Tim Holden, group development director of registered social landlord Network Housing Group, defends the role of the public sector in providing social housing

The Housing Bill is progressing through parliament and is being watched closely by both housebuilders and registered social landlords (RSLs), as the proposed Social Housing Grant could enable the Housing Corporation to allocate public resources to private developers and housebuilders. As yet, there hasn’t been the level of interest in the bill that it deserves, but as it progresses it will become very topical.

The bill reflects the government’s fixation with the private sector, which is seen as an alternative, and more efficient, delivery agent of social housing than RSLs. However, inefficiency in social housing outputs is largely the fault of the planning and regulatory system, and putting grants in the hands of developers does not adequately address this problem. A level playing field must be in place, with similar conditions for funding applied to both RSLs and housebuilders. The fact that local authorities don’t appear to have been consulted may also frustrate the problem.

The government shouldn’t underestimate the role of RSLs. Network Housing Group’s recent joint venture Pimlico Village is, I think, a good example of an RSL providing an innovative flagship mixed-use development to help solve London’s housing problems. The £55m development is complex: it comprises 63 affordable homes for rent; 18 homes for shared ownership; 79 homes for private sale; and a Sainsbury’s store with car park, eight retail units and car parking. As developer and manager, Network is also delivering long-term support in both facilities management and effective communication with occupiers.

Projects such as this demonstrate RSLs’ growing capacity to develop socially sustainable communities in their own right through fostering effective strategic relationships. And, of course, the profits are ploughed back into increasing the supply of affordable housing. Unlike housebuilders, RSLs have objectives that are social, rather than financial. RSLs have a mandate to provide affordable housing within a society that prides itself on its social responsibility. Every pound that is invested in housing associations to build a new home is an extra pound towards funding affordable housing. The value extends several decades beyond completion of the property, retaining equity in affordable housing for generations to come. It is what we call social capital.

Many in the public sector view the Housing Bill as the thin end of the wedge

As successful developers and landlords with an appetite for growth, Network views the bill as a challenge and an opportunity, providing we are playing to the same set of rules. Over-regulation of social housing and under-regulation of private housebuilding mean that this is not currently the case. Furthermore, many in the public sector view the bill as the thin end of the wedge and a political move to ensure that developers do not suffer as the market begins to cool.

A healthy partnership has been created between housebuilders and housing associations through Section 106 agreements, and the best solution to providing social housing solutions for the long term is to maintain this.

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