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A symbiotic approach

Source: PSE April/May 2018

Brian Reynolds, One Public Estate (OPE) programme director at the LGA, outlines the successes of the scheme so far and argues that even more could be achieved if greater flexibility, skills and regulatory powers were baked into the system.

OPE is a national programme jointly delivered by the Cabinet Office Government Property Unit (GPU) and the LGA. It covers over 90% of English local authorities across 75 partnerships of councils, and has distributed around £40m funding to support cross-public sector working to deliver ambitious, property-led projects aimed at creating local economic growth (particularly new homes and jobs), integrating public services and driving efficiencies. 

We are already seeing the benefits of the hard work by partnerships. To date, early OPE projects have raised £70m in capital receipts, cut running costs by £20m, created 5,700 new jobs and released land for over 1,300 new homes.

Increasing the supply of land for new homes is central to the government’s vision of a country that works for everyone. At Budget 2016 the chancellor announced a local government ambition to release surplus land with the capacity for at least 160,000 homes on council-owned land. This local authority land ambition, for which the LGA has pledged its support, sits alongside central government’s own target to dispose of land for 160,000 homes.

In response to this ambition, OPE recently announced a new partnership with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s new £45m Land Release Fund (LRF), announced in the recent Housing White Paper. As part of government’s drive to get Britain building homes again, a total of 79 projects from Newcastle to Plymouth will receive LRF to support building up to 7,280 homes on council-owned land.

The OPE and LRF partnership offers local areas practical and technical support to provide access to government decision-makers, and plays a brokering role between partners where needed to unlock barriers to delivery. OPE and LRF have regional teams who provide direct support to OPE and LRF activity up and down the country. As part of their remit, our regional teams have established peer networks of councils and public sector landowners who work together to break down barriers to common issues they encounter delivering OPE projects. Housing delivery is a common topic.

Barriers to housing delivery

Accelerating housing delivery is a hot topic in the north west and West Midlands region, and OPE has led several networking events to explore this issue. The first event was opened by Eamonn Boylan, chief executive of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – which has targets to deliver 10,700 homes per annum to 2035 – who identified OPE as a key tool to identify developable public land to help meet this target.

When asked about the most significant factors slowing down housing delivery in their areas, local authorities cited a number of issues. These included market failure, viability due to high remediation and other abnormal costs, limited house values meaning developments can’t be brought forward without public subsidy, and skills both within councils and the housebuilding industry. Utilities is also seen as a major blockage, particularly when the infrastructure provider and the supplier are separate companies.

On skills, attendees suggested pooling resources across local authorities to share expertise and build knowledge amongst development professionals as a way of easing capacity and skills issues. A fast-track system on compulsory purchase orders could assist in land assembly and speed up development delivery.

Flexibility in the system

Many local authorities already have development agreements and strategic partnerships in place with housebuilders, locking them into a legal framework requiring they deliver a minimum number of homes. Some areas have gone further by establishing housing delivery companies, giving local authorities an active role to play in providing competition in a private sector-led housing industry. 

Government programmes such as LRF and the Housing Infrastructure Fund were seen as a positive move, enabling local authorities to bring forward previously stalled sites. However, partnerships felt funded programmes should be designed to ‘flex’ to address bespoke blockages in specific areas rather than ‘one-size-fits-all’ nationally. Combined authorities in the region are already trying to address this through their devolution deals.

KQ Liverpool

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Areas are increasingly linking OPE with their housing growth agenda, and many are using asset review work and estate consolidation as a catalyst to free up sites for new homes.  One example of this is the OPE-funded Knowledge Quarter (KQ) Liverpool (pictured). It is a collaboration between Liverpool City Council, leading universities, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust with the aim to establish one of the world’s leading innovation districts.

KQ Liverpool is envisaged as a place of innovation and discovery in science, technology, education, medicine and culture. But this OPE-funded project delivers much more: it triggers the release of land for the development of a new ‘urban village’ generating nearly 800 new homes. The development will create a varied housing offer with a distinctive sense of place both during and outside of the working day. State-of-the-art buildings and facilities are key to the success of KQ Liverpool as an innovation district; there also needs to be somewhere for the doctors, scientists, students and entrepreneurs to live nearby or within a short commute.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the success of the KQ innovation district, the urban village and its housing, which will result in the successful regeneration of the area and act as a catalyst for the economic success of the city as a whole. This project is just one example of successful OPE projects discussed at during the north west and West Midlands peer network sessions. The sessions have proved that local authorities are ramping up their ambition as they seize every opportunity to maximise the potential held in public land through their OPE work to create better services, new jobs and more homes.

OPE is offering local authorities and public bodies creative and innovative solutions to deliver the homes our country needs. With further regulatory powers, investment to bridge the skills gap and some ‘flex’ in government-funded programmes, much more could be achieved.




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