It’s one year on from the acquisition of pod LLP development consultancy by Aquila Services Group PLC (expanding the Altair development advice and support offer), and the team has been busier than ever. We’ve extended our geographical reach nationally and added to, and consolidated, our areas of expertise. Whilst the new Altair Property Team have been enhancing and refining our service offer to clients, it has also been a transformative year for the sector.
The challenges haven’t diminished. The housing supply crisis persists, with a tangible increase in homelessness that needs urgent attention from all involved in the provision of housing. Various Government reports, such as the Letwin Review into housing build out rates, promise increased pressure but also increased support for housing associations and local authorities to bridge the gap between current supply and the targeted 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s. There is now recognition of the problem at the highest level, with the government increasingly looking to local authorities to become an important part of the supply solution. The recent announcement of the removal of the HRA borrowing cap: one of the biggest blockages to new council housing, as well as the allocation of £1bn of housing grant to 26 London boroughs to deliver over 11,000 new council homes, demonstrates the support Theresa May spoke of in her address at the National Housing Federation Annual Conference.
Housing associations have been welcomed back into the fold after the “cold war” of the Cameron / Osborne years with new strategic partnerships to try to unlock more affordable housing. Real affordable housing is back on the agenda with more realistic grant support and significant funding promises, as some of the government’s more head-scratching initiatives (Starter Homes, for example) have quietly slipped off the radar. We have worked with housing providers large and small, supporting them to rise to the supply challenge, and have seen a real energy and excitement for new projects and initiatives. For example, in Thurrock we are currently helping the Council, an RP and developer, work with the community to model an innovative new Joint Venture partnership delivering 3,000 new homes, along with significant infrastructure, shops, and even a film studio. It’s projects like this that will make a real difference to people’s lives.
In London, small housing associations, such as BME London group of 14 small housing associations are being encouraged to develop partnerships with larger housing providers, like L&Q, to deliver homes on smaller sites.
Innovative and off-site construction techniques have finally crossed a threshold into mainstream thinking, with modular-style construction offering impressive benefits in terms of quality, timescale, and now even cost. We’re currently working with a partnership of Welsh housing associations to help them harness the potential of off-site manufacture to improve delivery capacity and increase affordable supply. It’s in places like Swan’s new modular factory that we can really see how the future of new delivery might look.
But it’s not just about new homes. The Altair Property Team was formed shortly after the Grenfell Tower tragedy and as a sector, we are conscious that the Hackitt review and its aftermath will transform how we oversee design, development and refurbishment of buildings in the future, as well as how we record information and maintain our buildings from day to day. This terrible event must have a profound and permanent impact, so that we can truly say never again. Our technical team are currently helping a number of clients begin to action some of the recommendations such as the introduction of digital records for all stock.
It’s been quite a year, and as the pressure moves on to housing providers to deliver with the Government’s extra financial support, the next one promises to be interesting. There is market uncertainty fuelled by Brexit, but opportunities to innovate and transform development increase, and there will be new challenges to overcome.
Our task will continue to help development teams deliver, manage risk and appraise development schemes, whether you are small, large, traditional, local authority or a new entrant. In all parts of the UK, our 15 strong property team, supported by the wider Altair infrastructure, is set to help support your development ambitions.