Brexit and the benefit of time to reflect
As unsettling and scary as things might feel right now, we have the closest thing to a blank sheet of paper we are likely to ever get. Let’s make sure we take advantage of it, says Hayley Hulme of Lighthouse Regeneration.
When the UK made its decision to leave the EU back in June, the sector took time to pause and consider what the implications of such a huge change might be. CIH North West's Beyond regen 2 event - originally due to take place in July - was rescheduled for October, when we hope the future will be a little clearer in terms of the financial, social and policy environment when it comes to regeneration and the role of the housing sector in supporting resilient communities through redevelopment projects.
Everything on hold?
I'm sure that many of you - like me - will have been frustrated by the feeling that on the 24 June the UK ‘stopped the world and got off’. Whatever your views on the outcome of the referendum, Brexit has led to political mayhem and a sense that nobody is taking control or addressing the issues at hand. With the exception of an amazing summer of sport and the everyday pressures of our jobs and families, everything feels a little like it's on hold.
It’s a valid feeling. In times of uncertainty, we all like to feel that someone is taking control, that someone has a grip on the situation and that we can ‘do something’. We can usually rely on our political system to carry on regardless, to be unchanging and unbending in the face of external pressures. But this has been different - and it can feel overwhelming and frustrating.
So what can we do? I say we take advantage of this time - it is a rare gift that we are unlikely to see again in our working lives. For those who wanted to remain, it's hard to accept such a fundamental shift in what we have known, and there are genuine concerns, risks and challenges ahead.
What will Brexit and Theresa May’s government bring? From a housing perspective, we are told to expect an ongoing commitment to the existing policies, which in themselves present challenges:
- Will we see more austerity and public sector cuts, as we ride the economic waves through the transition?
- What will be the impact on lending, regulation and the ability of customers to pay their rent in the event of a mini recession?
- Will we see an increase in homelessness and a fall in the number of new homes?
- From a regeneration perspective, what will happen to the billions of pounds of EU funding we receive? When will the tap be 'turned off'? Will the need for support increase - and where?
- Will government’s limited commitment to regeneration be cut back or stalled due to the need to focus on Brexit?
- What will happen to devolution deals? HS2? The Northern way? Estate regeneration?
These are just a few of our questions - and while the Homes and Communities Agency and trade bodies, including CIH, are starting to explore this with government, we don’t know the answer to any of them today.
But as unsettling and scary as it might be, we have the closest thing to a blank sheet of paper we are likely to ever get. Let’s make sure we use it! Take time out to reflect. Get together with colleagues, customers and thinkers. Work with those outside of your usual sphere of influence. Really challenge your values and purpose to explore a new way.
Focus on the issues, challenges and solutions - not the systems, processes and rules that constrain us. Talk to government (either directly or indirectly), shape the agenda and offer them the solutions they will be keen to identify but can’t develop themselves. Think big and take the opportunity to re-design housing providers for the 21st century which are focused on customers, values and purpose, and have evidence-based, well communicated plans for how they can continue to support and enable regeneration.
- If you’d like to explore how housing will rise to the challenge and continue to support resilient communities through regeneration, join us for Beyond regen 2 at Friends Meeting House, Manchester on 21 October from 10am – 4.30pm. The event is supported by CIH, Regenda Group, Lighthouse Regeneration, Keepmoat Group and Manchester Metropolitan University.