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Why we need a new housing regeneration agency


Curo’s Mulberry Park scheme in Bath | Credit: Curo and Andrew Sykes

Victor da Cunha, Chair

A national regeneration agency could breathe new life into some of the UK’s most out-of-date housing, making it fit for the 21st century.

As long-term custodians of affordable housing, Housing Associations have to get the balance right between investment, day-to-day maintenance and housing management.  It’s never been straightforward, especially when homes take about 30 years to recover their build costs. But all of this is set to get much harder in the future as we start to fold in the emerging costs of decarbonising the housing stock, meeting a more demanding decent homes standard and retrofitting additional safety measures in communal areas, none of which were required at the time the homes were built.

This major strategic challenge for the whole sector can be addressed with a new approach to delivering and funding regeneration.

If you add the additional cost burdens to some already under-performing, out-of-date housing which has reached the end of its envisaged life, one must come to the conclusion that some properties would be better off being knocked down and replaced with more fit for purpose modern homes.

The Homes for the South West group, which I chair, is a coalition of 11 housing associations which are collaborating to address the urgent housing shortage in our region.  As a group we understand the difficulties of regeneration well.  For example, at my own organisation Curo, based in Bath, we have one of the most varied and complex housing portfolios in the country from beautiful listed properties built in the 1750’s to less well thought out houses and blocks built quickly after the war and it’s these homes that pose the biggest challenge. We’re demolishing two small blocks already. We’d like to do more, but because of low value locations, the significant costs of demolition, the costs of relocating the tenants and buying out the small number of leaseholders, it’s very challenging – financially it requires far too much subsidy and impacts on our wider asset investment plans.

If that were not enough, regeneration has in recent years been given a bad name by critics who say it’s all about displacing local people, rather than a way of improving their living conditions. This negativity has to change if we’re to respond to the growing housing quality crisis in some of our older, poor-performing housing stock. We should of course acknowledge that housing associations have a key role to play in improving perceptions of regeneration. We must win the argument on each scheme by engaging with each resident to explain how regeneration will benefit them. 

If we want to be able to direct investment into homes and make them fit for the future, it’s essential we find a way of replacing the properties which cannot be sensibly invested in at all or where intervention will only kick the problem down the road for someone else to have to deal with in later years.

It’s time to take this sort of strategic, bold action, creating an accountable body for the regeneration of the homes and neighbourhoods that are in need.

That’s why it’s time to establish a new regeneration agency to help deal with the worst housing in the country.  They should set up clear national consumer standards which must be followed.  With their existence, we should expect universal standards for engagement, homes and placemaking.

It wouldn’t necessarily cost more overall. Government has already announced £11.5b for new affordable housing.  Allowing some of those funds to support the regeneration of estates which cannot be brought up to standard makes perfect sense, especially if it would help reduce the pressure on greenbelt development, always a vexed political issue.

Government could also top-slice some of the money set out in its manifesto to decarbonise social housing and some of the money ring-fenced for fire safety works. Pooling these budgets from differing departments could stretch them and add value if it were added to the affordable housing programme – what a step change that would help create.

My message is simple. It’s time to take this sort of strategic, bold action, creating an accountable body for the regeneration of the homes and neighbourhoods that are in need. In partnership with the residents who live there, the local planning authority and housing associations, a regeneration agency with the ability to use government funding flexibly could be the perfect answer.

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