Leaders in housing and regenration give their thoughts on the new housing minster and the issues that should be at the top of her in-tray
Moira Constable, chief executive, Rural Housing Trust:“I first met her when she was a junior minister in the Labour government in the 1970s and I was just starting up the Rural Housing Trust. She was in agriculture and was taking a great interest in where agricultural workers would live if they lost their tied cottages when they lost their jobs or retired.
“I found her a very intelligent woman, somebody who does make am attempt to understand complex issues and a caring person. I am utterly delighted to see her in housing because we will have someone who does understand the difficulties of rural housing.
“I think she should look at the severe reduction in grant rates. It is badly affecting small village schemes. We are having to compete with grant rates being applied to large scale development where the developer is putting in lots of subsidy or selling houses. We have no way of subsidising small village schemes other than through grant and we just cannot make them work.”
Matthew Harrison, deputy chief executive, Great Places Housing Group:“I think someone of her wide experience is probably very valid now. She has been through economic downturns and housing crises before and will, I am sure, have some strong opinions. Being a big hitting politician she will hopefully make sure housing stays at the top of the list.
“The main priority should be clearly supply side like ways to deal with unsold stock and particularly working with colleagues in Treasury to bring some stability to the mortgage market and some liquidity to assist people who won’t secure a mortgage. I think mortgage rescue is an area they should prioritise to make sure people do not take flight from their homes and also prevent repossessions if lenders continue to take a hard line.”
Peter Andrews, chief executive, London Thames Gateway Development Corporation:“There is very little she can do without the Treasury because the fundamental cause of the problems in housing market is the credit crunch and what we need first and foremost is liquidity in the mortgage market. There needs to be a fundamental rethink about housing delivery and how we will meet the housing targets. We are looking at our numbers to project forward and if there isn’t a quick pick up in housing numbers, which looks unlikely, we need to think about how we meet the housing demand that is apparent to us. That is where she will inevitably focus her attention. Maybe she will look at different ways social rented housing can be delivered, different structures like local housing companies, and how local authorities can get involved in delivering housing, and institutional ownership in the rented sector, although I do not think that is an immediate solution.
“Making sure the HCA is successful and integrated with government programmes, the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships and other things is important.
“When the London Docklands Development Corporation kicked off, they started in a downturn in the early 1980s and they had another one in 1991 so it is not unprecedented for regeneration. We need her not the lose sight of the fact that these are long term regeneration programmes and it would be a mistake to take the foot off accelerator there while looking at immediate problems in housing.
“She has had long experience in government and that must be invaluable. It is good having an experienced minister. They [housing minsters] will all come to this without a great deal of experience of housing and regeneration so it is about what they can do about making decisions and working with civil servants who do understand what is going on in housing. It is also about the economy and creating new jobs for local communities.”
Anu Vedi, chief executive, Genesis Housing Group:“She takes on this role at an important time in the housing market and also in relation to the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency and the Tenant Services Authority.”
David Cowans, chief executive, Places for People:“We are all keen to work with a minister who wants to embrace the issues. We had that relationship with Caroline Flint and we hope to have a good relationship with Margaret Beckett. She joins at a very difficult time but there is nothing that isn’t difficult in the economy at the moment. There is the opportunity to do some radical things to make housing work effectively.
“Government can use whatever resources they have to keep sites coming through the planning system because builders’ natural instinct is to stop. One way to keep production going is using the existing £8.4bn affordable housing programme to take equity stakes or pump prime existing development. It is section 106 in reverse. Without that I don’t think anything will happen.
“Government can do what it can to keep capacity in the construction industry so when the upturn happens we have the skills in the industry and do not have a damaging two to three year hiatus. They will have to be very creative in the use of resources and simply rolling out linear programmes might not be the best way [instead government could provide solutions on a site by site basis].
“There is a real opportunity for the HCA to start understanding the real problems and come with new, real solutions. When we come out of this, I think there will be a much broader range of tenures options. We are already seeing things like try before you buy now to make sites work."
Stephen Stone, chief executive of Crest Nicholson, said:“Although Margaret Beckett will be the third housing minister this year alone, with a political career spanning more than 30 years she is also the most experienced we’ve seen in a long time. Many in the industry will be - quite rightly - calling for stability, however we also need a fresh injection of ideas, with the grounding of practical experience to really get the market moving again.
“Not only should we consider Beckett a genuinely safe pair of hands, her commitment to overcoming some of the challenges currently facing the market will hopefully do much towards safeguarding housing delivery into the future.”
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