Homes England ‘now a financial institution’

At the launch of Homes England, Sir Ed Lister and Nick Walkley of the agency talk exclusively to 24housing about what it means for the sector.

Homes England is more than just about changing the name of the Homes and Communities Agency, says two leading members of the team.

Nick Walkley, CEO of Homes England and Sir Ed Lister, Chairman of the organisation, spoke exclusively to 24housing at the launch yesterday.

Walkley, who has impressed the sector with his conference appearances, said the name change reflects “an agency with government giving it significant financial backing, very large announcements in the Budget, flexibility over how it spends that money and confidence in spending that money on affordable housing”.

He added: “This is a name change but we are talking about a new agency here that uses a range of investment tools and partnerships to get things done.

“The difference I hope the sector begins to see is not that we grow our capacity but we will be wanting to work with our partners and clients in the round.

“So rather than an affordable housing programme, support with land assembly or planning support, look at the packet of measures we can work with it, be it housing associations, developers or land owners.”

Sir Lister added that the key word for the new agency was “pace” calling Homes England a “financial institution”.

He said: “We have shifted from where we were before, which was essentially a government agency providing social housing and a limited amount of support.

“We are now a very sizeable financial organisation with £50bn government money which we will be investing in different ways. It is all about innovative finance and ways of accelerating the pace of delivery.”

Asked about the new agency’s definition of affordable, Walkley said he worries the sector is “inventing our own introverted parle game”, adding there will probably soon be a conference about the subject.

He added: “What we mean by affordable housing is what, in a local market, is the provision that is required that provides the full range from social rent to affordable homes for people who want to own their own home.

“We know we have to provide that full range that works in that local market.

“It is different in different parts of the country but there is no doubt that part of the challenge is how do we deliver more homes and make a stronger proportion of that fit for purpose for a whole range of tenures and ownerships.”

But he also said it was about thinking outside the box for affordable housing, with “no silver bullet” – one for the housing bingo.

“We have to think of innovative ways of providing affordable housing. It is not right there is only one form of affordable rent.

“What we have to do instead is work with the sector, with housing associations and local authorities and drive some creativity and disruption.”

And what do Sir Lister and Walkley make of the name change in the Cabinet reshuffle?

Lister said: “It is more than just a name change. It is a real signal that the department is focused on housing.

“Housing is there is big letters.

“We are the government’s agency to deliver homes. Our job is a delivery one and it is our job to get the pace of delivery up. The Secretary of State is paying a very personal interest in everything that we do.”

Walkley concluded: “The change to a ministry and the change of title is probably less important than the very direct sense that you’ve got that the Chancellor, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are intent on tackling housing.

“We may disagree on how they go about doing that. But there is no doubt that this is a government priority.

“I think that is what the name change is really trying to express.”

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