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Housing at the Party Conference

Johnmoss Regeneration expert John Moss reports on his week in Manchester

David Cameron set out on Thursday how he wanted the family to be at the heart of his plans for re-building our broken society. I spent time at Party Conference looking at how housing policy could help make that work.

Sunday:  A long drive up from London – with four people in the car, so a low carbon journey – followed by dinner with a developer looking to get involved with social housing – not as an RSL, but in partnership with Councils –  and to offer a new approach on “affordable housing”. Just goes to show that you don’t always have to do things the way you always did!

Monday: Fringe event with the Chartered Institute of Housing. Much discussion about the “affordable products” RSLs and Councils should be trying to develop. I was able to make the point that any “affordable product” needed to be funded and the source of that funding ought to be the huge asset base that exists, but which is inaccessible because of low rents. Got in a shameless plug for Principles for Social Housing Reform, where one possible way to do that is set out.

Also pleased that John Howell from the Shadow DCLG team confirmed that the Housing Green Paper was still a “discussion document” and that comments were welcomed and encouraged.

Had tea with Richard Capie and Abigail Davies from the CiH. They have a really open attitude to new ideas and want to push forward with developing lots of the various ideas that have been proposed by both the left and the right as they see a real consensus developing around the need for change.

Another Fringe meeting with Places for People, where my co-author Stephen Greenhalgh was on the platform. Bizarrely, he is being followed around by Dave Hill and a film crew from the Guardian who seem intent on setting him up so they can catch him out over his plans to build more homes and better homes in Hammersmith.  Are the Guardian not in favour of more and better homes, or are they just doing Labour’s bidding?

An hilarious moment when Stephen had to leave after his short address to go to another fringe and Dave Hill then got asked to put a question. With Stephen out of the room, all Dave’s questions were about Hammersmith and Fulham, so no specific answers were forthcoming. Two minutes later Stephen returned!

I got a point in about how the ownership structures of social housing actively prevent investment by pension funds and other financial institutions, because they make it very hard to manage effectively. Another plug for the idea of common and consistent tenure in Principles for Social Housing Reform!

Finally, dinner with Stewart Jackson, Shadow Minister for Regeneration, hosted by the Thames Gateway London Partnership and chaired by no less than Labour’s Lord Charlie Falconer! Interesting dynamics there!

Tuesday: Tea on the sofa with Shelter. Really useful discussion on how the housing welfare system fails to respond to the journey people make especially as their circumstances change. Also floated ideas around registration, rather than licensing and regulation, to help improve management in the private rented sector – and tackle some tax evasion issues. Again, lots of ideas and evidence of a lot of agreement outside politics and what is needed.

Good to see Shelter moving on from their very political stance of a few years ago and developing in to a real force for good on behalf of those who struggle to get what they need from the current housing system.

Could not get to see Grant Shapps speech in the hall as I had to meet a work client, but managed to catch up on-line. It has to be right that we empower local communities and local people to manage the development of their neighbourhoods and I was pleased to see an understanding of how planning and regeneration and housing work together, underlying a lot of what we are saying.

Wednesday: An almost housing free day! Just one chat with a contact who represents some large house-builders. There is concern about our policy to scrap targets and let local people have more say, but it is how you do that which matters. There is certainly more to come on this and it is needed to clear away some of the uncertainty which will, if it is not addressed, prevent house-builders from investing.

Finally, to the Local Government Association reception and an opportunity to catch up with Bob Neill, Shadow Minister for Planning. I have known Bob since he got elected to the GLA in 2000 and was really pleased to see him get elected to Parliament in 2005.

Thursday: I had to spend on the road, looking around parts of East Cheshire, but I came back to Manchester to pick up colleagues after David Cameron’s speech. Disappointed that the BBC with its huge suite of radio stations could not find space to broadcast this, so will catch it on-line later.

All told, the message I take from the last week is that there is a will and several ways to resolve the problems we face over housing in the UK. It will not be possible to get agreement on everything from everybody – when was it – but the ideas and enthusiasm for reform are there and we need to grasp the nettle while we can. Because if we don’t sort out housing so it provides the homes that families need, we will find it hugely more difficult to reduce family breakdown and re-build our broken neighbourhoods.


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