sector entities; qualitative research on housing association involvement and alternatives such as land trusts; relevant case studies for both streams.
  • A short report, akin to FoL’s Delivering Estate Renewal report, which combines findings from the roundtables, supplementary interviews, qualitative data and two May 2017 Future of London events.