Accelerating housing delivery in Kent needs a “coalition of the willing” using a Levelling Up approach to promote growth

The most influential figures in the county’s housing market came together in Ashford to discuss the opportunity that the Government’s Levelling Up growth strategy provides the county in responding to the priority and need to accelerate housing delivery.

Opening the summit, Sharon Williams, Chair of the Kent Housing Group (KHG), said: “The Kent and Medway Housing Strategy responds to the challenge to accelerate housing delivery and managed growth, through realising the priority of building homes and sustainable new communities in order to meet the growth demand, coupled with ensuring that the local economy is allowed to reach its full potential in the future.”

The forum was arranged by KHG, KCPOG (Kent Chief Planning Officers Group) and KHDG (Kent Housing and Development Group).

Chaired by Tracey Kerly, the Kent Chief Executive lead for Housing, Development and Planning, it brought together 50 senior representatives from the private and public sector housing market. Joining her on the panel was Simon Thomas, Chair of KCPOG, Nick Fenton, Chair of KHDG and Sharon Williams, Assistant Director Housing at Ashford Borough Council and Chair of the KHG.

The line-up was completed by Shona Johnstone of Homes England and Kent County Council’s David Godfrey and Tom Marchant.  A representative of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) attended as part of the audience.

Sharon Williams said it was vital that the sector works together in the face of challenges, including rising numbers of homeless, soaring private sector rents and more landlords leaving the market, long waiting lists for social homes, cost of living issues feeding demand for affordable housing, creeping costs of building materials and disrupted supply chains, soaring interest rates and building costs.

“We must be positive and manage the cards that we have been dealt and find solutions. We are better together and already have a strong track record of partnership.

“The KHG Board is made up of all the key players and we have jointly agreed the Kent and Medway Housing Strategy, which sets out our housing ambitions, with themes of health & wellbeing; working together for safer homes; infrastructure first; accelerating housing delivery; and affordability.

“The Levelling Up agenda is all about growth and with the change of leadership in Westminster we have the opportunity to work together to take advantage of these opportunities and renew our approach – to unlock stalled sites through targeted investment, co-ordinate applications for new funding streams and more.”

“We already have a narrative in Kent for getting things done”

KHG Board member Brian Horton said: “Kent is already highly regarded by Government as we have jointly developed housing policies involving councils, housing associations, developers and others. We already have a narrative in Kent for getting stuff done and we need to give the Government the confidence in us when it comes to accelerated housing delivery.”

Simon Thomas explained how planning contributes to delivering Levelling Up and housing delivery, KCC’s David Godfrey provided an update on the data on performance and projects to bring housing forward, while Tom Marchant discussed cross boundary working.

Homes England’s Shona Johnstone said that the Levelling Up policy did not just apply to the north as there were areas of the south east that needed support. Pointing out that growth is a priority for the Sunak government, she said Homes England was ready to support developers and councils in bringing forward housing schemes.

Jane Owen from DLUHC gave advice on making ministers aware of issues impacting housing delivery. She used “the Stodmarsh case” as an example, where high levels of nutrients at the Canterbury reserve has halted most housing development in the River Stour catchment area. “Provide us with a clear and concise case, backed by compelling evidence is the way to catch a minister’s eye.”

A lively audience discussion covered the challenges of developing small sites, barriers to delivering more affordable homes, how to de-risk the planning system to make it more attractive for SME developers to join the market, and how rent caps on social housing will act as a restraint on growth.

The summit ended with Chair Tracey Kerly declaring that she believed there was clear evidence that a “coalition of the willing” existed in our housing sector, and she was encouraged that excellent progress was being made to speed up the delivery of plan-led growth in the county.