Greater Manchester (GM) in the United Kingdom is embracing new powers from central government under a devolution agreement, creating the opportunity for local solutions to housing issues.
Local strategic partnerships
The ‘City Deal’ that allowed powers and budgets to be devolved from central government was premised on the bedrock of the relationships between the local boroughs of GM, (http://bit.ly/2ltI3uG). Formerly the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) was comprised of 10 local boroughs that voluntarily worked together from the 1980s, (http://bit.ly/2lhnDpq), and subsequently established the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) in 2011. In 2012 central government agreed to the deal with the GMCA in exchange for a single point of accountability to both local people and central government: a Mayor, (http://bit.ly/2pVSjRK).
In May 2017 GM elected its first ‘Metro Mayor’, choosing Andy Burnham as its directly accountable representative, (http://bit.ly/2BmfqpY). As the chair and eleventh member of the GMCA he steers the group’s work in conjunction with the ten council leaders who make up the Cabinet. In the field of housing he is responsible for the £300 million Housing Investment Fund, which is comprised of funds already centrally allocated to the region, but over which he has powers to directly increase housing provision, (http://bit.ly/2BUm7zy).
In the months following his election, the Mayor has focused on two key aspects of housing: homelessness and the strategic framework which will direct where future homes will be built. This has been well received and supported by social housing providers across the region who have had to both increasingly support the vulnerable due to funding cuts and simultaneously respond to the national demand to deliver more homes.
One of the key pledges that the Mayor was elected upon was his promise to end street homelessness by 2020, following a dramatic rise in the problem over recent years. The exact number of current rough sleepers are difficult to calculate, but current estimates are in the region of at least 400 people and continually rising. To address this his key actions have included:
- Establishing the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Homelessness Fund, (http://bit.ly/2rzy7Bj), a community foundation enabled by the national charity, Crisis UK. The fund will support various projects and is contributed to by the Mayor donating 15% of his annual salary.
- Creation of the Greater Manchester Homelessness Action Network, which brings together people from all aspects of the community including the formerly homeless, businesses, charities, faith and civil groups to share best practice and innovations.
- Spearheading the adoption of the Housing First principle in the region to combat homelessness, providing homes in the first instance and thereafter intensive support to maintain homes, health and identify job opportunities. This approach and the work undertaken to date has secured a further £3.7 million to develop the offer, (http://bit.ly/2l18IhZ), and central government has confirmed they will be using Housing First as their approach across the country, (http://bit.ly/2BSCQ6z).
- Challenging social housing providers and the third sector to collaboratively address homelessness and being met with the GM Homes Partnership who have pioneered a Social Impact Bond worth £1.8 million, so implementing the Housing First approach to address entrenched rough sleeping by providing 270 homes over a 3 year period, (http://bit.ly/2BTBWGM).
- Veering from national policy in relation to emergency homelessness provision so that beds and showers are provided when night time temperatures dip below 0°C instead of temperatures having to remain below 0°C for 3 nights before emergency provision is enabled, (http://bit.ly/2ph3dRJ).
- Gaining the agreement of the 10 borough councils to remove obstacles experienced by homeless applicants for housing by providing free access to documents needed to secure housing including birth certificates, (http://bit.ly/2Egwa3O).
An initial ‘Greater Manchester Spatial Framework’ was created following a public consultation in early 2017, receiving over 27,000 responses. It aimed to identify areas for housing development. However, the Mayor highlighted his shared concerns that the first draft was too private developer led and the disjointed relationship to infrastructure would lead to poorer air quality, due to increased road traffic. Therefore he has directed a second draft to be published in June 2018, followed by a further 12 week public consultation, (http://bit.ly/2e4NbWl). The Mayor has indicated his broad aim for the framework to connect decent homes to fulfilling jobs via sustainable forms of transport, so enhancing the quality of lives for Mancunians.
Whilst the Metro Mayor arrangement is new, the old ties of the boroughs have been in place for decades and are challenging themselves alongside key players, including social housing providers, to flex to the new challenges the Mayor provides at a time of national flux created by Brexit. Accordingly, it is hoped the ongoing work within GM will enable homes and communities to be strategically placed to meet the forthcoming challenges.