Michael Cleaver: Time for quality as well as delivery

18 October 2018



It’s just over a year since I joined The Housing Forum and time to reflect on the changes we've seen in housing and construction in that time and the way the Forum has responded to and influenced that change.


I joined the week following the disaster at Grenfell. The aftermath dominated my first year at the Forum. We are a cross-sector membership organisation and people from all sections of the supply chain were deeply shocked and saddened, but also understood it was a drastic symptom of an underlying malaise.


Just as with the financial crash, when you analyse the different elements of the way major projects were designed, procured, delivered and signed off: in retrospect no-one should have been surprised. Our working group report Stopping Building Failures published 12 months later provides a devastating analysis of how the pursuit of value for the public purse leads in many cases to the exact opposite. Our message seems to be getting through and it chimes with many other organisations and trade bodies.


The Forum seeks to influence government and the sector and It has been heartening to see how policy has aligned with a range of our recommendations. The Housing Forum has always led in its drive for better quality in both design and construction as well as for increased supply through what might be best termed the “multi-tenure” sector.


Our message of “more and better” homes has been directly taken up as a call to action by ministers. MHCLG held its first Design Quality Conference (it won’t be the last) and the message from Marsham Street is clear, well designed places with great homes should be the norm.


We’ve advocated modern methods of construction (MMC) for many years and are delighted to see this backed by both government, GLA and Homes England. We’ve also seen important digital technologies such as BIM start to gain traction in the residential sector particularly through the efforts of BIM 4 Housing, of which we are proud to be part.


We’ve been ahead of the game in our engagement with those local councils seeking to build more homes either directly or through Local Housing Companies. Our Development Partnership Forums aim to help build the technical capacity and also propose partnership models, which accelerate delivery. With the imminent lifting of the HRA cap the opportunity for lift-off in this area is clear. The Housing Forum’s links with regional and local government mean we are perfectly placed to bring the sector together to agree how best we can do this.


The challenge for the sector is still as much about quality as delivery. The joint commitment made by RIBA, CIOB and RICS through their Building in Quality Initiative – expertly co-ordinated by Nigel Ostime of members Hawkins/Brown - is a welcome addition to solving the challenges. I believe Housing Forum members can play a key role in piloting and refining the Quality Tracker they've developed.


The next few years promise an interesting ride. We have a degree of political consensus over the need for new homes and the channels for delivery; significant funding streams available, new ways to build and new entrants to the market. But it all has to be delivered in the context of Brexit, an uncertain housing market - which could scupper cross-subsidy - and the need to build resource capacity at all stages of the construction process.


One thing has become apparent to me in the past fifteen months: The Housing Forum membership – manufacturers, design professionals, multi-disciplinary consultancies, contractors, housing associations and local authorities – are united in a common purpose to build (and refurbish) more homes, better.


Michael Cleaver