Joe Marshall, managing director, new homes (counties) for Catalyst, shares his thoughts on the Arc in 2022.

Last year saw real progress in the Arc.  The Government’s public consultation on the Spatial Framework represented a significant move forward.

After years of discussion, debate and what has sometimes felt like slow progress, the consultation signalled the beginning of the next chapter and the output will – hopefully – provide a clear roadmap for the future of the region.

That means 2022 is set to be a pivotal year.  One of the questions I’m asking myself as we start the year is: what does success for the Arc look like over the next 12 months?  How can we – at Catalyst and as a wider sector – turn goodwill into good practice?

Building on progress

One of my highlights of 2021 was a round table event we held in autumn with partners across the Arc.

Coming out of lockdown earlier in the year, it was wonderful to see familiar faces, meet new partners, and to have the opportunity to hold a frank debate about the challenges and opportunities ahead.

As a housing association, it is in our DNA to be focused on the affordability of housing and to take action to provide mixed, inclusive communities.  Nowhere are those things more important than the Arc.

While parts of the Arc are economically advantaged, many parts are not.  So I was heartened to hear the commitment at our round table that everyone sees the necessity to do more – be it private developers, those working in critical industry supply and support roles, and of course among local authority partners too.

The Arc is by definition a collaborative process.  In this spirit, we all need to keep committed to working alongside local communities, businesses, and planning authorities to deliver new developments that genuinely benefit the community at large.

You can’t do this without the support of other vital infrastructure.  Housing, energy, water, transport and digital connectivity are all parts of a complicated jigsaw puzzle.  It takes patience and perseverance to succeed – but many hands can make light work.

As we look into 2022 and towards the Government’s response to the consultation, the key thing we’ll keep emphasising is the importance of treating good quality housing – particularly affordable housing – as an essential part of the Arc’s infrastructure.

Seeing housing and infrastructure as distinct creates a false dichotomy.  It’s crucial we keep thinking holistically about how to deliver good quality communities.  Of course the best way to prove this point is by doing it – so it’s over to us as a sector to demonstrate best practice and provide policymakers with a clear evidence base of what good development looks like.

How will we measure success in the Arc this year?

Here are my three criteria for success in 2022.

Firstly, how well can we navigate political uncertainty and focus on practical solutions?  We need our sector, local government and those in Westminster to work even more closely together.  Anyone involved in development or local government will be familiar with some of the barriers.

To overcome these, let’s keep concentrating on what communities need and the issues that matter to them.  A good Spatial Framework will balance regionalism and localism, and won’t try to provide a one-size-fits-all solution.  It will support locally focused, transformative growth and help councils tackle cross-boundary challenges where collective action is needed.

Secondly, I want to see affordability included as a key principle for the framework.  The Arc is home to some of the most expensive places in the country and people are being squeezed out.  A good amount of quality, affordable housing should be baked into all new developments.  Only by doing this can we make sure that growth responds to local needs but also the diversity of needs – so finding the right mix of housing tenures and types is crucial too.

Finally, if the Arc is to succeed this year, we need to see even further progress on sustainability and the creation of a ‘Green Arc’.  There’s a lot of great work that’s already gone into this – now we need to harness that in each and every new development and take a truly long-term view.

For our part, we’re looking to 2022 with conviction.  As Catalyst comes together with Peabody to create a bigger and stronger organisation, I’m confident we’ll be able to deliver even more sustainable communities and affordable homes both within and beyond the Arc.

There is a symmetry between what the Arc needs and what housing associations do – we’re focused on affordability and we deliver sustained investment in our communities over the long term.

From a personal point of view, I really hope the affordable housing sector can do more to deepen its working relationships with partners right across the region and show the role we can play in making the Arc an even better place to live.

Here’s to a productive and positive 2022 for the Arc.  Happy new year.

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