Sunday, 31 January 2016

Homes for the North group shows why we need a North East Mayor

Interesting debate Thursday in the House of Commons when a large group of northern housing associations came together to make the case for devolution and the consequential policy and overall solutions that would result in more and better homes. I attended the debate, spoke v briefly - and afterwards chatted to two of major  housing providers that live and work in the north east and particularly Northumberland: Mark Henderson of Home Group and Keith Lorraine of Isos (see picture below) have many thousands of properties under management. The debate focused on many issues, but I found very interesting the much expressed complaint that in the north east we have multiple different local authorities, differing local housing plans, differing agendas to green belt, urban renewal and definitely different planning teams at the local authorities. The consequence is obvious - less building, fewer homes, greater costs to both local authorities / taxpayer and the developers, and an overall lack of any coordinated regional plan.
I am of the view that one of the benefits of a North East Mayor would be that regional overview.
Similarly, the impression of the housing needs not featuring in infrastructure renewal and expansion also featured. The flip side to that argument is how often does the housing developer reach out to the highways team, the combined local authority, and more particularly the LEP?
That development of an integrated approach and proper focused liaison rather than a wish list to the LEP will be one thing I hope Homes for the North take forward.
Finally, I challenged my two largest housing providers to look at the NCC estate - which is in excess of 100 properties - following the amalgamations of the district councils, and the movement of many things to Morpeth and beyond, and address their suitability for conversion into housing accommodation property. I remember in 2008 touring the two large former hospital sites at Stannington and Prudhoe - both had lain idle for many years at great cost to the taxpayer = well over £1 million dating back over 15 years in Stannington case. They were public land formerly used as public buildings and costing us a lot in security, whilst declining all the time.
I was determined that both would developed and one of my proudest achievements is the backing of both developments thereby releasing an unused state asset, providing much needed new housing and other benefits, without impacting on traditional unused virgin green belt.
I want a similar approach to the former Tynedale and castle Morpeth sites in my constituency, subject to the usual rules on consultation, planning and local views. Everyone in the Hexham constituency knows several buildings that have lain unused for years, quietly deteriorating at significant expense and nothing is done about them. The ball is in my local housing associations court.

In 2017 three things will happen:
- mayoral elections for the north east, with the significant changes this entails.
- a local authority that may failed to do a local plan will have its functions taken over by central government in order for such a plan to be produced under the housing act. Will Northumberland be finished by then?
- and local elections and I hope a fresh start as to the way in which Northumberland is run.
If you are interested in more detail their website is here:
http://www.homesforthenorth.co.uk

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