With the Housing Corporation's cash and English Partnerships' land, the proposed marriage between the two looks like a perfect match. With just one or two caveats
What do they say? no rest for the wicked? No time to bask in the satisfaction of meeting all our national investment targets for last year. No time to reflect on the launch of our national affordable housing programme for 2006/08 with almost £4bn of public resources to be allocated and 84,000 new homes to be delivered.
Instead, we are entering into a fundamental review of how national organisations contribute to the delivery of sustainable communities. It is a review that could lead to a brand new, supersized housing and regeneration agency.
This is exciting stuff - the review offers real potential to transform the way our homes and communities are delivered, regenerated and sustained. But in seeking to deliver positive change, it is important that the best of what we have is kept intact.
All three key organisations - the ODPM, English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation - know that their efforts can sometimes have a piecemeal effect on communities. EP has worked wonders in using its assets and in acquiring strategic portfolios; however, its resources are constrained and as a legacy of the past it suffers from gaps in its coverage.
The corporation has a far bigger investment programme and, with almost 6500 live projects, it has virtually total coverage across England. But we are constrained by lack of direct access to land assets, which makes us vulnerable to the vagaries of the planning system and market sentiment. On the positive side, we also bring to the party our long-term interest in the communities in which we invest. With £30bn each of historic public and private debt embedded within the social housing stock, we have to ensure that high standards of management and maintenance continue, as well as the financial health of our housing association partners.
And for the ODPM, there is the opportunity from the review to achieve a better alignment of strategic and delivery responsibilities, with presumably more programmes passing to the delivery agency or agencies.
Potentially we could be looking at a process that increases the genuine added value to be gained from national government intervention.
If the review shows that the way is clear, I am sure we will willingly join hands and jump
In particular, we should be looking for more innovative financing structures, greater scope for enabling local authorities in their own strategic housing and regeneration roles, and new solutions for sink housing estates. To achieve that we will have to find an institutional structure that creatively links land regeneration, the delivery of increasing numbers of quality homes, excellent long-term management of the assets that we help to create, and support for the communities within which they sit - all within a strategic framework that places revitalised local government at its very heart. This is genuinely very exciting.
So why the note of caution? As with any big organisational review, business continuity is critical. Our first priority remains to deliver our increasingly demanding investment programmes and to safeguard the interests of the 5 million residents who live in housing association properties. In particular, we must maintain full lender confidence.
Second, we need to recognise and preserve what is good about what we've got. It is almost 20 years since the current approach to affordable housing provision came into being through the 1988 Housing Act. During this time we have been at the vanguard of the public-private finance model.
Private money has become increasingly cheap. This is partly the result of the stability of our economy and low interest rates. It is also partly the result of the unusual symbiosis that the corporation has built up between the investment and regulatory sides of its business. The upshot has been that the corporation has met its delivery targets year after year while some parts of the government have struggled to achieve the same discipline from their capital programmes.
In the final analysis, the excitement outweighs the trepidation. The Housing Corporation dates back to 1964, English Partnerships in its various guises to 1936. We have already travelled the past few years of this journey together. If the review shows that the way is clear and that there are genuine gains to be had, I am sure we will willingly join hands and jump.
Jon Rouse is chief executive of the Housing Corporation