Base social housing need on ‘unlikely homeowners’, Homes England chair-elect says

Social housing need should be calculated by looking at how many people are unlikely to be able to buy a home, Homes England's prospective chair has told MPs.
Peter Freeman, the government’s preferred candidate to chair Homes England. Credit: parliament.tv

Social housing need should be calculated by looking at the percentage of the population who are unlikely to be able to buy a home, Homes England’s prospective chair has told MPs.

Peter Freeman, who was last month named the government’s preferred candidate to become the next chair of the housing delivery agency, laid out his approach to social housing delivery in an interview with the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee yesterday.

Freeman said he agreed with the Committee’s recommendation that the government should estimate how much social housing the country needs before setting out how it plans to deliver that estimate, commenting that that ‘sounds sensible’.

When asked how he personally would calculate social housing need, Freeman said: “I guess I would start with waiting lists and realistic estimates of what percentage of the population are unlikely under any homebuying programme to be owner-occupiers in the next ten years and be looking for the shortfall.”

Freeman admitted that he had not read the HCLG Committee’s July 2020 report on social housing delivery, which concluded that 90,000 new social homes will be needed every year to meet the country’s housing needs.

The report made several recommendations to government, including setting out annual net addition targets for social rent, affordable rent, intermediate rent and affordable homeownership.

Freeman was also questioned by the HCLG Committee about his positions on the boards of the property developer Argent and Mayfield Market Towns Ltd, which is half-owned by Clarion Housing Group.

Freeman played down any potential conflicts of interest, saying that while Argent had previously received Homes England funding, it is unlikely to do so again in the future.

He confirmed he has offered to stand down from Mayfield’s board if it is allocated Homes England funding in the future.

Freeman was also asked about the ‘80/20’ rule, which has been criticised for targeting Homes England funding to areas under the greatest housing unaffordability pressure, largely in London and the South East.

“There’s a lot more statistical work to do and geographical mapping to do to work out how you deliver housing so it produces the most benefit to the economy and communities rather than just addressing one issue at time,” Freeman commented.

Freeman expressed his belief that the government should ‘fundamentally’ help local authorities to capture more land value, either through section 106 agreements or its proposed new ‘infrastructure levy’.

“I think you do need to keep section 106 for major schemes which are mixed-use and multi-phase,” Freeman said. “If the 80/20 rule is to subsidise housing where it’s most expensive, that sort of implies that some significant part is going into land and that’s producing [fewer] jobs for the [economic] recovery, so I’m passionate about big developments generating local benefits.” 

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