Mike Palin Homes England c Homes England

Regeneration projects in Blackpool, Sheffield and Newcastle have benefited from Homes England's refound regeneration focus. Credit: Homes England


Q&A: Mike Palin, Homes England

The influential government agency is returning to its regeneration roots while putting greater significance on design quality. Place North’s Paul Unger caught up with executive director for markets, partners, and places Mike Palin, at MIPIM.

On returning to regeneration

Mike Palin: At MIPIM two years ago we had just had the white paper published where Michael Gove tasked Homes England with getting back to being a regeneration agency. And two years on, we’ve had to change the way we work. So, we’re becoming more place-based. If you take the function called MPP, which is the markets, partners and places function, we’ve now changed our structure so that you get a regional model. We’ve got assistant directors at a regional level so our partners can now talk to us in a more sensible way than perhaps they could before. A number of our funds have changed. The affordable housing programme could not be used for demolition or renewal, it could only be used for new stock, that’s been changed in the last two years. And we’ve had the brownfield, infrastructure and land fund launched last year, which in total over its whole life will be £1bn-plus, but that’s now being used to fund a number of significant regeneration projects across the North.

The proof is in the pudding. When Michael Gove stood up at the Convention of the North conference, the Blackpool announcement – that is a Homes England-funded project, and it signals that shift back to regeneration. And the £67m investment in Sheffield. That’s one of our figurehead projects, and you’ll have seen what we’re doing in Newcastle as well. So having not been in the space of doing regeneration for quite a while. Two years on you’re now starting to see big regeneration projects, entering delivery announced the funding and the organisation changing support.

On solving the housing crisis

The targets set nationally were always going to be difficult to deliver. Homes England’s role is to deliver a portion of those through the teams we’ve got and the funds we’ve got. We’re confident at the back end of this year that our performance goals will show that we’ve made quite a significant contribution. We’ve done our bit towards those housing targets. But obviously there’s a lack of capacity in the system. There’s a challenge of getting the right money into the right types of projects. And one of the things that’s been interesting in MIPIM is people are talking about not just what are the funds, but how do you make sure that the portfolio of projects draws down on the right types of funding to get more away. There’s a long way to go in terms of tackling the national housing challenge. Homes England is doing its bit. We’re hitting our targets and making that contribution.

On election year

We have to approach it from another direction rather than ‘there’s an election and [it’s all about] policies’ but from the fact that our partners are demanding our support to deliver more homes and more regeneration. And we know that that demand is not going anywhere. So no matter who the government is, there is a need to increase housing supply. There’s a need to regenerate towns and cities throughout the country, with a need to increase the amount of affordable housing. There’s a continuing trend of devolution and we work well with all of the combined authorities. So it’s business as usual in that sense but of course we are an agent of government. We might be tasked slightly differently in how we do things in the future. But the fundamental task of regeneration and housing supply, that will remain the same.

On placemaking

We launched our new strategic plan last year at UKREiiF and if you just look at that plan compared to the previous, there’s a significantly increased focus on placemaking and being more people-centric in what we deliver. So not just being about the units, but actually about the places in which houses are constructed, but also around the ESG agenda and making sure that the developments we deliver are more sustainable in the long term, and that’s something we’ve got to embed in all of our projects. Sometimes there’s a temptation to think well we can do it over here on the left-hand side, and it just magically filters across all our projects. What we’re trying to do is make sure that every project we do across all of the agency’s activity has a greater sustainability focus.

Homes England numbers at-a-glance

Delivery 2018 to 2023, nationally:

  • Supported the development of 186,413 new homes
  • Helped 252,543 households into homeownership
  • Unlocked land that could deliver more than 392,000 additional new homes
  • Invested £11.1bn and recovered £2.6bn from land sales and loans repaid
  • Supported more than 200 small and medium sized builders to grow their business

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