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affordable housing advice notes 1.1 to 1.3 [Stephen Hill]

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written by Stephen Hill

Introduction to Advice Notes

1.1       Affordable Housing: Policy and Valuation Issues

1.2       Public assets as investment in communities - Best Value, Asset Management Strategies and Valuation

1.3       Step by Step guide to a “Placeshaping” sale of local authority land

Background

These three Advice Notes have been prepared by Stephen Hill, MRICS, CEnv, Director of C2O futureplanners, as part of an assignment led by David Rodgers, Executive Director of CDS Cooperatives [now retired]. The aim of the assignment for a major local authority was to test the potential of a Community Land Trust against other ways of increasing the supply of permanently affordable housing.  

Target Audience

The Advice Notes are intended for a broad audience of:

  • Members;
  • Council Officers working in housing, regeneration, economic development, valuation and asset management, and spatial planning;
  • LSP Coordinators and support staff; and
  • Community organisations and housing providers engaging with the council to deliver this kind of affordable housing.

Purpose

The Advice Notes are intended to provide a narrative of existing policy about affordable housing, in the context of new and emerging Government policies on spatial planning, the delivery of public services, the role of LSPs and Local Authorities in delivering spatially focussed social, economic and environmental wellbeing outcomes, community empowerment, and new central government inspection regimes and local governance and accountability arrangements. These are complex and interlocking areas of policy, and the aim is to give all the target audiences, and thus project stakeholders, a shared understanding of the issues.

To ensure that projects are undertaken with the best prospect of success, and the minimum of frustration and wasted effort and finance, the lesson of similar projects and the findings of the Quirk Review of Community Asset Transfer, is that all the key stakeholders must have a shared and agreed understanding of the guiding principles and policy drivers for the project, any difficult issues to be resolved, and the intended outcome…from the earliest stage of the project.

Running through all three Advice Notes is an attempt to clarify what Value for Money means for local authorities and other public bodies, eg the new Homes and Communities Agency, in using their assets as part of their wellbeing powers and duty to encourage and promote sustainable development through the spatial planning system.

An important idea to hold onto throughout a reading of the Advice Notes is that a local authority’s need to realise capital receipts from the sale of assets to fund its annual budget is not primarily a value for money issue. It represents a perfectly valid political choice to liquidate an asset to invest in achieving one set of wellbeing outcomes, as opposed to retaining or selling an asset to a third party to invest in achieving another set of wellbeing outcomes; and where that sale may be at a very low or nil “best consideration reasonably obtainable”. What the new policy environment requires is a more transparent and explicit process of integrated corporate planning and spatial  planning to make those choices, which must then be open to scrutiny, audit and examination in planning and local authority performance inspection regimes. 

Planning and Working Together

The emphasis in all the Advice Notes is on open and collaborative working amongst all the stakeholders to negotiate difficult technical and political issues. In particular, the appraisal methodology on Advice Note 1.3 has been devised to be quite simple, but also focussed absolutely on the current key priorities for local authorities, ie performance of Local Area Agreements and the achievement of outputs and outcomes taken from the Local Authority Performance Indicators. It is important for all the stakeholders, including community organisations, that this is recognised as the operating environment in which the projects will be proposed and must be delivered.

More complex Option Appraisal techniques, based on the Treasury Green Book, could be used to evaluate other non-monetary and qualitative aspects of the projects. This is not recommended for the relatively small affordable housing projects of the kind intended by the council, especially as it is hoped that the policy narrative may have clarified the value for money issues sufficiently to simplify the choices that have to be made in relation to the policies that drive the project.

There is also a real risk that we could make the choices more complicated than they need to be, or use complexity to mask what are quite simple choices, just not the ones we are used to making for reasons we are not used to having at our disposal.    

Access to supplementary advice

These Advice Notes have been drawn from and have contributed to the recently published “Placeshaping – A Toolkit for Urban Community Land Trusts” [University of Salford for the Housing Corporation] which contains a Foreword by the Secretary of State, Hazel Blears, and extended sections on the policy landscape, and analysis of value for money and the use of the General Consent for the disposal of local authority assets 2003.

In addition, CLG will publish during the summer of  2008, a series of nine policy and practice notes on asset management for local authorities that expands the content of their recently published asset management guide, Building on Strong Foundations: A Framework for Local Authority Asset Management”. These are described further in Advice Note 1.2. These are likely to contain more detailed advice on value for money and appraisal methodologies. The department is under some pressure to be more prescriptive about the adoption of standardised techniques; another reason why we have kept the techniques in Advice Note 1.3 in line with the principles contained in the current drafts of these policy and practice notes.

To download a copy of the the 3 advice notes click here

 

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