Homes and Communities Agency chief promises flexible grant rates to see the housing sector through the downturn

The Thames Gateway Forum is the last major conference I’ll be attending before officially taking charge of the new, single housing and regeneration agency on 1 December. It’s a good place to be, just days before the launch of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), and there’s already been a great deal of discussion about our delivery role in relation to the Thames Gateway, the UK’s largest regeneration programme.

The outlook for housing and regeneration is significantly gloomier than when I accepted this role around a year ago. As I’ve said on several occasions when asked about the state of the housing market, I try not to take it personally that the creation of the HCA has coincided with the most severe economic downturn since the nineties! These are undoubtedly challenging times and the spotlight on the new agency is intensifying.

In fact, I think it’s fair to say that, as the credit crunch has taken hold, the essential role of the HCA has become all the more apparent. We have a unique opportunity to develop a more integrated and flexible response to the delivery of housing and regeneration in this country. Our response to the impact of the downturn will be investment-led and counter-cyclical in order to in maintain a level of activity in housebuilding and prepare the industry for the upturn. Working in partnership with the public and private sectors, we will implement practical, adaptable solutions to help revive the housing market and bring benefits to people and places in the long term.

I try not to take it personally that the creation of the HCA has coincided with the most severe economic downturn since the nineties

These include providing flexibility on grant rates and tailored investment plans for housing associations, and continuing the “national clearing house” initiative to enable them to buy appropriate unsold private stock for affordable housing. We will also explore joint venture models with developers, promote new, low-cost homeownership products and ensure the redevelopment of surplus public sector land.

It’s very apparent that people want an agency that is involved in regeneration as well as improving the availability of affordable housing. We couldn’t agree more, and will encourage and promote good design in the delivery of energy-efficient, mixed-tenure homes in attractive surroundings that are well served by infrastructure and amenities, all of which has a direct impact on quality of life and connects people to places.

As we can’t achieve any of our objectives in isolation, it is our stated intention to be an open and accessible agency that works with partners on a collaborative and consultative basis. Our relationships at national, regional and local levels will be the key to our success as a national organisation that delivers locally. The Single Conversation is our new business process that will enable us to identify and deliver joint housing and regeneration objectives for individual places. This involves having a regular, ongoing dialogue with local authorities and other stakeholders to achieve a shared clarity of purpose for each area.

Our new approach will no doubt be fully tested in an area as complex as the Thames Gateway

Our new approach will no doubt be fully tested in an area as complex as the Thames Gateway, but we are confident that we will be able to bring all the relevant partners together to deliver local ambitions within the context of achieving our growth, renewal and affordability priorities. The HCA covers a lot of ground and our comprehensive, integrated approach to housing and regeneration should certainly speed up delivery. That is a fundamental component of the HCA’s offer, and Eamonn Boylan, our corporate director of new ventures and partnerships, will be responsible for building relationships with the Thames Gateway partners to understand where they’re coming from and how we can align our objectives.

A co-ordination of effort is the only way to ensure that we keep the show on the road and address the cross-Gateway priorities for economic growth and development, sustainability and quality of life for local communities. This partnership approach underpins all of our work and we look forward to engaging local authorities and strategic partners in the Single Conversation to achieve the right outcomes for the people who live and work in the Thames Gateway.

I will be expanding upon our role in the Gateway in my keynote presentation on Wednesday morning.