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Saturday, April 22, 2006
Housing Corporation and English Partnerships
One of the things that's been on all the headlines this week has been the potential merger of the Housing Corporation and English Partnerships. The government has launched a review of the delivery of housing and regeneration, and will report in July.

Those inevitable 'sources' have been leaking more or less officially various things that may come up. These include the probably merger between English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation.

Another question the review will ask is which functions might be devolved from the ODPM to the new body. Those 'sources' close to the review said these might include Private Finance Initiatives, the decent homes standard, neighbourhood renewal, housing market renewal and private sector housing renewal.

A senior ODPM source said: "Do we need a government department to administer [these functions] or would it be better to have an agency that may be that bit closer to them? It could be a lot easier to use an agency so we don't have to go through all the usual civil service rigmarole."

As opposed to all that quango rigmarole that is at least as bureaucratic and intangible. Of course there are also questions about democratic accountability etc for an area which possibly affects more voters lives than any other single issue. If regeneration and all those associated functions got devolved to a quango, that is a significant amount of delivery out of the hands of truly accountable systems.

Meanwhile Jon Rouse at the Housing Corp got himself back in the news by 'pledging' to crack down on bad housing design by blacklisting developers who 'consistently deliver poor housing.' It's all in BD but the site is subs only so I'll reproduce some of the best bits. If you can't be bothered to read on, the main undertone seemed to be that he was frustrated at not being able to do more about design but really, has very few ways that he can get anything to change. We all wonder, of course, how this plays towards his positioning for a new job should the HC and EP merge...

Rouse admitted the design of some of the schemes the corporation has funded under his leadership made him "wince. We need to find out how those schemes went through the net. Did they arise at the point we agreed the funding or did something change thereafter? Why didn't the planning authority play its role? Why was it allowed to be dumbed down from the point where we agreed the funding to what we actually see on site now?" he said.

"I saw one a couple of weeks ago… it was a social rented scheme and it was in the [Thames] Gateway and they had completely and totally changed the design in terms of the access to the apartments, and gone for an unbelievably cheap and crude solution."

Rouse said, in such a situation, he would ask his staff to investigate the association or developer's record and, if they found a pattern of poor design, consider removing the culprit from the corporation's list of development partners.

This is the strongest indication yet that the Housing Corporation, which will fund 84,000 new homes over the next two years, recognises the problem of poor design and is willing to take a hard line under Rouse, formerly chief executive of Cabe. But Rouse admitted he has been forced to temper his passion for good design since moving to the Housing Corporation, and said he was "afraid it would always be the case" that some poorly designed developments would slip through the net.

He said he was not able to factor the long-term benefits of good design into his cost calculations. "I only have so much to spend and obviously there are efficiency pressures continually in terms of trying to get more for less."


Anonymous Rob said...

I saw Rouse speak at Ecobuild - I was pleased to see he's a big fan of Ecohomes and reassured to know that the guy overseeing the guys who oversee me (Housing Associations), has his eye on quality.

2:40 pm  

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