Fixing the broken housing market: what are the asks and offers in the Government’s plans?

This week, Counter Context attended Housing North West, an event hosted by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Housing is a hot topic and we were keen to hear the perspectives of both the public and private sectors to find out what specific challenges are being faced in the North West, and how they are working to ‘fix’ the housing market. Account Manager Lucy Brown shares her thoughts from the day.

It is well known and understood that the housing market in the UK is, to use Theresa May’s description, ‘broken’. The Housing White Paper, released earlier this year, outlines the Government’s plans to fix it. Priorities include the right type of homes being built, that homes are built faster, that the market becomes more diversified and people are helped now.

Steve Quartermain, Director and Chief Planner at the Department for Communities and Local Government, suggested it is not just about the numbers but also about the affordability. He stressed the importance of the public and private sector working together to achieve both of these. Within the White Paper, which is currently in its consultation period, there are offers for local authorities, for the industry and for local people but it also includes asks to improve the numbers as well as the affordability.

Specifically, for the industry, The White Paper proposes offers including:

  • A better-resourced system
  • Further process improvements (e.g. conditions)
  • Partnering with small/medium firms and promote modern methods of construction

Some of its asks include:

  • Building more homes, quickly
  • Investment in research and skills
  • Delivery of the infrastructure needed

Another of its asks is for developers to engage with communities. We know first-hand the importance of working with communities to glean their views on the look and location of a development.

The White Paper emphasises that local communities should influence the look and location of homes built near to them and ensure that local needs are met.

Counter Context is well positioned to work with both communities and developers to bring forward development. To find out more about our experience in this area, read about our work or get in touch.

Leigh Bramall to join Counter Context

Leigh Bramall, former deputy leader of Sheffield City Council is joining Counter Context’s growing team of communications and public affairs professionals.

Leigh, who has a background in public relations, decided to step down from his role in politics to pursue a career in communications. His love of Sheffield and his ambition to promote growth and investment in the city means that Counter Context is a natural fit, being a Sheffield born and bred company. Our appointment of Leigh as a Director is another step in the company’s strategic business plan designed to grow the company and create more jobs in the city.

During his six years in Cabinet including two years as deputy leader, Leigh led the Business and Economy portfolio working to bring jobs and investment to the city. He has led a number of key achievements working with Councillor Julie Dore, the Leader of the Council, including securing the largest Chinese investment deal of any city outside London, the development of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District and leading the campaign to establish Sheffield as the UK’s Outdoor City.

Counter Context’s Managing Director, Alexis Krachai, said:

“We have known Leigh for a number of years and have seen from the great work he has done that he is as passionate about the city as we are.

“We are looking forward to welcoming Leigh to Counter Context where I am confident he will make a real contribution to the growth of our company. And, whilst he is stepping down from politics this does not mean he can no longer contribute to the success of our city and the wider region.

“Leigh has extensive experience in communications and public relations. This, combined with his knowledge and commitment to Sheffield, means he will continue to have a positive impact on the city region as part of the Counter Context team.”

Leigh resigned from his position as deputy leader of Sheffield City Council on 21 March 2017, he also stepped down as ward councillor for the Southey area of Sheffield. He will begin his new role as a Director at Counter Context in April. On beginning his new job, Leigh commented:

“I am moving to a fantastic Sheffield company and feel this is a great opportunity for me to start a new chapter in my professional career which also allows me to stay in Sheffield, the city that I love.”

In defence of Council leaders in Cannes

Last week 25,000 investors and property developers travelled to Cannes in France. They were there to discuss where to invest money to generate jobs and economic growth. They listened to cities and regions who need to attract their investment.

From Bangalore to Budapest, from Copenhagen to Cape Town. Every major city and region on earth was there promoting what they have to offer to investors. Seminars, workshops and, yes, champagne receptions defined five days of discussion and networking.

In recent years Council leaders and business leaders from our region have travelled to be part of this debate. This year Counter Context assembled the largest ever delegation of businesses who were sponsoring our delegation. We promoted over £1bn of investment opportunities. Unfortunately, our political leaders were thin on the ground.

Why were they not there? They have busy schedules, they have responsibilities back home. These are all reasonable explanations. There is also the suspicion they fear being photographed sipping champagne at drinks receptions. This is not an unreasonable anxiety. Voters back home are angry. Many will see a trip to Cannes as a gross waste of public money.

Going to Cannes is anything but a waste of money. Being part of this global network matters. Attracting investment is like finding a job. You cannot sit at home hoping the phone will ring, you need to get out there. You need to have those conversations that turn into big deals. Deals like the multimillion pound investments recently announced by McLaren and Boeing. Our politicians play an incredibly important role in these conversations. They give confidence to investors.

By 2020 our town halls will receive no central grant from Whitehall to fund Council services. This means huge changes to how we fund the services we all rely on. The gap needs to be filled by Business Rates – the tax paid by businesses and investors. Our politicians need to be meeting, talking to and sipping champagne with these investors to show them what we have to offer and to attract them to our region.

There will be many more events that afford valuable opportunities for Sheffield. We need to support our politicians and allow them to do their jobs without the fear of public backlash.

It may not make for a great photograph now but it will fund essential services in the future.

Council budget cuts mean we need to be ambitious.

After councils throughout the country announced an increase in council tax, Alexis Krachai argues that ambition, jobs and investment are the answer.

Not long ago everyone was talking about austerity. Not anymore. The focus is on Brexit, Trump and fake news. Make no mistake though, budgets are still being cut; left, right and centre.

It is rare that town hall bosses are applauded but they have had to handle massive budget cuts over the last seven years. In each year, they have managed to balance what they get and what they spend. That is not an easy task when there is increasing pressure on Council coffers.

The pressure is only increasing. Next year the Council is going to have to find an extra £40million to balance the books. We need to reverse this trend. How can Council budgets can grow? What do we need to do to spend more money on essential services that benefit everyone in the city?

The answer is simple. We need to create new jobs and help businesses to invest. The more jobs created, the more companies that grow, the more money the Council receives. By 2020 all of the money received from businesses will be spent by our Council rather than by officials in Whitehall. That’s good news for our economy and good news for the city. Being in control of what we spend will help Sheffield to become more successful.

What does this mean in reality? We need to attract businesses to invest in Sheffield. The news that the supercar company McLaren is coming to town is terrific. We need to be equally welcoming to companies who want to bring their money and jobs to any part of Sheffield. Nowadays companies can invest anywhere they want to; Sheffield needs to be open for business.

That does not mean every business should be allowed to do what they want and build where they want. The Council has a planning department that is well known for making developers work hard to meet the standards the city expects. These standards will not slip but it is inevitable that Council bosses will need to think about how new developments can help fund essential services.

We live in challenging times. We need more and more money to fund services that benefit a population that is growing older. The government is placing more pressure on Councils to do more with less. There is only one solution – jobs, jobs, jobs.