Memorandum by Manchester City Council
Manchester City Council has enjoyed very constructive
working relationships with the Housing Corporation in the North
West and, latterly, through its northern division.
The City Council has a strong history of partnership
working with the Corporation including the development of the
comprehensive regeneration strategy for Hulme and the implementation
of new and innovative means of delivery of investment in housing
such as the Manchester Regeneration Partnership which has played
an important role in bringing the private sector in to properties
back in to productive use.
The Corporation in the North West has played
a very active role in supporting the development of the Manchester
and Salford Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder and are represented
at Pathfinder Board level in overseeing the delivery of this very
important regeneration programme. We welcome the opportunity to
submit evidence to this Committee. It is very timely to review
the role and effectiveness of a range of organisations, including
the Housing Corporation as we move forward and try and mobilise
action in respect of the Communities Plan. The emergence of the
Communities Plan and, latterly, of the concept of the Northern
Growth Corridors places into stark focus the need for a fundamental
review of strategic priorities for public agencies such as the
Housing Corporation in order to enable them to respond effectively
and directly to the need for greater spatial awareness in the
way in which they plan and deliver investment.
The Housing Corporation clearly has the aim
of being a strategic investment partner and a key enabler of the
delivery of regeneration and new housing provision.
It is seeking to influence and direct new regionally
focused strategies through regional housing boards and is well
placed to contribute significantly to these processes.
However there are a number of obstacles that
stand in the way of the Housing Corporation achieving some of
these strategic aims. These include:
The continued inflexibility of funding regimes applied
by the Housing Corporation in respect of individual tenures, costs
and funding yard sticks and the treatment of Approved Development
Programme resources in the context of significant market driven
interventions such as CPO in housing market pathfinders areas.
The subsequent difficulty that this creates for the
Corporation to respond to a view of housing which is market driven.
The existing funding framework for the Housing Corporation is
still very much focused around an analysis based on housing need
and investment interventions measured by unit cost. This prohibits
an effective overview of strategic options and does not adequately
reflect the changing nature of housing markets across the UK as
The pace of response, arising from the above, is
too slow and the ability of the Corporation to develop new strategic
interventions to meet the circumstances arising in various regions
At present processes of innovation are hampered by
the fact that there is inadequate connection between the strategies
being promoted by Regional Housing Boards and effective sub-regional
arrangements for the delivery of economic and physical investment.
There are a number of key challenges which must
be addressed if the Corporation is to continue to develop its
role and make the contribution that it is capable of to the wider
strategic agenda. These include:
The adoption of a market driven approach to housing
provision particularly in areas where pathfinder or similar activity
is being undertaken. Areas need to find more sophisticated ways
of prioritising investment than crude measurements of housing
need which are reflective of a view of the marketplace that is
now out moded.
There is a real challenge around quality and cost.
The Housing Corporation has not, partly as a result of the rigidity
of its cost yard sticks and development guidance, promoted excellence
in design and this is a critical weakness. The design failure
is not merely one of aesthetics. There are still serious examples
of development funded by the Housing Corporation not achieving
effective urban integration, security by design or optimum accessibility
for people with disability. These are serious weaknesses and must
be addressed. It is essential that the Housing Corporation adopt
a more pro-active and assertive stance in respect of design.
There is a need for the Housing Corporation to adopt
more flexible procurement mechanisms that can be more effectively
integrated into spatially defined regeneration programmes. The
need for greater imagination in the way in which RSLs are allowed
to procure products, particularly as part of public private partnerships,
needs to be explored.
Perhaps the most fundamental issue relates to the
social housing "tag". The Housing Corporation, as a
distinct social housing entity, suffers from the disadvantage
that the social housing label brings. The key issue, as we move
forward, is about the provision of accessible and affordable homes
not, necessarily, about the perpetration of distinct tenures that
carry stigma and which, by their very nature and separation, may
limit mobility and flexibility for people, particularly those
on lower incomes.
This is not an argument against social
investment in housing. Far from it. However our focus ought to
be on how we can use public resources in a flexible way to procure
projects that are appropriate to the needs and aspirations of
people in particular market places. An example of this would be
the use of Housing Corporation funds to invest in the creation
of social equity through equity stakeholdings in new development
rather than the procurement of social housing units. Such an approach
would sit well with aspirations that are frequently expressed
for the achievement of fully integrated communities where the
differentiation between tenure is obscured. It is difficult for
the Corporation, within its current funding strictures, to respond
effectively to challenges such as this. It is our view that, without
this flexibility to afford such engagement, we will continue to
place communities at a disadvantage and fail to achieve that maximum
level of integration that we might aspire to.
Looking to the future it is also essential that the
Housing Corporation invest in its strategic capacity. While the
move toward strategic engagement at a regional level is very welcome
there is also a need for the Corporation to develop the capacity
to enable it to engage more effectively at a sub-regional level.
The development of strategic frameworks for sub-regions, based
on a clear analysis of market supply and demand within those areas,
is a pre-requisite for the delivery of the sustainable communities
plan and the Corporation must ensure that it has the capacity
to enable it to contribute fully to these debates.
The final point relates to regulation. Clearly this
is a changing environment with the increase in the role of the
Audit Commission in respect of performance being very significant.
Feedback from local RSL partners is that the
Corporation are getting their regulatory role, insofar as Housing
Association business management is concerned, roughly right. Local
colleagues are of the view that the regulatory activities are
appropriate and proportional to the level of business and risk.
Notwithstanding this I think there is a broader
question which we need to consider in terms of the regulatory
framework which the Housing Corporation and its partners can and
The emphasis at present is very much on the
regulation of business risk and routine process management within
RSLs. This is critical and should not be devalued. However there
is a need for regulation to focus much more on the spatial and
local performance of RSLs in respect of the contribution which
they are making towards the delivery of local strategic objectives
in the provision of quality neighbourhoods. There are examples,
in Manchester, where RSLs business management practices have led
to adverse impact not only on their own stock but on the broader
housing markets within which their stock has been located. They
has contributed, in some areas, to the acceleration of market
failures and to the need for costly further publicly funded interventions.