8 October 2018

With an ever-increasing focus on improving performance whilst also becoming more efficient, the challenge for all housing associations, but especially smaller housing associations, to think about how to do things differently has never been greater.

Developing new homes is a specialised, costly, and potential risky area of business for any housing association. For a smaller organisation, with likely a relatively small new build development programme, being able to attract and afford the level of development team needed to manage this process can be very challenging.

There are a number of alternatives to employing your own team – use of external consultants, buying services in from other larger organisations, purchasing properties off the shelf as opposed to developing them directly, and working in partnership with other organisations.

There is undoubtedly a level of upfront work involved in establishing a partnership approach. But with the current push for scale, efficiency, and quality, partnership working can provide organisations with a good balance between efficiency and quality. It’s also an affordable route for accessing development services whilst retaining control over service delivery.

Working in partnership for development can enable housing associations to access a dedicated, specialist team of experts. Because the cost of this team is shared across multiple organisations the net cost of delivering this service remains competitive and comparable with the level of cost that much larger organisations would be able to enjoy.

At the same time, unlike when procuring development services from an external company, each partner can retain some control over the strategic direction, operational priorities and governance of the partnership vehicle, ensuring it remains aligned with the housing associations corporate strategy.

This means that each partner can utilise many of the benefits of a comprehensive in-house development team, but at the cost of an outsourced, shared development function. Partners can continue to set their our own development strategy, approve schemes, set appraisal assumptions, receive Homes England and other grants, purchase land and own and manage assets.

The development company is there to deliver the development strategy and programme. It will bring forward schemes and sites, appraise opportunities, and procure consultants and contractors. It also manages the development process, including bidding for and managing grant and audit programmes, design and technical standards, and linking into strategic and operational stakeholder meetings.

There are a number of different models of partnership working that are currently in operation within the sector, including my own organisation Iceni Homes. Established in 2004 in East Anglia by three medium sized traditional housing associations, Iceni is a good example of the benefits such a partnership approach can bring, having built over 3,500 homes and generated over £2m in gift aid for its housing association partners.

The motivation behind the establishment of this partnership was remarkably consistent with the types of conversations taking place in the sector today: how to continue to be able to develop new homes and retain independence in the light of calls for greater scale and efficiency. As even more focus is placed on driving cost efficiency and working in partnership to deliver added value, the partnership model of development delivery has never been more relevant.

Phil is a speaker at this year's Smaller Housing Associations' Conference. Book your place now.

Philip Murton

Philip Murton is Managing Director of Iceni Homes, a joint venture development company owned by Colne Housing, Hundred Houses and Suffolk Housing

Phil has worked for Iceni Homes since its inception in 2004. Originally starting out as a Project Manager, Phil became Regional Director in 2008, and Development Director in 2014. Phil was appointed Interim Managing Director in July 2016 and is currently responsible for the overall performance of Iceni Homes.

Working in partnership to build new homes