Fiona's thoughts from Party Conferences
What was said and what should have been said
Autumn is always the busiest political season, with Party Conferences and several key industry events for the housing sector serving as great places to exchange ideas, and express hopes and ambitions for the future. But this year, as we are experiencing unprecedented social and economic changes, it has also served as a time to reflect.
The below is therefore a summary of what I’ve said, heard and would’ve wanted to hear at the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences I attended.
What I’ve heard
(Social) Housing as a priority
Firstly, I welcome the renewed focus on housing, in all its forms. Whether discussing homeownership, with Labour’s targets to increase it from 65% to 70% through government-guaranteed mortgages, or housebuilding and the new Housing Minister, whom I shared a platform with in Birmingham calling for “more homes in the right place”.
It is clear that housing is a priority for our politicians on both sides of the aisle, it was mentioned in both Leaders’ speeches, and that can only be seen as a positive.
I was furthermore encouraged to hear about Labour’s plans for social housing and making it the second largest form of tenure in the country, with some ambitious targets for delivery.
I do hope that this will not pose an additional burden on public local funds and services, but instead encourage more local authorities to seek the support and partnerships of housing associations, as we do maintain that our sector is the most appropriate vehicle for delivering and managing this form of housing (more on that below).
More steps in the right direction are firmly being taken with regard to planning reform and depoliticising the planning system. This was yet another topic where, fortunately, both parties seemed to agree upon as I heard Labour leaders wanting to ‘stop demonising new build’ and the Conservatives looking to bring the community along and incentivise residents in areas of potential housing growth to welcome housing and development.
And while there is disagreement around targets and even the need for having targets, this new approach to planning and housebuilding will obviously aid us in delivering the affordable homes and neighbourhoods that our country needs.
Over the past two years, L&Q have built in excess of 4,000 new homes annually and we hope to be able to sustain those levels of growth in the future.
What I should’ve heard
More on Public-Private partnerships
Whether we believe in the effectiveness of housebuilding targets or not, it is clear that delivering more high-quality, sustainable and affordable homes is the only way forward. The ‘how’ of this increased pace of delivery is still in question, however.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending another event, the Future of London Housing Conference, where I spoke at length about the success of our partnerships such as with the GLA at Barking Riverside, in delivering not only thousands of new homes, but also the capital’s first ‘healthy town’.
Through close collaboration between the private and public sector, we have delivered a major programme of infrastructure investment, culminating in the opening of a new Overground station earlier this year at Barking Riverside, and a Wellbeing Hub, a £40million project co-designed with the community, and developed in partnership with the NHS and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
Levelling up was, understandably, one of the key themes at both Conferences, which is why it should be all the more natural to be talking about partnerships.
Our work with the GLA and local authorities, in general, has not only enabled us to transform communities and regions at scale, through long-term collaboration on and investment in housing, infrastructure, skills, or sustainability, but having a like-minded partner striving for the same goals can often lead to social value beyond numbers.
Public-private partnerships can come in many shapes or sizes, with an emphasis on the latter. Fringe events mentioned small and SME housebuilders and support for this sector being of the utmost importance in solving the housing crisis. For the past four years, L&Q and the GLA have been part of a unique and innovative partnership, the Build London Partnership, supporting small housing associations to deliver the affordable homes that London so desperately needs.
Not only are we on our way to meeting our target to deliver 300 new affordable homes by March 2023, but by promoting this unique model of collaboration these homes are actually being delivered in London boroughs that are currently struggling to meet their targets.
I, therefore, had hoped to hear more by ways of encouragement from our political leaders, in looking to engage in more such partnerships and deliver affordable housing and development across a range of scales.
More on the cost of living and impact on our residents
The current economic environment is hitting us all in one shape or form. We are already seeing inflation and mortgage rates rising beyond expectations, not to mention energy prices for the winter to come. I am genuinely very concerned about the impact this will all have on the people living in our homes or those dreaming to buy their first come.
Staying true to our mission as a charitable organisation, L&Q is actively engaged in supporting residents and community organisations through the L&Q Foundation. This includes supporting free or low-cost food services and using our network of community centres to provide spaces for local projects and those in need.
Moreover, our Tenancy Sustainment, Pound Advice and Employment Support services are providing emergency support to vulnerable residents in crisis; helping residents manage their finances or supplement them by getting people into paid and secure work.
But we need the Government and housing sector to work together closely to find a solution that genuinely works and delivers for our residents.
More on skills
From planning to construction, our sector is facing an unprecedented skills gap, which is hindering our abilities to deliver the high-quality, affordable and energy-efficient homes that Britain needs.
At L&Q we are doing our part as one of the country’s largest housebuilders and continuing to invest in skills and talent development through our apprenticeships, graduate training, coaching and mentoring programmes.
But we obviously need more and it is vital that the Government works closely with industry and education providers to tackle this ongoing shortage, particularly in areas like maintenance and repairs or decarbonisation and retrofitting.