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A changing landscape

Housing faces a rapidly changing policy environment in Wales and England. Judy Wayne blogs on the debate at the recent annual Altair-Devonshires seminar in Cardiff.

The seminar attracted senior executives and non-executives from across Wales. It was a full afternoon of intense listening as the speakers gave their views on challenges for the sector and what can be learned from policy changes in England. Speakers from Devonshires, Altair and Murja were joined by Stuart Ropke, chief executive of CHC, Julian Ashby, chair of the HCA Regulatory Committee and Victor da Cunha, chief executive of the Curo Group.

Some consistent themes emerged: ‘Wales is different’, ‘you can’t avoid what’s coming your way’ and ‘the world has changed’.

Welsh and English differences were highlighted by Stuart Ropke and Judy Wayne. Wales still has social housing and supporting people grants, and there is political support for social housing. This was confirmed in early February by the announcement from Jane Hutt, the Welsh Government’s finance minister, of an extra £20m of SHG to help build another 230 homes.

Welsh social rent policy in 2016/17 will enable housing associations to increase rents by up to CPI + 1.5% plus £2 and, depending on the outcome of the Assembly elections in May, RTB may be abolished. There’s an element of political consensus not seen in England. As Nick Billingham of Devonshires commented, the reality in England is it’s all about home ownership, though government can’t bypass registered providers – they’re too big a player.

Julian Ashby commented it’s been an astonishing six months in England, what with rent reduction policy, welfare reform, the right to buy extension voluntary deal, ONS reclassification and the home ownership focus. Even so, English RPs are managing, finding efficiencies rather than stopping development.

Much of what influences English associations will affect Wales, though Wales has time to prepare and seek its own path. Wales has a breathing space, but there’s much more to come from welfare reform and financial settlements.

All agreed that Wales cannot avoid deregulation. Andrew Cowan of Devonshires looked at governance implications and whether there will be a different style of regulation, more akin to the Charity Commission approach.

Another area where life has got more complicated, changes to funding, was the theme of the by Richard Murphy of Murja and Jim Lashmar of Altair. They cited examples of peer-to-peer lending, different types of bonds and local authority loans to associations as the way forward.

While Curo may be unique in having Georgian properties which can be let to tourists visiting World Heritage Cities, regeneration and masterplanning are areas of expertise for many associations. Victor da Cunha showed how commercialisation can be combined with social purpose.

Judy can be contacted on 029 2037 7268 or 07880 606067 or email judy.wayne@altairltd.co.uk

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