Capturing Quality in Our Time - Chapter 2

2.0 The Positive Approach

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Houses The National Perspective
Trevor Beattie,Corporate Director,
Strategy, Policy, Performance and Research,
Homes and Communities Agency
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2.1 The vision of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) is to create the opportunity:
  1. for people to live in homes they can afford in places where they want to live; and
  2. for local authorities and communities to deliver the ambition they have for their own areas.
2.2 The HCA is a national agency for England that works locally and has four statutory objectives to:
  1. Improve the supply and quality of housing;
  2. secure the regeneration or development of land or infrastructure;
  3. support in other ways the creation, regeneration or development of communities or their continued well–being; and
  4. contribute to the achievement of sustainable development and good design.
2.3 To achieve these objectives the Agency has a budget of £17.3 billion over the period 2008–11, Table 2.1. Although much of the funding is committed, there is still the potential to put the programmes together in different ways. The HCA's interim corporate plan was published for consultation in December 2008.
Table 2.1
Programme Area £ billion
National affordable housing 8.4
Decent homes 2.6
PFI (credits) 1.9
Property and regeneration 1.7
Growth funding 1.1
HMR funding 1.0
Thames Gateway 0.4
Gypsies and travellers 0.1
Hostels 0.1
Total 17.3
2.4 The HCA, like everyone else, is having to respond to the recession and market downturn, however, as Robert Napier, Chairman of English Partnerships said in July 2008, “In an uncertain market it is more important than ever that we maintain our focus on the creation of quality places to live and work.” Recent1 initiatives from the HCA to respond to the downturn include:
  1. £1.2 billion brought forward to invest in housing and regeneration;
  2. flexible grant rates;
  3. tailored package for individual housing associations;
  4. Clearing House;
  5. Homebuy Direct;
  6. mortgage rescue; and
  7. harnessing HCA land to facilitate affordable housing.
1 As at 30 April 2009

2.5 Emerging ideas include:
  1. the potential for local authorities to come forward with their own development packages;
  2. the failings of S106 funding are now manifest and consideration must be given to paying for infrastructure and upfront costs in exchange for an equity share;
  3. changing the tenure mix, including more for rent;
  4. considering the case for public sector land purchase; and
  5. the potential to access new sources of finance, such as institutional investment.
2.6 The HCA has also worked closely with Communities and Local Government and the Treasury to build on the opportunities offered by the Budget Statement of April 2009, which includes: stimulating housing demand; objectives to unblock stalled private sector housing; support for the Government's ambition on carbon reduction; and a £600m package of new money for HCA delivery. Another £100m will be available from the Communities and Local Government Early Years Funding for mortgage rescue and local authority repossession prevention. The Budget was silent on the needs of regeneration, private sector housing for rent and the release of public sector land, which accounts for a third of the housing land available. The new funding is part of wider Housing and Green Stimulus Packages and the Government will want to see effective housing delivery. However, the HCA believes that it is vital to deliver places not just the numbers – the public demands a proper infrastructure of roads, schools and other services.
2.7 The additional HCA money will be focused on three programme areas.
  1. Kickstart Housing (£400m, 9,000 homes; 80% in 2009–10 and 20% in 2010–11
    1. Development finance for housing schemes with planning consent where high debt or cash flow difficulties are preventing completion
    2. Extending Homebuy Direct to 2010–11
    3. Additional social housing.
  2. Challenge Fund (£100m, 900 homes; £50m grant, £50m borrowing; 30% 2009 – 10, 70% 2010 – 11)
    1. For local authorities who wish to develop new properties.
  3. Green Stimulus (£106m)
    1. Additional Decent Homes Housing for cavity wall insulation (£85m, 130,000 homes; 65% 2009–10, 35% 2010–11)
    2. Funding for low carbon community heating schemes (£21m).
2.8 In addition to the impact on mainstream new house building, the market downturn has had a significant impact on regeneration, including:
  1. significant up–front costs;
  2. challenging conditions for delivery;
  3. stalled projects;
  4. impact on town and city centres;
  5. impact on communities; and
  6. falling demand across the housing, retail and office markets.
All of which pose the question, does the old model for regeneration still work?
2.9 A critical aspect of the HCA response to these challenges are the steps towards embedding a place based model of working. This includes:
  1. implementing the 'Single Conversation' (point of contact) – half the areas in each region covered and at least two Local Investment Agreements in each region by March 2010;
  2. regional business planning, including identification of place based investment priorities;
  3. engagement with regional Minister and Government Offices; and
  4. close working with RDA, local authorities and other partners.
2.10 All this does not take place in isolation and needs to build on our strong inheritance of creativity, sound planning, good design, local distinctiveness and sensitive reuse of the historic environment, exemplified by our historic towns. There are lessons to be learned about:
  1. flexible design, e.g. Edinburgh New Town;
  2. strong village typology of consistent scale and mixed use, e.g. Tarporley, Cheshire, which is authentic, growing, lively and provides local facilities and a successful retail centre;
  3. reuse of key buildings, e.g. Tate Modern, created at a cost of £12.6 million with English Partnerships playing a key role in taking the upfront risk;
  4. sustainable suburbia, e.g. Upton, Northampton;
  5. innovative new buildings, e.g. Oxley Park, Milton Keynes;
  6. great public spaces, e.g. the Peace Gardens, Sheffield;
  7. regeneration schemes, e.g. Gloucester Docks; and
  8. iconic structures that foster civic pride, e.g.  McDowell + Benedetti's Castleford Bridge, part of Kevin McCloud's Big Town Plan.
2.11 The HCA supports the CABE Building for Life criteria and is keen to see the development into a major national set of standards. It will consult on these over the summer and hopes that they will be phased in from 1 April 2010. An advisory board has been appointed and they will be shared with partners.
2.12 Shaping the future of housing needs to embrace all this, putting historic towns at the heart of the ongoing debate, and look towards:
  1. more choice of tenure;
  2. greener homes;
  3. new methods of construction;
  4. consistent quality standards on energy and efficiency;
  5. a greater emphasis on the existing stock; and
  6. an increased role for the public sector.
Hanham Hall, Bristol, may provide an exemplar of how this new vision can be realised.
2.13 In conclusion, to achieve the new vision we will need:
  1. flexible funding;
  2. an increasingly sophisticated approach;
  3. innovation and cooperation with new and existing partners;
  4. commitment to deliver on inherently difficult schemes; and
  5. determination to build on the legacy of our historic assets to deliver high quality sustainable places focused on the local community.
Accordia, Cambridge New Models and Learning from Europe
Nicholas Falk, Founder Director of URBED
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2.14 The need for smarter growth arises from:
  1. population pressures;
  2. the loss of local distinctiveness and the growth of 'clone town centres';
  3. the erosion of suburban quality through the redevelopment of houses and the loss of gardens;
  4. squeezing out the young;
  5. climate change and the need for green recovery; and
  6. increasing congestion and stress.
2.15 Smarter growth needs to be more intelligent in its approach and the resulting development needs to look more attractive (people currently prefer to buy old houses rather than new ones). Positive planning brings great benefits in tackling this challenge and examples of this are The Cambridgeshire Quality Charter for Growth, The City of Ely Master Plan – which includes the message that growth can be good for you when it brings jobs and services – and the regeneration of the New England Quarter in Brighton.
2.16 In the UK we tend to build new housing both badly and slowly. Other countries in northern Europe manage to do things better and we can learn from them. An approach adopted in creating the Cambridgeshire Quality Charter is one of looking and learning, seeing and believing. We can learn lessons from the European experience in four broad areas.
  1. Fairer and more successful societies
    1. Research published in The Spirit Level (Wilkinson and Pickett, Penguin, 2009) show that the UK's high level of income inequality is correlated with high levels of health and social problems and low levels of child wellbeing.
  2. Careful, step by step renewal and 'critical reconstruction'
    1. e.g. Berlin, Germany, the replacement of bad buildings;
    2. e.g. Kassel, Germany, mix of uses and tenures specified in master plans.
  3. Intensification around transport nodes and corridors
    1. e.g. Amersfoort, Netherlands and Montpellier, France.
  4. Reconciliation of old and new
    1. e.g. Freiburg in Germany, development of derelict sites.
2.17 Learned from Europe, there are five principles for smarter growth.
  1. Connectivity: integrated transport, plus easier walking and cycling, including:
    1. Extensive provision for cyclists, e.g. Ecolonia, Houten, Kattenbroek and Vathorst in the Netherlands;
    2. Primacy for pedestrians and shared surfaces, e.g. Ecolonia;
    3. Close–knit, walkable neighbourhoods, e.g. Vathorst;
    4. A good range of facilities within the development, e.g. Vathorst;
    5. Infrastructure and local shops and services provided from the start, possibly in temporary buildings, e.g. Kattenbroek, Vathorst.
  2. Community:
    1. Schools as hubs and communal open space, e.g. Rieselfeld;
    2. Lots of small play areas, e.g. Houten, Kattenbroek and Vathorst.
  3. Character:
    1. Distinctive neighbourhoods within a master plan, e.g. Amersfoort, Rieselfeld, Vathorst;
    2. Branding of neighbourhoods – names, colour and so on – to appeal to different tastes, e.g. Almere, Netherlands, and Vathorst;
    3. Use of models to show what places will look like (the general public has difficulty understanding plans), e.g. Vathorst.
  4. Climate proofing:
    1. Energy –
      1. Combined heat and power, e.g. Vauban;
      2. Use of renewable sources such as solar panels and ground source heat pumps, e.g. Vathorst (use of a joint venture company), Nieuwland.
    2. Water –
      1. 'Make water your friend not your enemy', e.g. Borneo Island, Amsterdam, Ecolonia, Vathorst;
      2. Bring the country into town, e.g. Vathorst;
      3. Sustainable urban drainage, e.g. Vathorst;
      4. Water retention on site and new canals, e.g. Nieuwland, Netherlands.
  5. Collaboration:
    1. Public leadership and local teams, e.g. Freiburg;
    2. Continuity essential.
2.18 Using this learning and experience to move forward will mean doing things differently, including:
  1. new planning processes, e.g. charters and concordats, Newcastle/Gateshead arrangements;
  2. new forms of organisation, including bodies that work for the good of the community/development over the long term, e.g. joint venture companies and land trusts; and
  3. new financial mechanisms, e.g. land pooling (Vathorst) and bonds.
It is vital that these new ways of working unlock ways of delivering infrastructure upfront. For all its serious downsides, the current hiatus in development must provide an opportunity to ensure that we do things differently.