Recently in Homes and Communities Agency Category
And we are only just beginning to catch up with a few things snuck out on press releases by CLG just before Christmas. Honestly, anyone would think that the department was trying to bury bad news. And actually, most of it seems like pretty good news.
One of the releases (put out on 21 December) is that a Peter Schofield has been appointed to be CLG director-general for neighbourhoods. A quick straw poll around the regeneration lags quickly confirmed that none of us know him. And, sure enough, he joins CLG from HM Treasury, where he was director of the enterprise and growth unit.
Courtesy of Harvey Ingram and Savills, the UKR model had another outing and I was delighted to be speaking alongside Anne Marie Simpson of the HCA who delivered a message of real encouragement to the market-facing peeps in the audience. Her overarching theme of unlocking regeneration and her call to action, saying that the HCA is actively seeking to work with the private sector to locate and develop sites, and her willingness to look at risk sharing, commercializing, long-game returns and robust up-front planning, must have poured balm on troubled souls.
And you get a real sense that there's a "grown up conversation" to be had there. The audience liked the UKR concept too and I was offered a number of follow-up meetings (and I will get around to all of you guys, I promise, but I'm a bit in short of supply right now and it may be in the new year, bear with me).
What is going to happen to the housing industry?
The eking out of supply gives me cause for concern. So you bid at auction for the piece of Georgian silver, because it's pretty and has historical associations.
But really it is an investment and the value is about scarcity. You would be rather miffed if you find another one in the auction the next day. And every day for the next year.
You might wonder whether "Trotters Fine Art" is the fine upstanding company it claims to be or whether a man in the back room is knocking these supposedly scarce objects out.
Of course it is land that is really scarce, not houses, but are we peddling something of the same dodgy story?
We all have a gap between rhetoric and reality. Take the impact of the Olympics. Of course it will make East London a more attractive proposition but it is a 30-year transformation not a four-year job.
South Kilburn really does seem to be on a bit of a roll now (although there was still the ritual kerfuffle this Saturday morning when one of our officers had to come over to my place to get me to sign emergency papers before I flew out to MIPIM; same thing happened last year! Ah, the course of urban regeneration never did run smooth).
I am really thrilled to report that the Homes and Communities Agency have come through with a very innovative and creative deal, awarding Brent council funding for the building of 500 new homes in place of crumbling 18-storey tower blocks on the South Kilburn Estate.
London and Quadrant (L&Q) are our chosen partner, the two sites (Albert Road and Carlton Vale) are being sold to them with - and this is the crucial part of the deal - the proceeds then being reinvested into the regeneration of the South Kilburn Estate.
All parties, from HCA throughout, are investing for the long term here. It's a serious group effort.
Two-hundred and eighty-six new homes will be delivered now and the next phase of regeneration can begin. What a huge relief.
Here you see a lovely photograph of the leader of Brent, cllr Paul Lorber (Liberal Democrat) on the right side of the picture and the lead member for regeneration cllr John Detre (Conservative) on the left, pretending that it is they themselves who will be demolishing the reviled bison blocks.
It is very difficult to believe that the HCA Single Conversation is over a year old now! Doesn't time fly when you're having fun, huh!
And the verdict is truly a mixed one.
On the one hand, it has been an excellent process for those local authorities that have passed through it. It has encouraged them to think creatively and strategically about housing supply both within their boundaries and - crucially - also in neighbouring districts.
As for the HCA, it has allowed them to better forecast their expenditure, which is clearly no bad thing at all.
The concern among local authorities that I speak to is this: can the HCA meet the expectations that they have inevitably raised among housing officers and members? .
Was rather diverted by a feature in the Sunday Times at the weekend about "infill" houses. Well! This is a most welcome arrival in the Sunday supplement mainstream. Some rather uplifting images were shown and, better still, comes the news that Boris has a gleam in his eye to build 30,000 new homes in the capital on GLA land (go, Boris!) while the HCA are looking at a scheme to deliver a (more modest) 1,250 homes across the UK.
The RIBA, joining in, have launched a competition to unearth places as hitherto not worthy of development, working on the principle that it is those who live and work locally who are best placed to know. How wonderful! And there are websites that inform more: urbfill.com or the RIBA site at architecture.com.
This reminds me that for some time I have been meaning to blog about the Steel House in Hart Street, Edinburgh, which I saw for the first time last autumn (when out for a stroll with the lovely June Barnes) and which is clearly very famous in architectural circles having won several awards.
Levered into a sort of "in-between space" (where there was a garage or a shed at the end of the back garden of a Georgian House) I was captivated by it architecturally but - more to the point - was far more arrested by the sheer resourcefulness of the thing.
Edinburgh's New Town is an uplifting place and is built to generous scale and nobody in their right mind would suggest that this generosity should be compromised, so the Steel House shows the way: if it can be managed in Edinburgh then don't tell me that many (most) of our town centres could sustain (absorb) extra units of housing, if sensitively and appropriately handled.
The inevitable cuts we are going to experience in public services will invoke the usual schizophrenic response in the private sector.
Any move to slim down the HCA after the general election will be warmly welcomed, of course, as the private sector harbours a huge amount of inchoate suspicion in respect of waste in the public sector and mutters darkly about "jobsworths" and red tape.
However, housebuilders and all their multifarious friends and relations (aka consultants) will be the first to cry "foul" if their schemes are not processed quite as quickly as they would like. Simply slashing the resource and carrying on with the same old systems will not do the necessary; the trick in more-for-less Britain will be how to reform an existing (and still very unsettled) housing agency into a stable, streamlined and efficient service (and that's before we begin to tackle the planning system!).
Easier said than done, of course. And all of this to be considered against a backdrop of the mixed fortunes of the HCA\TSA apparatus, still in its infancy after all. Just where do you establish your baseline (if we aren't to rely on anecdote or prejudice)?
I don't normally read the housing trade press, finding it generally a bit pointy-headed and technical (and, after all, there is a serious limit on how much you can read) but an article in one of last month's housing magazines was edifying.
Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps (pictured) is on record as saying: "I really don't think we're going to need two agencies." Meaning (I think) that we won't need both the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) and the Tenants Services Authority (TSA) under a future Conservative government.
It would seem the writing is well and truly on the wall for the TSA and its lovely chairman Anthony Mayer (btw does anyone know why the late great John Sienkiewicz used to call Anthony "Sid"? Something to do with them being undergraduates together and ...er.. a shared girlfriend?), since Mr Shapps describes progress under that authority as "incredibly slow".
It's all a bit harsh: the TSA have really run an exemplary textbook consultation exercise - as instructed by ministers and civil servants and now they're being kicked for it - after all, it is hardly their fault is everything went up the shoot!
My lovely mate John Holmes, chief executive of Hull Forward, writes to tell me of his gig on the panel at the Northern Regeneration and Renewal SummitConference talking about the HCA Single Conversation. What a toadie! Honestly, the things he'll do to curry favour!
He reports that Hull is on track to have the first HCA Local Investment Plan in place in the HCA Yorks and Humber region. He stops short of adding "so ya sucks Leeds City Region", but I know well that the competition up there is pretty fierce, and I bet his staff are thinking it at least.
Well good on him. John sends me regular snippets about Hull on the basis that he knows I was at university there and I have a Soft Spot. Ever since the promotion of Hull City Football club to the FA Premier League, he always insists on referring to it as "Yorkshire's Premiership City" and you do have to smile.
It is a genuine and perpetual sadness to me that I don't really "get" football. Football is currency and there are few opportunities that I would normally pass up to make a connection with folk. But I just can't do it.