Blog: 20 April 2017How Transferable is Public Sector Housing Success?

For the last four years we have been working with the housing delivery arm of City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) - 21st Century Homes - which was set up to deliver homes for social rent, mid-market rent and low cost ownership across the city, whilst also delivering regeneration and opportunities. At a recent event I attended, the success of this venture for the city was discussed at length and the question was posed, ‘How portable is this model and success?’. What makes a Local Authority successful in delivering housing and what can we learn from Edinburgh’s approach to date?

A Strategic approach - By clearly articulating the ambitions of CEC to deliver over 16,000 new affordable and low cost homes over the next ten years, in their Housing Investment Strategy they have provided the market with confidence and a clear sense of direction. In turn, this ambition has become a clear corporate objective. From the Chief Executive to the Planning Officers (in my experience!) and across all the Authority’s departments, the positivity towards affordable residential development is clear. Officers seem to understand their role and that of the planning system as an enabler to realise this corporate objective – delivering a range of new housing is important! This positive City driven approach to housing is something we've also seen work to massive advantage in Manchester in recent years, as referenced in my colleague Dan Mitchell's blog series.

Cross Party Consensus - Clear cross-party political support for the proposals within CEC have also been secured. This provides all involved with strong certainty around the ambitions and longer time scales. That these will not be disrupted by the usual political cycles we all endure.

Funding - From a funding perspective Edinburgh’s approach has been a highly proactive one, successfully establishing and pitching the 21st Century Homes approach to secure £3.35m in the Scottish Government’s first funding round back in 2009, and subsequently working closely with the Scottish Government and Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) to build homes through the National Housing Trust (NHT) (private housebuilders) and Affordable Housing Supply Programme (RSLs) for rent and sale. This funding support has of course been invaluable in enabling the Local Authority to take on the burden and proactively identify and drive development across the city, which maximises the affordable contribution.

CPO AND Engagement- Coupled with strategic direction, political support and patient capital with Compulsory Purchase Order powers that you are willing to wield and you have a power framework for housing delivery at scale and at reasonable pace. But this is no bulldozer approach. Edinburgh’s willingness to engage the existing communities and develop proposals within considered masterplanning frameworks, has also demonstrated their understanding of how the planning and design process can enable and enhance public acceptance of change.

So is the Edinburgh model transferrable? I reckon so, but Local Authorities need to be aware of all the facets they need to draw together. They also need to understand that this proactivity must become a permanent state. Housing need is dynamic, but it is also about a lot more than simply affordable low cost delivery. Market (i.e. mainstream) housing is just as important a commodity but in some areas, it remains a dirty word, viewed with suspicion and negativity. Commercial housebuilding is an important aspect of solving the housing crisis, and as such we need to see the level of positivity and proactive joint working we are seeing above start to permeate this area of the market. It is an ‘and’ point, not an ‘or’.

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Scotland, Edinburgh, 21st Century Homes, Affordable Housing