What the new government may mean for housing
As the dust settles on the General Election and the Queen’s Speech that quickly followed we’re all keen to find out what the new government will mean for us, writes Wayne Gethings, Group Chief Executive of The Wrekin Housing Group.
As individuals we all have interests and issues that we’d like to see the government prioritise or push forward in some way, and one thing we can all relate to is housing; we all need a place to live.
Demand for housing is not going away. The new government’s approach to housing will impact many thousands of people across the West Midlands.
So, what direction can we expect housing policy to move in? There seem to be three main areas of focus. The supply of affordable housing, the promotion of the tenant voice and the main focus of the new government, as outlined in the Queen’s Speech, is going to be around the promotion of home ownership with several measures put forward to support this ambition.
The government would like to see funds generated from planning conditions, known as Section 106 contributions, used to fund discounted homes for sale. The First Homes programme, which will be consulted on in the New Year, will covenant properties, locking in their discount for local buyers and key workers, such as nurses, forever. Discounts of up to 30 per cent on market value will be offered.
At Wrekin we would like to see whether existing homes can be included in the programme. This would have three key benefits, providing a discounted home for local buyers, funding the building of a new home for affordable rent all fuelling the local economy and providing opportunities for people.
The new government is keen to promote shared ownership as a route to home ownership. In their manifesto they committed to investigating how shared ownership can be simplified, creating a single standard for all housing associations to use across the country and making it easier for buyers to make the right purchase for them.
This was reinforced in the Queen’s Speech where the government confirmed it will introduce a reformed model that will be more transparent, enabling buyers to progress to full ownership.
There had been a suggestion that a ‘right’ to shared ownership might be offered but I’m pleased to see this wasn’t included.
Instead, there a proposal in the manifesto to further pilot the Voluntary Right to Buy scheme which ran in the Midlands in 2018 and saw 33 Wrekin tenants purchase their properties from us. We use the funds generated by these sales to build new properties, providing much-needed family homes at affordable rents. This proposal doesn’t seem to have made it through to the Queen’s Speech, so it remains to be seen if the proposal will be rekindled later in the lifetime of this Parliament.
It is important for us to remember that, as a housing association with properties to rent, we should also be part of the solution, enabling people to purchase homes, if that is what they want to do.
At Wrekin, we provide over 12,500 homes for social and affordable rent and we’re keen to do more of this so I welcome the commitment to supporting the continued supply of social housing. We welcome the renewal of the Affordable Homes Programme, this gives us the confidence to continue investing in building new properties and our existing properties. We will build 500 new properties each year up to 2025, growing our overall housing stock to 16,000.
We also welcome the announcement of a new £10 billion Single Housing Infrastructure Fund that will provide funding for roads, schools and doctors surgeries to support the expansion of communities.
The government has also signalled its intent to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. We pride ourselves on engaging those at risk of homelessness and those who are already homeless through local charities. We work with them to find the most appropriate accommodation for the individual.
In the social housing sector, we have been waiting for the publication of a new white paper for social housing for almost 12 months so we welcome the Government’s commitment to bringing this forward. We expect it to focus on the supply of housing and on tenant empowerment.
At Wrekin we have signed up to the National Housing Federation’s Together with Tenants initiative putting us at the forefront of working with customers to involve them in how we are run. We are very proud that our involved tenants and group board work together directly to shape the services that we provide to make a difference to people’s lives.
A key commitment around tenant empowerment and building safety is the full implementation of recommendations from the Hackitt Review and the first phase of the Grenfell Inquiry. The government will introduce specific legislation around fire safety and building safety. It’s something we will be watching closely to ensure we are, as a minimum, in line with the new legislation.
Group Chief Executive
The Wrekin Housing Group
2nd January 2020