CIH Harrogate 2011

A few impressions from CIH conference/exhibition in Harrogate.

Visibly lower attendance – is main reason mood of austerity, lack of any Government direction for social housing, or final capitulation to the costs of conference, stands and local hotels?

One impression I took away was of a lack of direction, almost of issues, with regulation being wound down and Government messages being so broad brush and aspirational as to encourage doing nothing pending greater clarity and urgency. Maybe the Localism Bill, when passed, will provide a trigger. Noted that my local ward Councillor, Richard Kemp, has announced his intention to request, “on the first day possible” that our local ward is “community planned”. As Richard is chair of Plus Dane, vice chair of the Local Government Association, and leader of the Liberal Democrats in local government perhaps this is a signpost?

A second impression was of the impact of cut backs, especially in Regeneration. For political balance I would cite an excellent interview with “The Man on the Mersey” – Joe Anderson – leader of Liverpool Council who has to manage the disaster of long negotiated and planned regeneration schemes being pulled up half complete, with added ministerial interference.

One more positive theme is new housing supply – not social housing as we know it – but I now feel I am no longer one of only about three people who actually expect the Governments new “Affordable” Housing programme to meet or exceed target. If your priority is new supply, then the approach will work. Consequenes on affordability and fairness still to be worked through, though in many parts of the North social tenants are already paying 80% or more of local market rents…  One big change that will be triggered is how new housing is funded. Emerging options are via pension funds (now starting to happen), “Retail Bonds” as by Places for People, or some form of equity – probably excellent if done in the way Mutual Building Societies issue PIBS – Permanent Interest Bearing Bonds – but potentially dangerous if done via full stock market listing of voting shares.

Much to mull….

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