Sector responds to Queen’s Speech

Sector responds to Queen’s Speech

Key features of the Queen’s Speech included a Levelling up and Regeneration Bill intended to support local growth to empower local leaders to regenerate areas, an Energy Security Bill to support the transition to cleaner, more affordable and more secure energy and build on the aims of the COP 26 summit and a commitment to simplifying and reforming public sector procurement. Here, we garner opinion from across the sector:

Give councils the powers to address regional inequality
Responding to the Queen’s Speech, Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Over the last decade, England has taken steps towards greater devolution, but areas outside our city regions have remained stuck in the ‘devolution slow lane’ and the UK remains one of the most centralised countries in the democratic world. There is an urgent need to turbo charge the speed at which we are devolving powers to local areas so we are pleased that the Government has used the Queen’s Speech to make good on its commitment to offer all of England the opportunity to benefit from a devolution deal by 2030.

“Turning levelling up from a political slogan to a reality will only be achieved if councils have the powers and funding they need to address regional inequality, tackle concentrations of deprivation and make towns and communities across England attractive places to live, work and visit.

“To deliver on levelling up ambitions and ensure councils can deliver the right types of homes in the right places with appropriate infrastructure, a local, plan-led system is integral. It is good to see that any new Infrastructure Levy will be set at a local level, and we want to work with government to ensure that it is a success and can deliver more affordable housing and infrastructure contributions at a local authority level than the existing systems for developer contributions.

“Empowering councils to bring vacant properties back into use is also an encouraging step. National permitted development rights, allowing conversion of offices, shops and restaurants into houses without the need to provide any affordable homes or infrastructure funding, also need to be removed so councils can ensure the right homes are built in the right places, and deliver on local ambitions to revive and reimagine our high streets and town centres.

“As well as ensuring that existing homes are high quality, energy-efficient and safe, building new, high-quality council homes has to be a national priority. This needs to include urgent reform of the Right to Buy scheme to allow councils to be able to keep 100% of receipts from sales of homes and the ability to set discounts locally.

“Councils and the LGA look forward to working with parliamentarians to shape the proposed legislation as this Bill is brought forward.”

Incremental rather than transformative or systemic change
Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive, LGIU commented: “Many across local government will be left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by the measures announced in the Queen’s speech.

“Enhanced powers to regenerate high streets through compulsory purchase and a new infrastructure levy will be welcome. Giving local communities more say over development is right, in principle. However, we will need to be clear that this represents a net democratic gain compared to current practice and does not empower some parts of the community at the expense of others.

“Overall this feels like incremental rather than transformative or systemic change.”

NHF fully supports strengthening tenants’ rights
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Every person in this country deserves to live in a safe, secure, good quality and affordable home; and to have a voice and clear route to redress if their home isn’t up to standard. We fully support the Government’s aim to strengthen tenants’ rights through the Social Housing Regulation Bill and housing associations stand ready to work with their residents and the Government to ensure every home delivers on the high standards they expect.

“We agree with the Government’s strategy to address the huge disparities in the economies of towns and cities across the country through levelling up, and we welcome the decision to give local communities, who know their area best, more powers over regeneration. Housing associations also share the Government’s net zero ambition and will do everything in their power to support the transition to cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy.

“We face a grave affordable housing crisis which continues to worsen, with 4.2 million people currently in need of social housing in England. We look forward to working with the Government to ensure any changes to the planning system deliver the number and types of affordable home the country desperately needs.”

The framework the Social Housing Regulation Bill sets out will be an essential benchmark
Bjorn Howard, Group Chief Executive Officer of housing association Aster Group, commented: “The social housing sector has been eagerly anticipating the Government setting out how it will reform the planning system and, crucially, how the Levelling Up Bill will ensure the continued delivery of affordable homes. This Queen’s Speech marks a welcome and much-needed sign of progress on these vital issues.

“Clear direction from Westminster is crucial at this time. The cost-of-living crisis and record-high house prices have produced an even more challenging environment for those on lower incomes, making access to affordable housing more important than ever. As a housing association we are ready to work with the Government to help channel the levelling up agenda so the right mix of housing is delivered.

“Housing needs at a local level are incredibly specific and varied so we must match this by being more dynamic and diverse in the methods we use to deliver new homes. For example, many towns and villages would benefit from Community Land Trusts — a currently underused method of housing delivery where developments are led by the local community and people who will live there.

“We also welcome the Government’s intention to bring forward new social housing legislation. We put our customers’ voice at the heart of every strategic decision we make and we’re constantly looking for ways to improve and enhance the services we offer to them. The framework that this Bill sets out will be an essential benchmark that helps us to continuously evolve our offering to the people living in our homes.”

Abri welcomes Bills introduced in the Queen’s Speech that can help provide people with the support that’s needed at this challenging time
Gavin Jefferies, Director of Communications and Strategy at Abri, said: “We were pleased to see that the ongoing cost of living and energy crisis was a big focus of the Queen’s Speech. It’s a really challenging time for lots of people, including our customers, and we welcome anything that helps provide the support that’s needed at this time. We look forward to seeing how the government’s energy strategy and its move to greater energy efficiency and independence can have a positive impact on people’s energy bills.

“The introduction of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which promises to provide local leaders with the powers they need to revitalise communities, is another welcome priority. Housing providers will play a crucial part in the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, creating communities where people want to live. ­­We believe that through strong local partnerships and a focus on delivering empowerment activities, we can build thriving and sustainable communities with more opportunity for all.

“Closely linked to this is the bill addressing social housing reform, which will help social housing tenants hold landlords to account. This will have a positive impact on the quality of social housing and we welcome greater scrutiny of the service our sector provides its customers. Our new housing services strategy, Customers First, reflects this and re-establishes a powerful sense of local ownership and accountability for improving services to customers, homes and neighbourhoods.

Finally, we’ll closely monitor plans to replace section 106 regulations with a build levy for local authorities. Our hope is that this money is used to build more social housing. If true reform of the planning system is achieved and social housebuilding is incentivised then we think this proposal could be a really positive change for our sector.”

Give urgent consideration to a nationwide domestic energy efficiency programme
Stephen Beechey, Group Public Sector Director at Wates Group, commented: “We welcome the Queen’s Speech including the announcement of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which will give local leaders the power to breathe new life into high streets. As a national business working on projects for both the public and private sector, we have extensive experience in delivering regeneration projects, from building net zero schools to developing energy efficient, affordable homes. We welcome this Bill as it will enhance our ability to deliver Levelling Up across the UK and regenerate communities.

“We are also pleased to the see the Government is continuing to push forward with the Procurement Bill. As a lead contributor to the Construction Playbook, this is a positive step ensuring procurement across the public sector is aligned to the highest standards.

“While we support much of this legislative programme, we would like the Government to go further and give urgent consideration to a nationwide domestic energy efficiency programme — something that would play a significant role in addressing current concerns around energy security, energy bills and the climate crisis.”

Public sector transformation potential
Mark Robinson, Group Chief executive at SCAPE, one of the UK’s leading public sector procurement authorities, said: “The changes being proposed in this parliament have the potential to be transformational for public sector construction. In particular, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill should ensure the Government keeps regional investment at the top of its agenda, while the Procurement Bill will drive up standards of delivery at a time when inflation threatens to undermine the creation of social value through sustainable, community-focused projects.

“Both bills have long been needed. However, the Procurement Bill in particular cannot be delayed any further than it has been if we are to raise overall standards and ensure public bodies are able to procure projects with confidence, regardless of who they partner with.”

Transport-focused regeneration can help to deliver new homes
Peter Hawthorne, CEO at LCR, the Government’s regeneration and placemaking expert commented: “The Government’s move to accelerate regeneration will be key to supporting the levelling up agenda. But as well as revitalising our high streets, local authorities should look to transport-linked land as another opportunity to drive development.

“Executed well, transport-focused regeneration can help to deliver new homes and create jobs for a local area. We have seen this through landmark examples such as the regeneration of King’s Cross and St Pancras, which is now held up as the archetype for regeneration.

“But these benefits can be achieved on any scale. Transport-linked sites bring with them the connectivity to help make any new development a success, and can act as a catalyst for wider investment in regional regeneration – a critical factor at a time when the delivery of new homes is so important.

“The next stage must be a move to champion collaboration by all stakeholders required to make regeneration a success — devolved authorities, councils, transport executives, government agencies, developers and landowners.  The development of Mayfield, in Manchester, is a prime example of how organisations from across different sectors have come together to transform a previously dilapidated site into a new community in the city.”

Timetable for reform of consumer regulation one step closer
Peter Cudlip, Mazars‘ Head of Public and Social Sector, said: “Increasing the powers of the Regulatory of Social Housing (RSH) in England were clearly set out in the Government’s White paper on Social Housing, (the charter for Social housing Residents) back in November 2020, so seeing this bill in the Queen’s speech is welcome progress, though for some this is considerably overdue, considering the Grenfell fire was now nearly five years ago.

“The RSH has been telling the sector for a while to be ready for the changes which will be introduced by acting now, engaging with the consultations they are running and challenging themselves to find and address problem areas, ahead of proactive consumer regulation being introduced.

“For housing associations in England, this now means the timetable for reform of consumer regulation, and greater scrutiny over how they meet the Consumer Standards is one step closer, bringing with it a greater need for housing association Boards and their management teams to have assurance over key risk areas of tenant safety, management of customer complaints and the quality of their data underpinning these areas. This brings further challenges for RPs to manage in addition to the challenges they are already facing around rent affordability, the challenge of net zero and supporting customers as the cost of living crisis impacts their residents.”

Planning reform is long overdue to deliver development aligned to climate commitments
UKGBC’s Chief Executive Officer, Julie Hirigoyen, commented: “The Queen’s Speech acknowledged the need for cleaner, more secure and affordable energy. The Government should use its Energy Security Bill to throw a lifeline to millions of renters and homeowners by introducing a package of measures on minimum energy efficiency standards. Without Government action to insulate homes, there is no end in sight to the energy bill crisis, and no prospect of meeting the UK’s climate commitments.

“Planning reform is long overdue to deliver development that is aligned with our climate commitments and homes that are protected against increasing energy costs. If the Government is to achieve its ambition to transform the UK by spreading opportunity and prosperity, then the upcoming Bill must ensure that the English planning system is in line with the Climate Change Act and puts us on the pathway to net zero. This will help deliver sustainable development that improves the quality of life for all communities across the UK.”

RICS pleased Levelling Up Bill will be led by community driven planning
Jonathan Hale, Head of Government Affairs at RICS, said: “RICS and its professionals, are supportive of the levelling up of UK regions, and are working hard to unlock jobs and opportunities by supporting our high streets and communities.

“We understand the wish to bring empty property back to life, but those opening for business on high streets will need to meet the needs of the wider community. Government highlighted community led levelling up and planning in the speech, but forcing landlords in such a blunt way, may not fit with this vision. Landlords do not want empty properties, but fit outs, planning permission, and insurance need to be considered as high streets necessarily evolve.

“We are pleased, that the Levelling Up Bill will be led by community driven planning, something we recently called for in relation to CRE*, and housing, and the bill must be used to drive ambitious changes. However, we are disappointed that planning has been side lined — we have supported root and branch planning reforms and now look forward to seeing where government’s level of ambition for a reformed planning system is.

“We also call on government to include financial incentives and government policies that support the renovation and upgrading of commercial assets within the levelling up actions, importantly including to hit net zero ambitions. Well-managed commercial real estate boosts less developed areas, and promotes economic growth and social value*. Building communities, backed up by locally led commercial real estate is central to achieving levelling up.”

* RICS commercial real estate impact report

Header image ©Alex/AdobeStock

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