Gareth Bradford and Rob Lamond presented a report which updated the Board on progress in the work agreed previously to work up in principle development of an Affordable Housing Delivery Vehicle with West Midlands Housing Association Partnership and the National Housing Federation to unlock challenging brownfield opportunities in the region and thus providing added value to the work of the WMCA under the SCF. The report recommended agreement of the broad criteria for the Vehicle to help guide the development of a detailed business case.
Councillor Peter Bilson advised that he supported the principle but asked which Housing Associations would be involved, which areas they were active currently in and which sites were under consideration. He expressed concern that there appeared to be no involvement from Homes England or the respective local authorities in this concept. Given that a Limited Liability Partnership was to be established he was also interested to learn of the relationship with the LLP, Homes England and the local authorities.
Councillor David Wright advised that he also supported the principle but queried which Housing Associations would be involved, how the level of public subsidy would be agreed and whether partner Housing Associations would only be allowed to operate in those areas where they had a presence currently.
Gareth Bradford welcomed the questions now posed and assured the Board that similar questions were being raised. He explained that the purpose of the report was to agree the principle of the creation of the Delivery Vehicle and the development of the Business Case. Kevin Rodgers advised that a number of housing associations were interested in participating all of which operated locally. Where a Large Scale Voluntary Transfer had taken place in a local authority area the selection of the preferred Social Housing Provider would be to that organisation. He reminded the Board of the intention to recycle funding for future re-investment.
Councillor Andy Mackiewicz asked as to the opportunity for Arms Length Management Organisations to be involved in the Delivery Vehicle. Gareth Bradford explained that such organisations could seek funding for developments through the SCF subject to such proposals having the support of the respective local authority. He commented that in order to achieve the desired number of housing units at affordable levels there was a need to unlock difficult to develop brownfield sites. He advised that the Delivery Vehicle could be expanded in the future if it was successful.
Councillor Angus Lees asked whether WMCA Officers were in contact with colleagues at Dudley MBC where three difficult to develop brownfield sites had been identified. Gareth Bradford confirmed this to be the case.
Councillor Joanne Hadley commented that given the role of the Black Country area as the heart of the Industrial Revolution many sites were likely to be subject to contamination and the associated remediation costs. Mark Lidderth reminded the Board that grant aid was available from the Environment Agency to deal with remediation of contaminated land. Paul Gascoine assured the Board that Homes England was involved in the development of this initiative and would continue to be. He reported that a similar Vehicle existed in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and that there were lessons to be learnt from its experiences.
1. That the following be noted:
a) That progress between the WMCA and West Midlands Housing Association Partnership / National Housing Federation in developing the Heads of Terms and key criteria for a new regional affordable housing delivery vehicle focussed on increasing the supply of new homes, particularly affordable housing, on some of the most challenging sites in the region;
b) The proposed Delivery Vehicle’s fundamental principles of reduced risk; shared knowledge and expertise of the vehicle’s partners; and developing a range of sites including intervening in instances of market failure to develop brownfield sites in the region;
2. That the draft criteria / principles for the Delivery Vehicle from the WMCA perspective as detailed in section 3.2 of the report be agreed;
3. That subject to the above, the Housing and Regeneration Team work with partners and a focussed working group of experienced local council housing officers to bring forward a Business Case for a pilot phase of the Delivery Vehicle to forthcoming meetings of this Board and the WMCA investment Board. (the aim being to submit the Business Case to the December 2019 meeting of the WMCA Investment Board if possible and appropriate).