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ARCH meets new Housing Minister 24/11/2016


Cllr Paul Ellis, ARCH Chair and John Bibby, ARCH Chief Executive, together with our colleagues from the National Federation of Housing (NFA), Hugh Broadbent, NFA Chair and Chloe Fletcher, NFA Policy Director, met with Housing Minister Gavin Barwell MP at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on 21 November. 


It was a very positive meeting where we discussed the role of stock retained councils, ALMOs and local housing companions in delivering new build across all tenures, the outstanding issues from the Housing and Planning Act as well as the forthcoming Housing White Paper. 


The Minister advised us that a Written Ministerial Statement in Parliament on pay to stay would be issued later that day and that he thought we would view it as good news. He went on to say that there would be further statements this week following the Autumn Statement and the Housing White Paper would be published before the end of this year. 


He also told us that the government were launching a consultation paper on the way forward for supported housing and he was genuinely interested in all views so that they can design a system for the future which delivers the housing and support people need. This has seen been published - The closing date is 13 February 2017 and we'll be collecting members' views to feed back to the government. 


We were not given any specific detail on the other outstanding issues such as High Value Voids or flexible tenancies. However, the Minister did say we could expect further announcements on these matters after the Autumn Statement. 


He outlined that the Housing White Paper will be focused on increasing supply and will look to make it easier for councils to make local plans, release more land and speed up the planning process as well as encouraging a wider mix of developers and builders into the market. 


A separate Regeneration Strategy is due to come out shortly from Lord Heseltine's Regeneration Team and they're looking separately at homelessness. 


We all had the impression that the Housing Minister is taking the time to listen to colleagues in the local authority sector including the NFA, ARCH and the Local Government Association (LGA) as well as individual councils on all of these issues. He said he plans to get out and about and meet as many councils as possible in the New Year once the White Paper has been published. 


We emphasised that stock retained councils are keen to play their part in supporting the government's ambition to increase housing supply of all tenures. The Minister gave some encouraging messages on the potential role of local authorities as providers and suggested that the forthcoming White Paper will set out the government's plans for increasing housing supply in more detail. However, it was apparent that councils' shouldn't expect universal lifting of debt caps or a return to massive council house building programmes. 


The Minister is clearly still focussed on owner-occupation but seems to recognise the need to increase supply across all tenures and although it seems government will clearly look to the Registered Providers to deliver affordable housing (because of the private finance they can lever in), he does seem to recognise that where appropriate councils may have a role in direct provision alongside their strategic enabling role.


We also raised the possibility of discussions with the Department on individual deals, for councils who want to build, on things like the debt cap and although he has made no promises he has encouraged us to send in some detail about our proposals to his officials which we will be doing in due course. 


Now that we've had a constructive initial discussion, ARCH and the NFA are looking forward to developing a positive relationship over the coming months and will endeavour to keep the lines of communication open between the sector and the Minister in order to help build that relationship and continue to make the case for council housing.

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