We can’t forget the areas, both North and South, in need of economic regeneration

Steve Douglas

Though I’m a southerner, I do spend time in the North and have been up quite a bit recently. With the Northern Housing Consortium, we hosted a conference on asset management strategies and practice; I’ve been working in Bradford, where there are some beautiful homes and some generous people; and I’ve also spent time in Liverpool, home to great regeneration but underachieving football teams.

And I’ve been struck by the deep frustration there that national housing policy is seen as being all about supply and homeownership, whether it’s Help-to-Buy, the Right-to-Buy discount, or the recently announced proposed housing association give away.

At the conference, we talked about hard to let properties, managing structural decline and changing demographics. We also talked about measuring the value of stock and in some cases negative Net Present Values. And lurking in some corners of the discussion were issues of fuel poverty and affordable warmth. Not issues discussed much in the south.

The frustration felt by my colleagues in the north, is actually shared by many colleagues in the south who are trying to regenerate areas

Well, I’m also vice chair of AmicusHorizon, one of the larger housing associations in South-east England. Lord Charlie Falconer is its chair and we talk about housing policy, both current and future. Not that he would ever second guess the policy of his Party, but he’s held the brief for northern pathfinders in the past and he has a pretty good grasp of the issues. We make regular journeys back from meetings in sunny Croydon, south London, occasionally interrupted by telephone calls about Labour’s preparation for government. By the way that’s his role. Not a prediction.

Anyway, most recently he was preparing for the keynote speech at the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Annual dinner and it was clear to me by the end of our discussion that when we talked about supply in the south, there was also a set of issues around parts of the south in decline and the need for regeneration. And equally when we talked about the north, it was also the home of some of the most affluent places in England.

The conclusion I draw is that the frustration felt by my colleagues in the north, is actually shared by many colleagues in the south, who are trying to regenerate areas and grapple with similar issues of affordable warmth, poor and still underperforming stock, and neighbourhoods that don’t quite work. It’s a concern national policy has done little in recent years to picked up on.

The solution is economic revitalisation at an area level: identifying the vital signs for healthy and flourishing areas, and investing for growth. In some places that will be supply, in others it will be stock renewal. It’s simple.

Steve Douglas is a partner at Altair