MIPIM | Homes England ready to flex its regeneration muscles 

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The government’s housing agency is to throw its weight behind the placemaking agenda, and Morecambe could be one of the places in line to benefit. 

Homes England executive director Mike Palin, the former chief executive of St Helens Council, started in his new role in January.  

His appointment, Palin says, is a reflection of the direction Homes England is moving in, which is away from purely addressing housing supply. 

“We have probably gone a bit too far towards just housing supply,” Palin told Place North West at MIPIM. 

“The Levelling Up White Paper changes the policy dynamic and pushes us back towards regeneration.” 

The white paper, published in February, sets out an ambition for development projects to be more outcome focussed and for Homes England to “underpin regeneration”, Palin says. The organisation believes it can do just that.

“We have got the skill sets, the capability and the experience to play a really positive role in that shift. It won’t happen overnight but I think many partners will welcome it.” 

“We want local authorities to come forward and say we want you back involved with our regeneration. Not just housing.” 

Palin says that an internal skills audit found that around 60% of Homes England’s front end operational staff have a background in regeneration, including himself.

The organisation’s plan to become more regeneration focussed aims to play to its own strengths while also supporting under-resourced local authorities. 

St Helens Regen 2, ECF, P.St Helens Council

Homes England is part of ECF, which is leading on the redevelopment of St Helens. Credit: via Lexington

“We have probably not lent our skill sets to our partners as much as we want to in the future. You have got a local government sector crying out for capacity and capability. If we put those two things together, we can help local government solve some of its problems.” 

Palin added: “If you have an expert partner that you can draw down that capacity from, it is a more efficient way of getting those resources to a local authority.”

In short, Homes England is offering its services to local government more than ever before, and it is all in the name of placemaking. 

Homes England is already playing a significant role in North West regeneration. It is part of the English Cities Fund partnership alongside Muse Developments and Legal & General that is delivering large schemes in Salford and St Helens and the organisation is also on the board of Stockport’s Mayoral Development Corporation. 

By focussing more on regeneration, Homes England hopes it can have an even bigger impact in the region in the future. 

In Bury, where ECF partner Muse Developments is working with the council to redevelop the Longfield Centre in Prestwich, Homes England is not currently involved but it is this type of opportunity that interests Palin. 

“If we are needed, we are there. We would certainly be interested in that conversation,” he said. 

“We will go where we are needed rather than being universal to everyone all the time.” 

Other areas that could benefit are Ashton, which is in the process of setting up a Stockport-style mayoral development corporation, and Morecambe. 

Eden Project North In Morecambe 2, Eden Project International, P Planning Documents

Morecambe’s Eden Project could present opportunities for wider redevelopment. Credit: via planning documents

“The Eden Project’s relationship with the town centre presents an obvious opportunity,” Palin said. 

With its eye on several growth areas, the message that Homes England is trying to get across at MIPIM is that it is ready to collaborate. 

“Where there is a clear programme and we are invited in, we’re happy to support. We want local authorities to start talking to us about regeneration again whereas they might not have been in recent years because they saw us as a housing supply agency.” 

The ‘clear programme’ part of that message is key; Homes England won’t just invest anywhere.

There is a responsibility on places to have coherent programmes of work and demonstrate a collaborative attitude between housing, transport and regeneration departments, Palin said.  

“We want to work in places that are bringing those things together so we can follow in behind.” 

Palin is keen to emphasise that Homes England’s involvement would not take the placemaking power away from councils, but rather serve to turbocharge their ability to deliver. 

“Having been a local authority chief executive, it is my very strong view that they are the leaders of place. Only they know what is going on on their patch and only they have the control of enough levers to join things up. 

“We want to dock into that leadership and provide extra support, extra capacity and extra funding.” 

By providing these things, Palin hopes Homes England can help councils make their towns and cities more liveable. What that means depends on the place. 

Stockport Interchange CGI(2)

Homes England has been heavily involved in the regeneration of Stockport town centre. Credit: via planning documents

“In some places, it is entirely appropriate for them to be housing-led, where you won’t have commercial facilities. For other places to be liveable, you need that commercial, residential, leisure mix,” he explained. 

The problem, he said, is that there’s so much change going on in the wider economy, for example, the decline in retail, that it makes it difficult to define what liveability will mean going forward. 

“There’s a challenge for government, Homes England and local authorities to think through that very difficult conundrum: What is it that makes places liveable in the years ahead?” 

One way councils can retain a degree of control in their ability to react to market shifts is by buying real estate.  

Over recent years, a large number of local authorities in the North West have acquired shopping centres. Some have started or have already finished projects to reimagine and reposition them, while others are holding fire, either as part of a strategy or because they have not yet found a way to make the schemes work. 

Palin says that local authorities taking a proactive approach to placemaking in this way can only be viewed as a positive. 

However, he warned that council members must go in “eyes wide open” and recognise there is an inherent risk in this kind of investment.  

It is up to Homes England, in its new capacity as a placemaking catalyst, to help ensure that risk pays off. 

Place North West MIPIM 2022 coverage is sponsored by Castle Green Homes

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