West Midlands housing delivery should transcend politics says property expert

Andrew Ferguson

Andrew Ferguson, property and partnerships director at national regeneration specialist LCR Property, believes councils – no matter the color of their rosette – should work together to identify land and create meaningful opportunities for developers.

He said those in power are too often swayed by party politics, refusing to work together with rival politicians even if it is for the good of the region as a whole.

“Elections often bring with them the promise of opportunity and change – which is often the reason behind a shift in color at a council. While large swathes of the Black Country voted for status quo in the recent elections, residents in Sandwell will wait to see what the winds of change a new party may bring them.

“But some issues are universal and are more enduring than political agendas. The housing crisis is one of them.

“Delivering housing must be at the top of the in-tray for all local authorities, whether they are new in post or not. This means putting politics aside and sharing the same top priority as the other party. And both will be faced with the same challenge, one that is both practical and political – where to build, “said Mr Ferguson.

He said that progress had been made by central government in identifying cities like Wolverhampton as focal points for leveling up, which translated to delivering more homes as part of regeneration efforts.

He warned that the required 35 per cent uptick in home-building targets to meet Whitehall’s goal of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s will need more than just money.

“The true challenge is how councils can free-up the land on which to build.

“Bringing forward viable land for development remains one of the biggest obstacles that the public sector faces when meeting the challenge to build new homes. While most opinion polls show that voters understand the need for more housing, not everyone can agree on where homes should be green belt development, in particular, is nearly always contentious within the communities it affects.

“Regenerating unused, brownfield land for new housing is a more palatable option, but, historically, it’s been difficult to build on. This type of land can be piecemeal in its ownership structures, with no one parcel of land large enough for a local authority to develop.

“While this could be seen by some as a potential stumbling block, our own experience has shown that this creates a chance to engage other parties who can share their resources – land, skills and even cash – in order to create a whole that can lead to meaningful development, “he explained.

Mr Ferguson said that ‘landpooling’ agreements were becoming much more common as they helped to unite minor plots of unused land into one large plot that offers space for impactful regeneration projects, with improvements to public realm and amenities, rather than just squeezing homes into an unused urban wedge.

“These agreements also make sure that all parties are united under a common goal, whether that’s delivering more retail and commercial space, or indeed more homes. Repurposing brownfield land parcels in this way also generates significant social and public value for communities, which is the core underlying motive of the leveling up agenda.

“Collaboration agreements such as these make the delivery of new homes possible because they bring together all the key components: land holdings, individual skillsets and local expertise. There’s also the opportunity for specialist knowledge to come on board – such as when unlocking the swathe of disused land around railway stations – in order to guide stakeholders and help make a vision that serves the community a reality. Our own position working on the cusp of the rail, property, public and private sectors gives us a unique perspective on how to coordinate different partners to effectively deliver regeneration projects.

“Unlocking brownfield land in this way has the potential to release land for a significant number of new homes. Indeed, our own review of land conducted with Network Rail revealed that there’s space for tens of thousands of homes around railway stations alone, with significant opportunity in the West Midlands. “

He concluded: “It’s clear, then, that opportunity exists in the region’s urban areas. So, with the ‘where’ to build now answered, the challenge for local authority and council leaders – whether new in the door or not – is how they can establish a shared vision that will foster new homes for the community. “

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