There’s an opportunity for the Chancellor’s autumn statement to really make the difference. If the Chancellor can bring forward proposals focused on homes in conjunction with interventions that help stabilise our planning system, he would, in my view, be aiding the country’s social and economic growth over the long term.
Fit for purpose funding
With the cost of capital biting coupled with general inflation, it’s hard for the Government to have missed the sector’s calls for greater financial certainty. Operational pressures could be eased through the confirmation of a suitable long-term rent settlement and a longer-term position would also be beneficial when it comes to Homes England grants given the current challenges linked to land and planning. I suspect I won’t be the only one hoping this autumn statement sees future Homes England programmes moved over longer-term horizons, which would only better support new affordable housing delivery. As for easing the sector’s borrowing challenges, the gift is already in the Government’s hands through the existing public guarantee scheme – reviewing and extending this form of low-interest borrowing past 2024 and into the future would surely be a sensible step.
One of the biggest challenges we’re facing as a sector is making our existing housing stock fit for the future. To help the sector achieve its decarbonisation aims, I’ll be looking for this month’s statement to confirm that the Government is releasing the rest of the £3.8bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, as previously committed to.
The bigger call around decarbonising our existing stock sits, perhaps, not with funding but with the broader policy approach. Until now, retrofitting has sat solely with individual organisations and councils, all of whom are bidding for funding and set against a lack of resource and without suitable supportive national and local planning policies to guide decisions. Building on evidence we’ve submitted to a recent select committee inquiry, we’re calling for the autumn statement to make provision for a national retrofit plan with responsibility for this assigned to a new national retrofit agency. We see the work of this national agency supported by a network of regional delivery units who would co-ordinate and drive activity on the ground, helping accelerate local area energy action plans.
Much has been said around UK planning this year driven, in the main, by the Government’s own proposed reforms. While the changes to local housing targets attracted much attention and debate, what this discussion exposed was the gap between the national and the local levels when it comes to town planning. If we’re going to see the homes this country needs delivered, some form of regional planning is now crucial – from supporting housing targets and work around strategic growth locations through to helping plan for infrastructure.
The future for housing is more than just having the right policies, we also need the right people and challenges around local authority resources have now been widely acknowledged. While the Government’s recent Pathways to Planning Programme is a helpful step in addressing the issue, we’re calling for the initial two years of funding to be extended. If this initiative is to effectively deliver the next generation of planners to support the homes and places the UK needs, it’s vital it becomes a long-term, well supported programme.