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SUPER QUANGO PLAN SPARKS UNCERTAINTY

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Housing and regeneration to merge...
Housing and regeneration to merge

By Mark Smulian

News the government is to create a super quango to handle regeneration and affordable housing has created uncertainty in local government.

Communities and local government minister David Miliband has announced a rapid review of housing and regeneration with a 19 May deadline for submissions, and decisions due in the summer.

The minister stopped short of announcing a merger of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships, the main quangos for housing and regeneration.

But these were the only organisations he mentioned, and an explanatory note made repeated references to 'any new agency', so their merger is expected.

However, the move has raised concerns as to what new relationships councils will have to forge, and what uncertainty they and partners may face during the upheaval.

A key issue for the review is how to attract more private finance into affordable housing and regeneration ahead of a tightening of government purse strings in next year's comprehensive spending review.

Mr Miliband said the review would examine 'the best way to maximise the use of private investment, public subsidy and land holdings' to support housebuilding, refurbishment and sustainable communities.

Mr Miliband said other unspecified Office of the Deputy Prime Minister functions might move to the new body. One possibility raised by commentators is that it could subsume the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit.

Southwark LBC strategic director of regeneration Paul Evans predicted the new agency would focus on southern growth areas. 'If you take the market in the north, will it get attention from a body that is driven by a growth-led agenda?' he asked.

Analysis - will review dilute bodies?

Affordable housing and regeneration appear to fit naturally, and so the government's intention to merge the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships - despite its curious reluctance to say that clearly - seems a sensible move to create a more powerful body.

But the two are not the same, and combining these quangos could lose the specialist focus of both.

The problem is that some of the loudest demands for affordable homes come from areas with no need of regeneration, where a booming local economy has pushed house prices way beyond most residents' means.

Many areas in need of regeneration have swathes of social housing to spare. The new agency would have to ensure that neither priority is neglected. Housing, regeneration and private development can conflict, and if the new agency tries to drive through controversial projects it will be councils that have to sort out any resulting mess.

The corporation invited private builders last year to bid against associations for development grants, and although it failed to award all the money, this sort of blurring of boundaries is certain to continue.

Its regulatory role appears up for grabs. But councils might wish to think twice. Most of the worst horror stories about impropriety in associations have occurred in relatively small ones.

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