Housing: a national policy for local problems?

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This week Cratus Strategic attended the Chartered Institute of Housing South East Conference in Brighton.

The Director General of Housing and Planning at DCLG, Helen MacNamara, opened the first full day of conference to a packed hall eager to discuss the Government’s Housing White Paper. While we were not treated to any accidental policy announcements or retractions, Helen was a clear, thoughtful speaker on a difficult topic in a room full of industry experts. Helen acknowledged the danger of London distorting policy and reassurance that they were working to prevent this. There was also recognition of the difficulty in formulating national policy for what is an intensely local problem.

Among other lessons, Cratus learned that DCLG is no more open to calls to dramatically raise the borrowing cap on councils than it has been in the past. However, it was frequently reiterated that DCLG’s door is very much open to local councils seeking to work in new innovative ways and with new partners to increase housing delivery. Once again, the importance of Local Plans was highlighted and even more importantly – Local Plans that are the right plans for the right area and cumulatively bridge the gap between supply and demand – which they currently fail to do.

Conference discourse also touched on skills and productivity and some rather terrifying stats were flagged – UK productivity as a whole is up 40% since the 1970s (which only makes us about average) but in the construction sector productivity is only up by approx. 11%. Construction also lags in other ways, as Daren Nathan of Durkan pointed out later – only 11% of the construction workforce is female and even fewer are skilled workers.

In the Q&A session which followed, varying perspectives and perceptions of the housing crisis became apparent as delegates discussed solutions which led to our favourite line of the day, ‘…as my team says, everyone is making rational decisions but collectively they add up to madness’. This neatly sums up the difficulty we face as a country with individuals generally, whether they be NIMBYs, councillors fearful for their seats, councillors fearful of bankruptcy if they don’t build, the elderly, students or developers who each come up with eminently logical solutions to the problem as they perceive it to be but not necessarily ensuring their appropriateness to the problem as a whole.

Overall, the day was full of debate and robust discussion amongst delegates and the conference allowed for worthwhile exchanges between delegates and panellists. As ever, Cratus Communications will keep a close watch on those boldly leading changes in the sector and how policy evolves. Get in touch to discuss how we could bring your ideas on housing to life.

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