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Building Great Homes, Creating Great Places

My speech from today’s launch Building Great Homes, Creating Great Places at the Local Government Association conference here in Birmingham.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining us for the launch of Building Great Homes, Creating Great Places.

It’s safe to say that housing is one of – if not THE – big topic of discussion here at the LGA Conference.

And, as I reflected in my welcome speech yesterday afternoon, the housing debate changed forever with the horrific Grenfell Tower tragedy just three weeks ago.

We’re under the spotlight and now, more than ever, we must re-double our efforts and work with partners to deliver the quality homes needed by a growing population.

At its most basic level, this is very simple.

This is not a debate about bricks and mortar – it’s about people, families and communities.

People want safe decent homes. They want to feel they can get onto the property ladder, they want to know their children can get onto the property ladder. In short, they want to feel that they matter.

Who can argue with that?

But the scale of the challenge is there for all to see.

Here in Birmingham we need 89,000 new homes over the next 15 years to address an acute housing shortage and meet the needs of Birmingham’s growing population.

That’s a very real and very pressing challenge, which is why, last November, I was delighted that the Government finally endorsed The Birmingham Development Plan.

Our ambitious 15-year strategy goes a long way towards addressing the city’s housing crisis, but of course having the plan is one thing, delivering is what really matters.

As the document we’ve launched today illustrates, our aims are simple but ambitious. We have a commitment to:

  • Build enough new homes of all types
  • Enable people to get and keep the housing they need and eradicate homelessness
  • Improve existing housing and its management

So how do we turn this vision into reality?

I take real pride in the fact that we’ve built more social housing since 2009 than any other local authority in the UK.

Birmingham was also the first local authority to build new homes for sale, and has built more than any other Council.

We pioneered the “buy now, pay later”, approach to the sale of new homes in 2009.

This means the Council shares with developers some of the risks of development – delays in securing planning permission, fixing bad ground conditions, buying land up front in a fragile housing market.

In 2016, we developed this approach further with InReach, so that the City Council acts as developer and takes all of the sales risk, but also captures all of the profit.

The homes are selling faster than they can be built and often well before completion.

We have established the successful Housing Birmingham Partnership, with political and agency leaders committed to working together on long term housing aims.

Our big challenge in Birmingham is of course to build new homes at scale and pace.

So part of my job is to sell opportunities in our city to major investors from home and abroad.

In addition to major overseas deals, earlier this year we sold the first ever Brummie Bond to Midlands-based Phoenix Life, raising £45 million that we will be able to use to significantly boost our housing investment plans.

The interest rate is lower than that charged by the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), which means we will pay £1.4 million less in interest over the course of the loan than would have been the case had it borrowed from the PWLB.

So the numbers stack up. But this was about more than £45 million. It was a clear vote of confidence in Birmingham City Council by the private sector.

With council budgets facing relentless austerity cuts, we must be more imaginative in identifying ways to generate funding.

This council will not raise the white flag of surrender. We’ll go out to the market and sell the huge potential of investing in homes for a young, growing population.

Later this month we will launch our new housing strategy – an action plan that will look at everything from major developments to self-build opportunities.

We’ll look at housing options for first-time buyers through to choices for older citizens.

We’ll renew our efforts to tackle homelessness and build on our successful work to bring empty properties back into use.

One thing is clear. There is no one-size fits all solution to meeting our housing demands.

BUT we have the creative approach, the partnerships and the sheer bloody determination in Birmingham to get the job done.

As I said at the beginning, the Grenfell tragedy served as a reminder that how we meet the housing challenge is one of the most pressing tasks for town halls up and down the country.

Future generations will judge us by how we respond and I know there is a collective determination across local government that we will not be found wanting.

The simple fact is that we cannot afford to fail.