By Paul Smith, Associate
The long-awaited Levelling up white paper was recently released into the maelstrom of Westminster and has largely sunk below the waves.
In the housing world people have been keen to see this document. Housing is seen as one of the key components of regeneration and renewal of areas across the country. That regeneration is often preceded by the word ‘estate’ is a clue. In January the Placeshapers network of locally active housing organisations produced their own pitch “stay local, go far” which can be found here: https://www.placeshapers.org/news-stories/publications/
It calls for communities and local organisations to be put at the heart of levelling up. It also points out the decarbonisation homes could be at the heart of levelling up. The white paper reflects this quoting that 240,000 new jobs can be created through decarbonising homes, using £3.9bn or £2.2bn of government investment depending upon which page you are reading.
One of the main calls from the sector and first ask in the Placeshapers document is to make Homes England funding available for regeneration projects, assisting housing associations to replace poor quality homes and poorly designed estates. Under the current rules only the net additions of housing attract funding. If an organisation demolished a dismal block of flats with 100 homes and replaced it with 120 new high quality, zero carbon in use homes it could only attract subsidy for the additional 20. This leads to many regeneration schemes being unviable and leaves many terrible buildings and environments in situ. Unfortunately, this has not been addressed in the White Paper.
What we do have is a plethora of reannouncements of government policy, initiatives and funds. While it is useful to have these all in one place, and I love all the statistical maps but it doesn’t really move things forward. For example, this document is about the 4th time that the abolition of no fault evictions in England has been trailed. Initially announced by the sadly missed James Brokenshire, it would be a great tribute and memorial to him just to get it done. The proposal of a national private landlord register is mentioned but the text states that this will be “explored” so unlikely to happen any time soon, if at all. The new regulations for social housing, review of the decent homes standard and the funding for homelessness are all old news.
One can only hope that the commitment to levelling up is genuine. This document mainly an attempt to shoehorn existing policies and funding into a levelling up boot. The real test will be whether it can develop into a coherent revival of the towns, cities and regions across the country.