Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by English Partnerships (AFH 61)

INTRODUCTION

  1.   English Partnerships welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Sub-Committee's inquiry into affordable housing. English Partnerships is the national catalyst for property-led regeneration and development. We are a key agency for delivering the urban renaissance and helping the government meet its targets for accommodating household growth on brownfield land. Several of our programmes feature in the Urban White Paper, including Millennium Communities, Sustainable Urban Extensions and Urban Regeneration Companies. With other initiatives such as the £385 million National Coalfields Programme and a land portfolio of strategic sites, one of our main roles is to help deliver regeneration and development projects and programmes across the English regions.

  2.  We are currently undergoing a review by our sponsoring Department, DTLR. The first stage findings, announced by the Minister in March 2002, clearly give English Partnerships a long term, strategic role in the regeneration of brownfield land; the remit to deliver special programmes such as Urban Regeneration Companies, Millennium Communities and the English Cities Fund; the task to commission and disseminate research, evaluation and best practice in regeneration and development; and the responsibility to deliver socially and economically sustainable development through a programme of strategic projects. The second and final stage of the review is expected to conclude this summer. Further information on our activities can be found at www.englishpartnerships.co.uk.

ENGLISH PARTNERSHIPS' ROLE IN FACILITATING AFFORDABLE HOUSING PROVISION

  3.  English Partnerships has a strong track record in the provision of mixed development which includes a substantial proportion of what are termed "affordable homes". English Partnerships' housing role in the former new towns and inner-city urban areas has focused on facilitating the provision of both private sector and affordable housing on land either in our ownership or that of our partners. Such development integrates social, environmental and economic goals. We have also promoted sustainable mixed use development through our Millennium Communities programme and our work with the Prince's Foundation on the concept of sustainable urban extensions. Last year we approved developments which would provide over 3,600 new homes, including affordable homes in areas of high housing pressure. We also facilitated the development of at least 1,200 new homes in Milton Keynes, for example, over 350 of which will be affordable. This year we aim to commit about 450 affordable homes in Milton Keynes across a range of tenures, from housing association rent through to low cost sale.

THE IMPORTANCE OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING TO SUSTAINING COMMUNITIES

  4.  English Partnerships bases our developments on a masterplan approach which will deliver communities where people want to live with the widest possible range of house types, costs and tenures supported by appropriate facilities and services. This approach facilitates places where parents can retire, children can live nearby and newcomers can make a fresh start within a recognisable neighbourhood. Affordable housing of all prices and tenures is the basis on which such lively places are based. Thriving communities demonstrate commitment to the physical, economic and social variety they embody. The masterplan approach delivers a long-term vision of just such places.

  5.  Success is built upon variety and choice. Enabling tenants to have a real stake in their homes has changed large areas of single-tenure housing into mixed tenure neighbourhoods. Residential development in the former new towns demonstrated the benefits of mixed tenure and shared ownership as an affordable bridge between leasehold and freehold, for example, was pioneered in the new towns. Today, English Partnerships is exploring with the Housing Corporation and others how more tenure choice can be brought to the housing market in support of affordability. (See Annex).

SECURING ENOUGH HOMES FOR EVERYONE WHO NEEDS ONE

  6.  The principal public sector bodies responsible for housing strategy are local authorities, the Housing Corporation, regional assemblies (through regional planning guidance) and Government Offices in the Regions. All these regionally based organisations perform largely strategic functions and the local authorities' principal tool in managing the local housing market is the planning system which provides the power to stop, rather than promote, development. If the challenges of housing pressure and abandonment are to be overcome, it is important that English Partnerships, the RDAs and local authorities adopt a proactive approach to complement the strategic and planning roles.

  7.  This will entail increasing the supply by site assembly, reclamation and the provision of infrastructure to bring forward brownfield land for development or, where this is not available, promoting the sustainable expansion of existing communities, in areas of high housing pressure. Intervention to tackle the problems of decline in areas of housing market failure requires the effective promotion of new economic activity, site assembly, selective demolition, the introduction of new forms of tenure, environmental improvements, transport enhancements and community development.

  8.  English Partnerships works closely with our partners to undertake housing need surveys and urban capacity studies. We also facilitate new and renewed housing through a programme of site briefing and disposal which delivers a regular stream of completions. We therefore have the potential to make an important contribution to delivering the required proactive approach. We have practical experience of promoting the growth of sustainable mixed use, mixed tenure communities, which are the principal drivers for both accommodating growth in a politically acceptable manner and promoting growth in areas of housing market failure; and we have good market intelligence through the National Land Use Database and our links with the major volume house builders. Finally, we are in a position to attract substantial private sector investment to support this proactive role.

THE BROWNFIELD/GREENFIELD QUESTION

  9.  The demand for accommodation is recognised as a crucial limiting factor on the economic success of several English regions. In the south east, for example, the number of new homes actually delivered has slumped to the lowest levels for decades despite rising demand, shown by escalating prices. Significant numbers of new homes are therefore badly needed.

  10.  To assist our understanding of the areas of England which are under the greatest housing pressure, English Partnerships has developed a computer model, based on our National Land Use Database (NLUD). This identifies those local authorities with the greatest requirement to increase their output of residential accommodation. Our research indicates "corridors of pressure" which radiate from London to Kings Lynn, the West Midlands, South West and Kent.

  11.  The model can also rank local authorities by house price increases, average price level, planned volume of housing and volume of brownfield land available. It is interesting to note that only around 18 per cent of the brownfield sites registered on NLUD are in the local authorities subject to the greatest housing pressure. English Partnerships believes therefore that government policy also needs to focus on sustainable "internal" growth—ie, urban extensions—rather than solely on brownfield development if the need for affordable homes is to be met. Even where 60 per cent of residential development can be met on previously used land, the remaining 40 per cent will be required from the integrated use of greenfield sites.

  12.  English Partnerships is currently bringing forward development in the south west district of Northampton based upon a greenfield site in our ownership coupled with the adjacent redundant hospital sites (brownfield land). This project will deliver, over the next few years, a sustainable living and working environment complete with schools, health and community facilities, job opportunities, shops and a country park. Our scheme has been developed with the help of local stakeholders, including local residents, and we will begin implementing the scheme by the autumn of this year. Northampton will demonstrate that sustainable extensions to existing towns, on greenfield land, can meet local and sub-regional need for affordable housing within the community, not as a distant attachment.

ENGLISH PARTNERSHIP'S APPROACH

  13.  As mentioned above, English Partnerships supports housing need surveys which will tell us what is required and urban capacity studies to indicate where it should be located. Our development expertise enables us to bring forward integrated mixed use schemes which can be delivered by the development industry. A handful of rental dwellings marooned on the fringe of the urban area with poor or little access to facilities and services is not an approach we would endorse.

  14.  English Partnerships wants to apply our resource to those areas where property-based activity can make a contribution, where the need for growth and renewal or the pressure of housing demand are greatest. The provision of affordable housing is an important element of the sustainable mixed use development that we are promoting to either stimulate the growth of disadvantaged communities or accommodate growth sustainably in areas of high housing pressure. The high vacancy rates in many northern local authorities demonstrate that tenants are no longer prepared to occupy property on large mono-culture estates with poor access to jobs and community facilities. Investment in affordable housing, therefore, needs to be complemented by investment to produce a genuinely mixed-use, mixed-tenure, attractive community.

  15.  As we share the same sponsoring Department and have complementary roles, our natural partner in contributing to the delivery of the Government's affordable housing priorities is the Housing Corporation. We have therefore established a good relationship with the Housing Corporation based upon a practical work programme. This has resulted in the agreement in principal of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which aims to provide a basis for closer working in the future. Accompanying the MoU is an action plan of priority project on which we will work together. It is intended that we will review our progress annually and roll forward new and more challenging projects as our success and experience grow.

CONCLUSION

  16.  English Partnerships very much looks forward to taking up the new brief set out for us by the Minister; in developing the national brownfield strategy we will of necessity be considering the need for affordable housing as our first priority. Developing a programme of strategic projects and demonstration projects which can prove how the right type of housing can be provided in the right place is a challenge we are keen to pursue.


 
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