Yoric Irving-Clarke from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) reflects on the politically-charged discussions at this year’s annual CIH conference.
Another year, another CIH conference!
We’re getting used to holding this event amidst political turmoil – this year we were in the middle of a Conservative leadership competition. Unsurprisingly, that fact informed many of the discussions at the conference.
CIH CEO, Terrie Alafat CBE, opened the conference with a speech focused on the uncertainty the sector faces as a result of the leadership contest and Brexit. Her message was that we (the sector) must remain focused on providing as much genuinely affordable housing as we can and that housing changes lives by providing safety, security and opportunities that can change lives for the better.
Across the three days, the conference heard from no less than four government ministers, Alok Sharma (Employment), Kit Malthouse (Housing & Planning), James Brokenshire (MHCLG) and of course Teresa May, the outgoing Prime Minister. This line up is testament to the work of sector campaigners to put housing further up the political agenda. In a short address, Mr Malthouse focused on the need to increase building numbers but also on the need to ‘build beautiful’ and ensure that the houses we build create welcoming environments. Alok Sharma, in a welcome move, spoke about the need to join up Department for Work and Pensions and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) policies to ensure that people are given the housing and the support that they need.
The Secretary of State at MHCLG, James Brokenshire, opened by thanking CIH for their work on Domestic Abuse via the Make a Stand campaign and for their advice to him personally on wider housing policy. Mr Brokenshire also made several policy announcements including:
- Confirming the abolition of leasehold houses
- Launching the consultation on a new ‘housing ombudsman’
- New funding for ‘Garden Villages’
- A further £2bn for Housing Associations via strategic partnerships
He also commented on the likelihood that there would soon be a new Secretary of State but said that it was likely that the drive to build social housing would continue, come what may. Perhaps unsurprisingly he was reticent to suspend Right to Buy but said that he would look at better ways for councils to use the capital receipts from sales.
In a last-minute addition to the program, the Prime Minister, Teresa May, addressed the conference in a packed main auditorium. She used the address to defend her record on housing saying that her record was one of quiet achievement rather than attention grabbing announcements. Though many probably disagreed, the polite applause as she left the stage suggested a level of respect. Unsurprisingly the Shadow Housing Minister, John Healey, used his own address (directly following the Prime Minister’s) to attack her record on housing saying it was a disappointment she had so little to show for her three years in office. He set out Labour’s plans from their ‘Housing for the Many’ document but also said it would be fruitless if Labour could not persuade the electorate to put them into government.
Other highlights of the conference included the ‘Making Sense of Political Landscape’ session, I don’t think anyone envied Steve Richards, Rachel Sylvester (The Times) and Jim Pickard (FT) in their task. Between them they mused on the effects of a likely win by Boris Johnson in the leadership contest and that it is who is appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer that might have the greatest impact on the housing sector. Liz Truss, who has said she would cut Stamp Duty and look at building on Green Belt; and Sajid Javid, who would borrow to invest in infrastructure (potentially housing) were floated as potentials. All three agreed that Brexit on October 31st was now not possible and that the breakup of the union was now a serious possibility. They also cautioned not to rule out a general election, second EU referendum or even a second Tory leadership contest before the end of the year.
My two personal highlights were the Addison Act centenary session and Ed Miliband’s speech.
TV presenter and architect, George Clarke, spoke with great emotion and conviction about the effect that council housing had had on his own childhood in Sunderland. Mr Clarke spoke about the positive impact of living in a quality home on a well-designed estate – he was even able to walk to school without crossing a single road. He also agreed with Kit Malthouse’s speech the previous day stating that in the rush to build numbers we forgot about quality. Mr Clarke called for the suspension of Right to Buy (to much applause) and called upon government to commit to building 100,000 new homes per year for the next five years to mark the Addison centenary.
Former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband spoke to a packed room about the discontent that led to the Brexit vote and echoed Terrie Alafat’s contention from her opening address that housing has a key role to play in healing Britain’s social divisions. Mr Miliband stated that “after the Brexit nightmare is over” we have a key moment to rebuild the country; he called for the government to return to post-WWII levels of house building, discard the view that the market will provide, and that social housing is a ‘last resort’. At the end of the session Mr Miliband was assailed with requests for selfies, surely the most popular of the politicians that came to conference!
The conference closed with the traditional address from the CIH President. Jim Strang, as ever, held the audience spellbound with his own personal story of the domestic abuse he and his family suffered from his father; exhorting those present who had not, to sign up to CIH’s ‘Make a Stand’ pledges.
I think its safe to say that all left the conference with much to ponder and much to action over the coming year.
See you at Housing 2020!