Why housing needs to be at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse

Today I attended the Parliamentary Launch of ‘Homes for the North’ (H4N), a collaboration of 20 large housing associations from across the North of England committed to putting housing at the heart of the Northern economy and delivering increased numbers of quality homes across the region, maximising the economic benefits this can bring to people and places. Their aim is to make the Northern Powerhouse a reality by supplying the homes to support and attract a modern, growing workforce and using their collective knowledge to bring more innovative solutions to the table. Collectively, this group of housing associations has built nearly 10,000 homes over the past 3 years and plans to build another 40,000 homes over the next 5 years.

The press has been dominated by headlines centred on the Northern Powerhouse and ground-breaking devolution deals, but how prominent has housing been within these deals? The Greater Manchester devolution deal has seen the city region gain control of a £300m Housing Investment Fund and last week saw the first meeting of the new Land Commission with Greater Manchester committed to building 10,000 homes per year, other regions look on and no doubt are putting together their proposals to access funds for housing investment.

The key H4N message is that Government and Local Authorities need to recognise housing as a “real partner” in devolution so that it is firmly interlinked with transport, health and skills and supports business investment. The Housing Minister’s response was that it is very much ‘up to local areas’ to set their own plans and ‘be in the driving seat.’ This is core to the delivery of the Housing Planning Bill which centres on local plans for local people.

H4N is a response to the genuine opportunity that the Northern Powerhouse brings and the role housing needs to play. H4N is to work with a range of organisations to help raise public awareness of housing policy challenges and solutions and come up with new ideas to increase the supply of good quality homes. Key to this will be innovation, not just in moving away from traditional housing models but in effectively exploiting investment in areas such as infrastructure to the benefit of the housing market. Access to land and finance remains an important challenge, particularly given the need for smaller and medium sized developers to re-enter the market which is key to boosting productivity and skills.

With the critical need to release more public land for house building, local authorities will play a key role in setting local plans (mandated for 2017), but what is really needed is for Local Enterprise Partnerships, local authorities and house-builders to come together to develop a fully integrated plan that can drive economic growth and prevent the silo working and competition that can still occurs between local authority boundaries. H4N is aiming to provide the single voice that supports this development and assist local authorities with understanding what the challenges are, commissioning research, and pooling their expertise to help regional policymakers.

Devolution can be a catalyst for investment and the development of a globally competitive workforce. The North has long had to compete with the lure of the ‘bright lights’ of the city of London to retain the best graduates in the region. Boosting the role of housing in delivering greater prosperity and economic growth can only help with that retention by making home ownership more attractive and affordable and contributing to the demand for ‘higher skills’ where the North lags behind other regions.

On leaving today’s launch event, my view is that H4N promises to be an important and significant development. There are function critical issues with our housing supply that will act as an ever increasing drag on our economic development ambitions if not tackled coherently and in partnership. Putting homes at the heart of the northern economy and local plans, will be a key contributor to economic growth and to making the Northern Powerhouse a reality. Today’s launch was a success, now it’s about delivering real results and solutions.

This article first appeared on PwC North.

Jane Forbes | Government and Public Sector Partner
Email | +44 (0)161 2452053

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