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Homes agency aims for strong local focus to meet dual goals

The planned Homes and Communities Agency is to create a series of regional hubs to drive through more housing developments between local authorities and house builders.

Sir Robert Kerslake, who takes up the role of HCA chief executive next month, said it will be vital that the agency understands local housing conditions and providers to deliver on both affordable housing and housing growth.

In an exclusive interview with CN he said: “We will work on a very powerful regional structure - there will be strong regional teams.

“In some places the agenda is predominantly growth. In other places the agenda is still probably renewal. So the ability for the agency to understand and to respond to the local conditions is key here.
“Although the HCA is big, I want it to appear very local and very in touch with key issues on the ground.”

Sir Robert, who is currently the chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said he also envisaged the agency having a role in finding practical solutions to current blockages holding up developments.

This could mean working with house builders to find new delivery models that remove some risks from them to build more homes, or helping add capacity to smaller local authorities faced with tough growth targets and too few planners.

He added: “This agency is a delivery agency - we want to understand the ambitions of local authorities and help them deliver. But equally we want to understand the ambitions of the private sector and help them deliver.”

Sir Robert said he was interested in how the agency can help house builders cope with fluctuations in the market.

He said: “Part of the role of the agency is to maintain the -development of new housing and supply during this period of market slowdown, as it would be clearly problematic for the new agency if we see starts fall, but I also think there will be missed opportunities for the house builders as well.

“We can try to adapt what the agency does in the light of those market conditions.”

Sir Robert said he was -interested in hearing house builders’ views on new housing delivery models that could reduce their risk in order to ease development, such as the recent local housing companies.

These allow councils to offer their own land and to work in partnership with developers to provide homes for first time buyers.

He said: “If access to credit is difficult or expensive the public sector might be able to assist on that in return for lower rates of return.

“We’ve also got to find common cause on innovation on new building methods to meet carbon emissions standards.”

The HCA launches in April next year.

What is the Homes and Communities Agency?

When it officially launches next year with an investment budget of £5 billion and around 800 staff, the Homes and Communities Agency will be Europe’s largest housing and regeneration body.

It will bring together English Partnerships, the investment arm of the Housing Corporation, and a range of work carried out by the Department of Communities and Local Government, including delivery in the areas of Decent Homes, housing market renewal, housing PFI, growth areas and growth points.

Specifically HCA will lead on the provision of affordable homes. However, due to the link between affordable homes and new builds the HCA will also be closely involved in helping local authorities ease the delivery of the Government’s other target of delivering three million new homes by 2020.

There are plans for the HCA to carry out two major consultations to find out from key partners such as house builders what causes the most blockages in boosting home numbers. One will take place before the summer and one after.

Analysis: A likeable leader will bring easier partnerships

By Nina Lovelace

Delivering housing growth through what are often tense relationships between local government and developers will be a challenge for the HCA as it aims to deliver on Government targets.

But if anyone could at least represent the right face of the body that needs to negotiate better understanding and ways of working between the two, many commentators agree it is Sir Robert.

Well respected within the local government community, he has also built a strong understanding of developers as part of his successful work to regenerate Sheffield.

He is someone who knows how important it will be to build workable solutions to the cultural differences that exist between commercially minded house builders and councils that do not want rows of identikit houses but safe, clean and green communities with adequate facilities.

Developers who can show they can offer more than warm words on these concerns stand to do the best business in the long run.

For more click Sir Robert Kerslake – the full interview