Prime minister to choose fresh name for super agency to emphasise its role in housing provision, while he works on three policies to carry it out

The government is to drop the name “Communities England” for the super agency to be formed by the merger of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships (EP).

The government has not decided what the agency is to be called, but whatever it is, it will emphasise its role in building more homes.

A communities department spokesperson said: “There’s going to be a change of name. In terms of the remit, it’s still going to look at communities, but the prime minister has said repeatedly that housing is going to be one of his main priorities and therefore it’s going to have a housing focus.”

The policies that the agency will execute are due to be discussed in a green paper that will be published at a “growth summit” to be held in Reading, Berkshire, next week.

The document will include measures to:

  • Extend the use of new town planning powers to create eco-towns
  • Examine alternatives to the planning gain supplement
  • Encourage councils to set up special purpose vehicles to build homes and regenerate estates.

Every English council has been invited to the summit where Yvette Cooper, the housing minister, is to deliver the keynote speech. She is expected to use this to ask the councils to bid to become “growth points”.

These are areas that are eligible to receive infrastructure investment to help unlock development sites. Twenty-nine have been designated so far, all in the southern half of England. Ministers believe that future points should reflect the fact that all parts of the country are suffering affordability problems.

The prime minister has said repeatedly that housing is going to be one of his main priorities, so the new name is
going to have a housing focus

Communities department

Industry experts welcomed Brown’s policy objectives but there were widespread doubts over whether he would be able to deliver his goal. Mick O’Farrell, managing director of Kier Residential, said: “The old chestnuts still remain. The planning system today can’t cope, so how’s it going to deal with 550 new sites and a quarter of a million new homes?”

Roger Humber, the housing spokesperson of the National Federation of Builders, questioned whether Brown’s promise of 100,000 homes on surplus public land could be delivered. “Can we have Harry Potter as housing minister? Because I can’t see how they are going to achieve this objective.”

Baroness Ford, the chair of EP, said the quango was in talks with Whitehall to bring forward the sites highlighted by Brown in his Commons statement last week. But she said the agency could not afford to repeat the hospital disposal programme, when it bought sites from the NHS.

“We hope to be able to help agencies get the best capital receipt possible, but we don’t believe that needs to be at the expense of wider housing policy.”

David Pretty, the former Barratt chief executive, said: “Setting higher targets for housing is a welcome recognition of the scale of the problem; 200,000 units a year was always too cautious.”

And Keith Miller, chairman of Miller Homes, said: “We’d like to see councils being encouraged to designate more land for affordable and family housing, and this may require a re-examination of green-belt policy.

Additional research by Dan Stewart