The rise of sub regions and city regions in housing policy making

This is another post based on my studies with CIH and DMU, this assignment focused on how the traditional approaches to housing policy making have been transformed in recent years with the rise of decentralised policy to the sub and city regions, rather than individual local authorities. Additionally, students are always asked to produce an assignment that focuses on how the topic affects a housing organisation of their choice thereby testing our ability to put what we’ve learnt into practice.

As I’ve said before, CIH courses do a great job of getting students to see the bigger picture and thereby help you to become a better housing professional. This assignment was no different, as at the time of completing it the Heseltine Review was imminent and was anticipated to have significant implications for the future of housing policy making and funding.

If you’re not sure what I mean by sub regions and city regions, examples of policy making at these levels include Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), city deals and community budgets.

The assignment looked at each of these examples in turn, considering their remit, strengths and limitations. Also, the current policy making arrangements in the area that my organisation operates were considered. Following this, I posed a number of questions, conclusions and recommendations on the impact of this shift in policy making, which are copied below:

  1. There are differences in the geographical areas covered by SHMAs, LEPs, City Deals and Community Budgets, what is the impact of this for local housing policy making?Currently, regarding local housing policy making, Futures Homescape (FHL) works almost exclusively in partnership with its local authority, Amber Valley Borough Council (AVBC), AVBC takes the lead and FHL influences, supports and delivers the policy. As sub-regions and city regions continue to rise, FHL may have to expand its policy making partnerships to ensure the needs of its communities are included in any sub and city regional policies. This may be challenging as fellow partners may see FHL as a threat or competitor, and developing relationships with new partners may be difficult and time-consuming. This could be resource intensive for FHL and may result in work being duplicated to satisfy the various partnerships. It may also require new skill development amongst FHL team members in areas such as housing policy and strategy development, as historically AVBC have taken the lead in this area.
  2. What is the impact of single public sector funding pots and powers for local housing policy making?It is anticipated that a number of public sector funding pots and powers will be combined and administered by organisations with a sub or city regional remit; the Coalition Government’s spending review in June 2013 will set out details of the Single Local Growth Fund, recommended in the Lord Heseltine Review, which will bring together skills, transport and housing funding and will be awarded to LEPs. Therefore, in order to secure funds, FHL will have to ensure the needs of its communities are understood by D2N2 and reflected in their strategy and action plan. To achieve this, FHL will have to convince D2N2 of the importance and benefits of addressing housing issues in Amber Valley over addressing other issues in other areas. If FHL fails to do this, the result may be that it receives no funding from D2N2 to address issues identified in the local housing strategy.
  3. How to reconcile the current housing policy making process which is at a local level with the move towards policy making on a broader scale?If the Single Local Growth Fund goes ahead, D2N2 will be considering housing issues across 17 local authority areas, alongside economic, skill and transport issues in these areas. There is, therefore, a risk that FHL’s local housing issues will be overshadowed by other issues in other areas.
  4. There may be a temptation for FHL to consider local housing need with D2N2’s priorities and areas of focus in mind.The risk with this approach is only focusing on addressing housing need that will support D2N2’s achievement of its ambition, as a way to secure funds from D2N2, rather than seeking to address the most important local housing issues.

Each of these questions highlights the shift in the policy making framework from local to sub and city regional. There is a risk that those organisations previously responsible for local housing policy making, will develop housing policy with sub and city regional priorities in mind and this therefore begs the question if there is still a role (and should there be) for local housing strategies produced by local authorities and their partners?

Conclusions & Recommendations

The discussions above demonstrate a significant shift in recent years from a local housing policy making framework to a sub and city regional one. The latter can be seen in the rise of LEPs, Community Budgets and City Deals.

Following the Lord Heseltine Review, it is anticipated that this shift will continue, however it is currently unclear which powers and budgets will be combined and how, where and by whom they will be allocated. For example, all funding streams related to economic growth may be combined into a single funding pot and awarded to LEPs, or there may be a handful of funding pots, each awarded to a different organisation, e.g. LEP, City Deal, SHMA. The government’s response to the Lord Heseltine Review suggests that LEPs will have a significant role in securing and allocating growth funding. Further details are anticipated in the spending review on 26th June 2013.

However, no matter what the practical arrangements, it is anticipated that the focus of growth powers and budgets will be on achieving economic growth at a sub-regional level, across several local authority areas, to support national priorities.

Consequently, this raises the question if there is still a role (and should there be) for local housing strategies produced by local authorities and their partners? Given the recommendations of, and Government response to the Heseltine Review, it seems likely that D2N2 will have a key role in strategic policy making regarding economic growth, which will include housing.

However, as previously discussed, D2N2 is one of England’s largest LEPs, covering 17 local authority areas, and whilst it has strategic priorities and areas of focus relating to housing such as infrastructure and construction, these are only 2 of its 9 priorities and focus areas. Furthermore, D2N2s focus on infrastructure and construction is in terms of supporting economic growth, whereas a local housing strategy focuses on ensuring there is sufficient and appropriate accommodation to meet the housing needs of the borough and also that adequate support is available to enable people to live independently.

It is therefore concluded that there remains a very important role for local housing strategies in order to ensure local housing and housing support needs are identified, understood and addressed. However, in order to secure funding to address some of these needs, local authorities and their partners will need to engage with their LEP and other fund holders. This will require local authorities and their partners to champion housing development to their LEP as a primary route to economic growth to ensure local housing issues are not overshadowed by other issues and funding opportunities presented to the LEP.

Therefore, it is recommended that FHL:

  • Continues to work in partnership with AVBC to develop and deliver a local housing strategy
  • Develops policy making partnerships at a sub and city regional level, i.e. D2N2, DEP and SHMA to ensure it is well placed to respond to future funding opportunities and that housing issues local to FHL are represented at the sub and city regional level
  • Champions housing development as a primary route to economic growth
  • Identifies opportunities to address local housing issues that will also support D2N2s priorities in preparation for approaching D2N2 for funding
  • Lays the foundations for a City Deal bid with Derby City that focuses on housing as in the earlier examples, in preparation for a third wave of City Deals funding.

This will ensure that FHL is prepared for this new housing policy making framework and continues to address local housing issues whilst also supporting sub-regional economic growth.

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