The Government is trying to help rough sleepers off the street overnight – is it working?
After the success of getting thousands of rough sleepers off the streets at the start of the pandemic Next Steps funding is aimed at developing affordable housing to accommodate rough sleepers longer term. Bidwells planner Jake Lambert looks at whether its working.
At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic (26 March 2020) the Government launched the ‘Everyone In’ initiative, with emergency funding distributed to local authorities to ensure that rough sleepers were safely accommodated to protect them, and the wider public, from the risks of Covid-19.
Following this, the Government established the Next Steps Accommodation Programme, to provide more permanent accommodation for rough sleepers in England. This secured £105 million to provide shorter-term/interim accommodation, and £161 million to provide 3,300 units of longer-term, move-on accommodation.
These funding streams have unlocked unique opportunities for local authorities, working in partnership with housing associations, to develop affordable housing to accommodate rough sleepers.
Delivering Move-On Accommodation
The Next Steps funding provision is predicated upon tight delivery timeframes, to address immediate demands to accommodate rough sleepers. From our experience of working with housing associations and local authorities to secure planning permission for ‘move-on’ accommodation sites, delays in preparation and determination of planning applications, and subsequent construction, must be minimised to meet the funding requirements. This has engendered a novel approach to housing delivery, with the following elements proving integral to ensure that speed of delivery and build quality remain at the top of the agenda:
- Modular housing has been championed over traditional construction methods, to enable rapid delivery;
- Local authorities have been empowered to approach housing associations with sites to develop on their behalf;
- Strong relationships with local authorities have proved paramount to securing the determination of planning applications within statutory timeframes;
- Planning applications must be ‘front-loaded’, with all details provided during the determination period to eliminate any time-consuming pre-commencement planning conditions
This approach to rapidly delivering high-quality housing development is not without its challenges. Resource constraints within local authorities continue to delay the determination of planning applications, while modular providers can require significant pre-construction negotiation and liaison to ensure that their product aligns with their client’s vision.
Keeping the ball rolling
The Government has succeeded in unlocking opportunities to alleviate homelessness, though the ball needs to keep rolling to achieve the Government’s 2019 election commitment to end rough sleeping by May 2024.
The additional funding to continue the Next Steps programme through to 2022 is a positive sign, and local authorities must continue to be empowered to identify sites for move-on accommodation, to enable housing associations to address immediate demands. The competitive nature of current funding streams should also be revisited, to ensure that all local authorities benefit from opportunities to provide move-on accommodation. Additional support to deliver more technically challenging sites, which require deviation from modular construction to achieve a viable scheme, should also be prioritised.
With these refinements, and continued Government commitment and support from local authorities, housing associations will be free to deliver affordable housing to address homelessness in England for good.