Leading players from the private and public sectors gathered to discuss how to meet demand for housing in the region, at the West Midlands Growth Company’s latest partners’ event at the Ikon Gallery, on Thursday 12 July.
The session was hosted by the West Midland Growth Company’s new Chair Matthew Hammond, who is also Regional Chair for PwC across the Midlands.
Matthew Hammond opened the event talking about his commitment to the region. He summarised his extensive work securing investment from PwC in the city and highlighted the opportunity that sits ahead over the next five years. He emphasised the strength of the region’s offer and the positive impact of stakeholders coming together with common interests and goals.
An opportunity to transform housing and local communities
Gareth Bradford, Director of Housing and Regeneration at the West Midland Combined Authority, gave a keynote speech that focused on building a healthier, happier, better connected and more prosperous West Midlands.
He highlighted how the region was uniquely placed to deliver with the Housing Deal secured with central Government to build 215,000 homes by 2031, its £100 million land fund and initiatives such as the first joint housing team with Homes England to increase the scale and pace of house delivering. He said this demonstrated the growing confidence from Government and helped create the certainty needed to invest.
However this needs to be about more than hitting the number of homes, with Gareth Bradford detailing his relentless focus on quality – and the design of a place, and not just the design of a house. Housing is not an isolated policy, but is linked to many areas including skills, transport, health and wellbeing.
Gareth Bradford emphasised that partnership is central to delivering these plans – such as working with the West Midlands Growth Company to attract investment, and creating opportunities with local partners on delivery and investment. He stated that the region is on a journey to become the ‘go to’ place for housing and opportunity. He finished by encouraging those in the room, and in the region, to take advantage of the opportunity to transform housing and local communities across the West Midlands.
Gareth Bradford was joined by a panel of industry leaders to discuss the key issues and take questions from the floor.
Economic fundamentals are strong
A recurring topic throughout the evening was that the West Midlands has a lot to offer businesses and investors. Chris Keogh, Joint Managing Director at Court Collaboration, commented that investor demand is outstripping supply here. He went on to talk about the ‘buzz’ about the Birmingham and the wider region.
Mark Birks, Senior Director and Head of the Land and Development team at GVA, talked about Chinese-based investors wanting an insight into the Birmingham story. He picked out talent as a key draw talking about the eight universities in the West Midlands and 52,000 graduates each year.
Inclusive growth was an underpinning theme of Gareth Bradford’s speech and he talked about the need to work in partnership with housing associations and the importance of linkages to the region’s Local Industrial Strategy. Kate Still, Chief Operating Office at WM Housing Group, talked about the challenge faced by some local communities to access affordable housing – and the need to consider social housing, not just shared ownership schemes.
The discussion broadened to look at how housing could support jobs and skills. Chris Keogh stated that Court Collaboration takes this seriously and looks to get people into jobs – supporting apprenticeships, hiring new graduates and working with those not in education, employment or training (NEETS).
Steve Hough, Innovations Director at Balfour Beatty, focused on the potential for modern modular housing and the skilled trades that would be needed to support this, highlighting the need to address the local skills gap. Kate Still talked about WM Housing Group’s corporate responsibility to recruit tenants into its schemes and the need for intentionality regarding the sector’s skills development.
Rising to the challenge
The panel were all positive about the future and the West Midlands. Steve Hough emphasised that there was a need to step up modular housing production and deliver at scale, learning from other countries such as Panasonic in Japan. Mark Birks commented that he was a huge believer in a collective approach and hope to see a change in delivery in the next three years.
Gareth Bradford talked about a different role for local authorities moving forward as an enabler, a broker, intervening when land isn’t coming forward and entering into investment and build out partnerships.
Creating partnerships for growth
The evening concluded with networking and an opportunity for key businesses in the region to make new connections, supporting the partnership message of the event.