Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by English Partnerships (EP) (AH 101)


  1.  English Partnerships (EP) welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to the Select Committee's inquiry. This memorandum focuses on EP's role and remit in bringing forward public sector land and brownfield land to increase the supply of housing and our role in influencing housing quality and speed of delivery.

  2.  English Partnerships is the national regeneration agency, helping Government support high quality sustainable growth across England. English Partnerships is committed to five core business areas through which we deliver our objectives:

    —  Developing our own portfolio of strategic sites.

    —  Acting as the Government's specialist advisor on brownfield land.

    —  Making sure that Surplus Government land is used to support wider Government objectives especially the implementation of the Sustainable Communities Plan.

    —  Helping to create communities where people can afford to live and where people want to live.

    —  Supporting the urban renaissance by improving the quality of our towns and cities.

  3.  English Partnerships recognises that sustainable communities are not simply about the delivery of housing but also the provision of essential physical and social infrastructure.

  4.  In 2004-05 we facilitated 4,439 housing starts on site including 1,875 affordable units and 2,518 housing completions, including 554 affordable units. In our current Corporate Plan period, 2005-06 to 2008-09, we aim to commission over 31,000 housing starts on site and facilitate over 20,000 housing completions.

  5.  The forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) 2007 will have an impact on EP's programme with a consequential effect on outputs targets. These will be fed into the Corporate Planning process. EP will align its programme to take account of the response by Government to Kate Barker's Review of Housing Supply.


  6.  English Partnerships has a key role in bringing forward land for development, particularly in bringing previously developed public sector land back into use. English Partnerships has acquired more than 2,000 hectares of surplus public sector land over the last three years, including 96 former hospital sites. This land is expected to provide more than 20,000 homes phased over 10 years.

  7.  During 2005, EP completed the acquisition from the NHS of a 96-site portfolio of former hospital sites. We anticipate that the sites, with a total area of 1,650 ha, will provide more than 15,000 new homes, at least 5,000 of which will be affordable.

  8.  English Partnerships has acquired the former RAF Staff College site at Bracknell from Defence Estates. Bracknell has been identified as an area with a shortage of affordable homes and EP is working closely with the local authority and the community to create a sustainable development that meets local housing needs and integrates with the proposed town centre regeneration programme.

  9.  In 2004 English Partnerships concluded a Framework Agreement with Defence Estates. This provides a basis for joint working on surplus land between the two organisations and EP is now working with Defence Estates in relation to a number of their surplus sites. Additionally English Partnerships has advised Defence Estates on the structuring of "Project MoDel", a portfolio of surplus sites in and around London.


  10.  At the request of ODPM and HM Treasury, English Partnerships has established and maintains the Register of Surplus Public Sector Land. The Register provides a single reference point for all participating public sector organisations on the available national supply of surplus land and helps to ensure that wider government objectives, including housing needs, are factored into land disposal decisions.

  11.  The database now consists of 741 sites covering over 4,600 hectares of surplus land with 324 of the sites contained in the wider south-east with a total area of over 1,900 hectares. The Registered sites originate from around 40 government departments, sponsored bodies and NHS Trusts. English Partnerships research suggests that 400 sites on the Register of 0.4 hectares and above have an estimated capacity for around 20,000 new homes.

  12.  English Partnerships has begun a pilot study to extend coverage of the Register to local authorities. This will examine practical issues as well as exploring the role local authorities play in the disposal and re-use of surplus public sector land. The role of the Housing Corporation in identifying sites for potential housing association schemes is also being explored.


  13.  English Partnerships is also working closely with ODPM and HM Treasury to identify any barriers that may be challenging the best re-use of surplus public sector land for housing and will make recommendations on how they can be overcome.

  14.  English Partnerships recognises that whilst the direct ownership of land can often be the best way to ensure that its development will support the Sustainable Communities agenda, we are exploring alternative ways to achieve the same outcomes, without the need to incur the additional costs associated with land ownership. Strategic partnering, such as Project MoDEL, is one example whereby we can use our skills and experience to advise and influence landowners on their disposal strategies.


  15.  English Partnerships recognises the critical role brownfield land has in contributing to increasing the supply of housing and delivering the Government's objectives. EP are working alongside ODPM on further improving the National Land Use Database—a key tool in identifying brownfield land—and producing a National Brownfield Strategy in 2006. The Strategy will be based on substantial earlier research published by EP in Towards a National Brownfield Strategy, which is the most comprehensive study ever undertaken to assess the state of England's brownfield land supply, and will be a living document to be kept under regular review.

  16.  A pilot scheme was launched earlier in 2005 aimed at addressing the future use of long-term derelict land in 14 local authority areas, working with a range of agencies and key partners, including local communities. EP will have a key role in delivering the strategy but it will be applicable to a much wider audience, including DEFRA and the Environment Agency, as well as RDAs, Local Authorities and the private sector


  17.  English Partnerships recognises the potential role that modern construction techniques have in delivering well-designed homes, which can be constructed quickly, efficiently and economically, helping to create developments that are successful in the longer term.

  18.  EP encourages the use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) on its developments and has adopted a target of 25% MMC across our programme as a means to achieving a step change in the delivery of housing. We promote methods which improve design efficiency, reduce waste, improve delivery times and create greater opportunities for flexible designs and energy efficient housing types. EP supports the findings of the recent NAO study into MMC published in November 2005, which finds that it should be possible to build four times as many homes using MMC with the same on-site labour.

  19.  EP has also promoted MMC through initiatives such as the Summit House, first exhibited as the centrepiece of the Sustainable Communities Summit in January 2005, which drew attention to the flexibility and quality that can be achieved through off-site fabrication. It is now being incorporated into a permanent development as part of the Allerton Bywater Millennium Community.

  20.  In order to address the disproportionate inflation in construction costs, which rose in 2004 by 14.3% compared with 3.6% for inflation, EP were asked by the ODPM to manage the Design for Manufacture Competition launched in April 2005. This competition challenges the housebuilding industry to build good quality homes more efficiently and cheaply, with a headline construction cost target of £60,000. The preferred developers for the first eight sites—many using off-site fabrication solutions—have now been announced and construction of the first homes will commence in Spring 2006.

  21.  With a major focus now being placed on the provision of housing to address market deficiencies, particularly in the Growth Areas, English Partnerships are keen to help Local Authorities in these areas increase the scale, speed and quality of major housing and regeneration proposals. The Advisory Team for Large Applications (ATLAS) offers advice to Local Planning Authorities dealing with major development proposals in the wider South East of England. ATLAS' objectives lie at the heart of English Partnerships' remit and are core elements of the Skills and Sustainable Communities agendas.

  22.  In Milton Keynes, the Milton Keynes Partnership Committee brings EP, Milton Keynes Council and the Local Strategic Partnership together to provide a single delivery mechanism, which will oversee further growth and development in the city. EP will use its powers under the Planning Act to determine major planning applications in the Urban Development Area around Milton Keynes.

  23.  A Prospectus has been developed to guide development and to cost up the infrastructure needed to support growth in Milton Keynes. The prospectus includes all public-sector partners' immediate commitments and long-term plans for investment and is supported by the private sector through the establishment of an agreed S106 framework payable against each new home. Forward funding for infrastructure will be provided by English Partnerships, although a final decision is awaited from HMT.

  24.  EP will be supporting the construction of a £24.1 million by-pass in West Bedford which will facilitate the development of 2,250 new homes by allowing landowners adjacent to the by-pass to obtain planning consent. Public sector costs will be recovered through S106 agreements which share in the resulting uplift in land values.


  25.  English Partnerships is committed to helping to deliver housing across the range of tenures. The London-Wide Initiative (LWI) utilises redundant buildings and sites to provide discounted for sale affordable housing units across the Capital. LWI is a deferred equity model in which EP retains the unsold equity of the homes. Each site will include a mix of open-market sale as well as low-cost ownership and rental homes with the aim of delivering up to 4,000 homes in total, of which 1,500 homes will be LWI units for key workers and first time buyers.

  26.  English Partnerships is also working with ODPM to deliver the First Time Buyer's Initiative (FTBI), a shared equity product providing first time buyers a "stepping stone" into home ownership. The initiative is part of ODPM's New Build HomeBuy low cost home ownership initiative and is positioned to target key workers and other eligible groups that have sufficient income to sustain homeownership but are currently prevented from entering the housing market by the prevailing supply/demand conditions.

  27.  FTBI is currently planned to deliver in the region of 15,000 housing starts supported by a budget of up to £850 million by 2010, although the actual number of houses will depend on the level of resources available from the CSR.

  28.  FTBI homes will be delivered through portfolio leverage on public sector land in EP ownership; development on other surplus public sector land not in EP ownership in partnership with public agency partners; and re-profiling existing private sector schemes.

  29.  EP works in close collaboration with the Housing Corporation across its programmes and shares expertise in relation to affordable housing initiatives through a joint Low Cost Home Ownership group. We work effectively together on the Regional Housing Boards to ensure that proposed investment and development is in line with regional priorities.


  30.  English Partnerships is also closely involved in addressing the problems being experienced in areas affected by low demand for housing in the Midlands and in the North of England. We will continue to support other areas suffering from low demand for housing, working with Market Renewal Pathfinders in, for example, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent, as well as in other urban areas experiencing similar problems.

  31.  In the East Midlands, the "Meden Valley Making Places" delivery vehicle will continue its work to breathe new life into 11 former mining settlements. The National Coalfields Programme is assisting coalfield communities throughout England to recover from the decline of the coal industry by creating new employment, homes, leisure facilities and open space. We are also supporting several city centre regeneration projects promoted by the Urban Regeneration Companies.


  32.  English Partnerships places great importance on setting high standards of design and practice in order to set benchmarks for the private sector to follow. English Partnerships has made all its development briefs consistent. This will enable partners to know our base requirements and thus speed up the process. The standards are mostly independently validated. Put together, they set a new, higher benchmark for the development of sustainable communities.

  33.  All EP's developments now feature:

    —  Appropriate mix of uses and users.

    —  Good urban design quality.

    —  A variety of housing opportunities.

    —  Suitable densities to sustain local amenities.

    —  Ecohomes "Very Good" as a minimum standard (and the equivalent in the case of non-residential developments).

  34.  EP welcomes the consultation on the Code for Sustainable Buildings and is confident that it will meet the requirements of the Code.

  35.  EP have been pioneering the use of design codes on our sites and are one of the stakeholders (along with CABE) in ODPM's Pilot Design Coding Programme. This programme is looking into design coding to ascertain how design codes can speed up the planning and delivery of development whilst improving the quality of development.

  36.  EP have found that the time invested in developing a sound masterplan and accompanying codes can bring dividends during the planning process. Bringing together the technical stakeholders at key junctures in project development of the codes helps the early resolution of contentious issues. This is supported by ODPM's findings that the application of codes following a collaborative design approach, and with support from key stakeholders, can speed up the delivery process.

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