the latest government move to build homes is to be welcomed if power is kept with local communities

Steve Douglas

I saw the headlines in the chancellor’s Autumn Statement: “Direct commissioning by government” and had to smile. I’ve been on the inside of institutional reform - ‘moving the deckchairs’ as many a cynic describes it – over the years. But to see the suggestion that government would take on the role of developer, instead of leaving it to developers and housing associations and intervening directly if the housebuilding sector falls short, all sounds like a return to the days of that urban regeneration quango, English Partnerships – except without the Partnerships bit.

I’m a great fan of the Homes and Communities Agency, the successor to English Partnerships, and genuinely believe it should be free to act as a developer, operating counter cyclically when the market fails to deliver and equally stepping back when the market is operating effectively.

What I’m not a fan of, is the view that interventions should be directed from the centre. And actually, behind the headlines, I don’t think that government or its delivery agents actually think so either. The recent agreement on devolution of some budgets to greater Manchester and the pressure from other cities to follow suit, combined with an extension of the affordable homes programme and encouragement for housing associations and local authorities to build more suggests a much more varied approach to how to get more building done.

And quietly in the background, the HCA is going about its business of partnerships with those institutions and organisations that are best able to help delivery. The recent announcement that one of its regional directors is to be seconded to be chief executive of an alliance between Manchester City Council and the HCA which was launched in the summer with an ambition to deliver 55,000 homes over the next decade or so, heralds a new relationship between the centre and local government. Where this initiative leads, I’m sure more will follow.

So, I think beneath the headline, local delivery is far from over. Only two things that now need to be added in my view. Firstly, those who actually deliver need to be in the partnership and secondly, there should be some encouragement or treats for those who have been good, as well as sticks for those who haven’t.

It’s Christmas, after all. A time for giving gifts?

Steve Douglas is a partner at Altair