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OPINION - HOUSING ANORAKS

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Conference season is here, so I did a there-and-back-in-less-than-24-hours visit to Harrogate to speak at my Alma M...
Conference season is here, so I did a there-and-back-in-less-than-24-hours visit to Harrogate to speak at my Alma Mater - the Housing Conference. I have not been for a few years - some things have changed and some have not.

People still complain that housing is not a high enough political priority and yet the one topic of conversation is stock transfer. And that was literally the only topic of conversation

- some housing colleagues can be anoraks.

It is widely thought that the government is caught between a rock and a hard place. It has committed itself to the decent homes standard, but it is not actually delivering it. The 'no' vote in the Birmingham transfer ballot and the change of control in Sheffield in the May elections mean that the two biggest in England are unlikely to proceed.

The 10-year stock improvement target depends on transfers. Only if 1.5 million council tenants vote to transfer can this target be met. The government's target is to transfer 200,000 homes a year.

It means a much greater public spending commitment to raise standards in the remaining council stock. The government must promote transfer as the attractive option.

Or perhaps we will all follow Derby City Council with an arm's-length company. If it gets a follow-up three star inspection in September it will unlock£81m of government investment.

Meanwhile, Leeds tenants have said 'get lost' to a private finance initiative, and around the country tenants are wondering just how many celebrity fronted roadshows they will have to put up with before someone realises you have to build trust before people will vote for one.

The public sees consultants earning loadsamoney for creating campaigns to get them to say 'yes' to the only choice that is on offer - transfer.

At the conference, many were anxious to promote transfer, but for a home to be a castle it needs more than a new kitchen every 10 years. When I asked how to regenerate without engaging the full range of services, it went quiet.

Quality of life is as much about the state of the street lighting and good schools as what it is like inside your home after you have closed the front door.

Whoever owns the housing, it still takes the active involvement of the local authority to turn a place around. So I started to talk about whether the community mutual model coupled with the Communities First Regeneration Programme in Wales could be the answer. I think I might be becoming an anorak.

Viv Sugar

Chief executive, City & County of Swansea

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