Government support needed to help deliver homes for Warrington

Warrington Borough Council’s Director of Growth has said that the local authority will need to consider multiple approaches if it is deliver much-needed new housing in its town centre.

Steve Park was speaking at the ‘Urban Living – Unlocking Opportunity’ event on the first day of MIPIM 2019 (Marché International des Professionels d’Immobilier), alongside Danielle Gillespie of Homes England, James Nicholson of Harlex Property and Stephen Gleave of Gleave 23.

He argued that market intervention is needed to deliver affordable homes on brownfield sites for both professionals, young people, key workers and older people in a growing urban environment, but that there were barriers to such development, including market rent/sale values and viability pressures.

He said that a framework of government housing delivery support that can assist local authorities and private sector developers (including housing associations) was immediately required: “There is a real need for us to be able to exploit the brownfield development opportunities in central Warrington to build as many as 9,000 homes over the next 10-15 years. It’s a residential environment that is still maturing and it needs to be viable for private sector investors who are currently finding this challenging in terms returns on investment.

“So we need a range of tools to use to unlock sites that have been dormant for many years. One of those tools might be for the local authority to invest either in a straight forward way through a partnership with a provider or to develop an income model where the local authority doesn’t put any money in but provides its covenant strength at a level where there is value available.

“There is therefore a clear role for central government in the delivery of these homes. They want 200,000 to be built across the UK each year for the next several years but this ambitious target is heavily reliant on strong, long term strategic and sustainable partnerships being established between government, local authorities, registered providers and the private sector.

“We need flexible grant intervention funding partnerships between local authorities and registered providers – housing trusts etc and with the local private sector as well. It’s a pick and mix approach, a suite of options which will deliver the ambition for Warrington to provide the right homes for the right people in the right places.”

Mr Park also gave a summary of the ambition in Warrington in the context of a Local Plan that is due for endorsement by the local authority in March and destined for submission to the Secretary of State in the autumn following a final round of consultation. In particular, the reliance that the Local Plan has on brownfield high-density development.

Danielle Gillespie, General Manager at Homes England said: ““There are towns where the basics economics just don’t stack up and partners aren’t willing to step into that space.

“Some of the tools we currently have in our armoury include the Acceleration Construction Fund where there are sites in public ownership, there is grant gap funding available to help to make those schemes viable. We’re not there to crowd out the space that developers will occupy but where there are spaces where places are stuck, stalled or where infrastructure is prohibited for independent partners, that’s exactly the space that we will step into.”

The panel also discussed the importance of place making, its legacy and giving places a genuine purpose, the role of good design and the need to examine and learn from the elements of successful mixed use schemes.

James Nicholson, Managing Director of Harlex Property, added: “For successful towns, connectivity is key and transport links are very important for towns to prosper. We have to think about what is needed to make our regional towns exceptional, because residential on its own is never enough. It’s about creating a sense of place and for any kind of rapid progress things need to be done differently.”