Range of strengths ensure good performance
30 December 2009
The year ahead promises to see further developments in RENEW North Staffordshire’s plans to transform communities across the area.
Here, Director of RENEW, Hardial Bhogal, takes a look at the organisation’s achievements so far and focal points for the future…
The Government's housing market renewal (HMR) programme has been in place for more than six years. It is focused on tackling the problem of declining demand for housing in parts of the Midlands and North of England. Currently, ten partnerships have formal HMR pathfinder status.
The partnerships are to ensure that all the essential requirements of sustainable communities, especially good quality, customer focused public services and a pride in the community and cohesion within it, are addressed.
The pathfinder areas cut across local authority boundaries with the expectation that partnerships involve all stakeholders in developing strategic plans for whole housing markets. Pathfinders now work closely with a range of public and private sector partners, with the constituent local authorities having a key role in the partnership.
The RENEW North Staffordshire pathfinder focuses mainly on parts of Stoke-on-Trent together with parts of Newcastle-under-Lyme and the Biddulph area of Staffordshire Moorlands. The area contains approximately 67,000 properties and has a population of just over 145,000.
The pathfinder area and wider North Staffordshire sub-region face a number of challenges. As jobs in traditional industries have declined, so has the resident population. The inner core of Stoke-on-Trent lost over half of its residents during the fifty year period to 2001. Whilst the levels of economic activity in the West Midlands fell in 2008/09, the situation in North Staffordshire has been more mixed. Both Newcastle and Staffordshire Moorlands reflected the West Midlands average, but Stoke-on-Trent marginally increased its levels of economic activity.
In the last year, the local housing market has been hit by price falls and a steep reduction in the supply of new units due to the economic downturn. This has had a significant impact on first-time buyers and home-moving activity. Average house prices across North Staffordshire fell by 2.3% in 2008/09, when compared to the regional average fall of 8.3% and national fall of 8.2%. Average prices within the pathfinder area faired better, falling by just 0.8%, albeit from a lower base.
Stoke-on-Trent remains one the most affordable parts of the country with a house price to earnings ratio of 3.7 compared to a national level on 4.0.
Between 2003 and 2008, RENEW has received £97,100,000 of HMR grant from the Government. A further £114,000,000 was awarded in March 2008 for the period 2008 until 2011. In 2008-9, the pathfinder invested £40,000,000 directly and has plans to invest £38,000,000 in 2009-10 and £36,000,000 in 2010-11.
RENEW is now part of the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership (NSRP), an unincorporated body which brings together regeneration functions across North Staffordshire.
The pathfinder has five objectives: to retain and attract population; balance the supply and demand for housing; transform the urban form and local environment; facilitate housing choice, and the provision of a quality housing stock; and promote social cohesion and social mobility, to help achieve sustainable communities. It is increasingly concentrating its resources on the inner urban core of the Stoke conurbation.
Overall, RENEW is assessed as performing well. It continues to promote links between housing and economic development. It has worked effectively with partners to maintain programme momentum. In 2008/09 Renew exceeded output targets and attracted more private sector investment than in the previous year.
RENEW has maintained its performance on the use of housing market intelligence and is performing well. It has an up to date understanding of housing aspirations and the links between housing and the wider economy. Progress has been made on sharing its housing market intelligence and research findings.
RENEW is performing well in its place shaping role. A clear focus has been placed upon making sure that the masterplans are realistic and deliverable and can be embedded in the statutory planning process. Place branding to improve the image of North Staffordshire has been supported by RENEW. Active support is being given to raise the quality of design in the pathfinder area.
The pathfinder is performing well in the development of affordable homes and mixed communities. It is seeking to overcome the financial barriers holding back the housing market. A pragmatic approach has been taken to switch from market to affordable housing to maintain development of new homes
RENEW and its partners perform well in their approach to community cohesion, consultation and support. RENEW is making positive contributions towards reducing social stress in North Staffordshire. Innovative ways have been used in some cases to reach different groups within the community. Work is underway to improve the way it communicates with local people.
On delivery and impact, RENEW is continuing to perform strongly. It has exceeded output targets agreed with the HCA and increased the amount of private sector investment levered in by HMR funds. It has supported continued development of new homes by private developers operating in a challenging housing market, which have also accessed early Kickstart funding for schemes in the pathfinder area. It has refined its approach to risk management and further improved governance and project management arrangements.
RENEW is performing strongly in its work to achieve strategic and operational alignment. It has taken a pragmatic approach to the way it can best use the resources available to it, by focusing its interventions on the urban core of Stoke on Trent. It is recognised as making a positive contribution to the development of regional and sub regional housing and regeneration policy. It has helped improve the way that housing association partners contribute to meeting the needs of the area and works well with partners to develop complementary projects that support wide regeneration objectives, including using its purchasing power to support jobs and training initiatives.
RENEW continues to perform strongly in its approach to efficiency and effectiveness. It has an efficiency plan in place and is making savings in the way it delivers the pathfinder programme. RENEW has increased the impact of its interventions by jointly funding projects that provide health services for local communities.
RENEW is performing well because it has a range of strengths:
- The pathfinder is maintaining an up-to-date knowledge of the local housing market with a comprehensive programme of research to maintain understanding of housing aspirations and the links between housing and the wider economy.
- Masterplanning arrangements are being firmly embedded into local planning policy.
- Active support is being given to raise the quality of design in the pathfinder area.
- RENEW is working with developers to support development in the area during the recession.
- RENEW continues to meet or exceed its agreed performance targets.
- There is a robust approach to controlling the costs of new developments.
- The amount of money levered into the area from other public and private sector investors in support of HMR has increased.
- Progress in supporting employment and training initiatives has continued in spite of the recession.
- The pathfinder is working well to achieve value for money.
KEY ISSUES GOING FORWARD
The recession and the economic downturn and possible reduction in funding are key issues. This means masterplans have to be reviewed accordingly. It also means that public sector housing may have to come before the private sector homes.
RENEW will continue to work hard throughout 2010 for the community of North Staffordshire and continue to work closely with the community to create an area we can all be proud of.