Alpine Windows and Conservatories

Responding to UK housing priorities

Tom Manion, Chief Executive, Irwell Valley Housing Association on their work to meet Governmental housing strategies

To be a leading innovator, investor and deliverer of high quality affordable housing, a successful housing organisation needs to understand both national, regional and local housing strategies and priorities. It also has to have a strong culture, motivated and inspired people.

Irwell Valley owns over 7,000 homes concentrated throughout Greater Manchester. In the last five years we’ve enjoyed considerable company growth with the transfer of two large stock transfers from Manchester City Council.

At the heart of the group’s critical successes is our approach to delivering great homes - driven by radically overhauling our organisation’s culture, management and performance - and introducing to the sector, ‘Gold Service’, our residents’ incentive scheme.

The greatest challenges facing housing policy lie around the long term delivery of quality, affordable housing provision.

The supply of affordable housing has been falling further and further behind the level of housing need as evidenced by the 100,000 households living in temporary accommodation and more than 1.5 million households on council waiting lists.

While many of our cities are an inspiration for kindling new housing markets in their centres, the picture can be spectacularly polarised - one and two million pound penthouse suites overlooking a two mile radius of dereliction where homes are valued as worthless.

Central Government has set itself - and those of us in the Housing Sector - ambitious targets with £5.5 billion being allocated up to 2008 to provide 75,000 new homes. In the north-west alone £224 million has been made available to help fund new affordable housing.

The PATHfinder projects, now firmly established, are a strategy for active market intervention to help deliver long lasting solutions where redundant housing stock is blighting communities.

The Barker Report, which called for an increase in social housing supply up to 23,000 per annum, also promotes a much more active role in responding to local housing markets.

Regional Housing Strategies will assist the Housing Corporation, English Partnerships and other agencies to target future allocations of grant subsidy to provide affordable housing in mixed communities and the National Affordable Housing Programme has, for the first time, released Social Housing grant availability to private housebuilders and developers.

The Northern Way is less a regional aggregate and more a strategy to identify opportunities and potential at local level to promote the renaissance of the northern economic base.

At Irwell Valley, we vigorously welcome this plural strategic approach and the organisation has structured its Business Development and Regeneration teams to not only research and assimilate Government housing, planning and economic policy, but also to overlay strategies to generate innovative housing and service solutions for its partners.

Our expanded operational areas now include the whole of Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Cheshire, Warrington and Wigan and will provide a range of housing solutions in partnership with the public and private sector to help meet government targets.

Irwell Valley has an enviable track record of assembling, delivering and developing innovative Development and Regeneration partnerships. At a national level, Irwell Valley enjoys an excellent relationship with central Government, advising on regeneration/ community development partnerships.

The promotion and delivery of Irwell Valley’s Gold Service being one such example. This was acknowledged by Cabinet Minister, Hazel Blears, in the Government publication ‘The Politics of Decency’ as: “a great example of how a subtle combination of personal gain and financial incentives and collective rewards can tip behaviour towards decency.”

Since Irwell Valley pioneered Gold Service in 1998, we’re overwhelmed by the interest and adoption of similar schemes by housing associations across the UK and Europe as well as in the private sector.

Central Government has also laid down the challenge to the Housing sector for the next two years up to 2008, to deliver efficiency savings of approximately £1.7 billion in the procurement, investment and maintenance of housing goods and supplies.

Irwell Valley’s response is again positive. Within the framework of a multi- Registered Social Landlord (RSL) agreement, we are exploring creative, effective and deliverable programmes for the development of new housing and improved customer service.

An essential feature of this initiative will be an increased commitment to engage and deliver employment and training initiatives, including delivering real BME and minority group diversity programmes.

As a single organisation, we are committed to exploring and delivering real opportunities and projects, which encapsulate Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

Housing Associations can lead the way in raising the quality of how affordable housing is designed and delivered. Reviewing the procurement process - for selecting design teams and contractors, and training our staff colleagues - has raised the standard of our developments.

An essential part of the use of modern methods of construction is to not only reduce the cost of building new homes but to also reduce the running cost and efficiency of residents’ homes.

The multi-award winning development, Chorlton Park - a partnership with developers Urban Splash - is a prime illustration. It has been described as: “A showcase in futuristic energy efficiency and sophisticated planning”.

Chorlton Park comprises part outright purchase and part shared ownership of highly desirable affordable living space in a popular suburb of South Manchester.

The highly insulated timber frame means the homes are economical to live in - the average electricity bill for a one-bed apartment is less than £5 per week.

Winner of the Housing Design Awards in 2001 and 2002, the judges said: “This apparently simple scheme conceals a great deal of skill in planning and construction to produce very low heating maintenance costs, privacy and security.

“...And it is an excellent demonstration of the added value which a PPP can bring to a successful development.”

Winning the Housing Corporation Award for best example of affordable housing, Chorlton Park was described as “a classic demonstration of value for money”.

At Irwell Valley we strongly believe that creating fantastic neighbourhoods is all about people.

People need to be empowered to make real choices in their lives, not only about the house that they live in, but as a real stakeholder in their own community. Irrespective of generational background, ethnic diversity, economical means or specialist requirements, people want to live in safe, secure and attractive places.

Irwell Valley’s future focuses not only on building and maintaining attractive homes, but also on a clear commitment to invest in those areas, creating homes not just for today but also for the enjoyment of future generations.

We intend to provide a whole range of housing to meet the changing demands of people; helping people buy their first home, enjoy family life, and retire to a home of their choice.

Affordability, sustainability and desirability are fundamental in achieving our ambitions to create fantastic neighbourhoods of choice for people.

With successive listings in the Sunday and Financial Times Best Companies and Top 50 UK Workplaces, we believe we are well positioned to deliver a high quality efficient, effective service.