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Housing moves up political agenda, writes Tony Stacey for 24dash.

As chair of the PlaceShapers Group I am delighted to have been given this opportunity by 24dash to share my views on the current housing hot topics following the recent Party Conferences.

I attended the 2012 Conservative Party Conference where I was pleased to be able to represent PlaceShapers at the Homes for Britain launch event on the Monday evening.

There was a strong consensus that stimulating new housebuilding is essential to economic recovery. The Director General of the CBI, John Cridland, who spoke at the launch, described housing as 'the biggest thing' that the government and industry should be promoting to pull this country out of recession.

The role that housing associations can have in driving this forward was widely acknowledged. As existing, and valued, contributors of new affordable homes, PlaceShapers will expect to play a full part. The market is not working currently and PlaceShapers' long-term commitment to invest locally means we are well positioned to build even more in our local communities. Creative solutions are needed and PlaceShapers excel at this.

>While at the conference I spoke to a number of MPs and councillors and picked up a general concern that housing associations house predominantly unemployed people. It is essential that PlaceShaper members get across to their local politicians the real job that we do in getting people into work and supporting them in taking up other opportunities available.

Our report, Localism that Works, lists 16 case studies which evidence what local initiative and local innovation can do for local communities, making it a great showcase for these messages. We also need to explain that as well as our role in providing a springboard for people, there are many others such as people with long-term mental health problems or dementia, for whom our primary purpose is to provide a safety net.

On welfare reform I was struck by the overwhelming consensus - both among Conservative Party members and from pressure groups - that the principles of Universal Credit are a good thing. The concerns that were expressed rightly focus on implementation. It will be critical to assess the lessons from the pilots and ensure that the introduction of welfare reform does not damage housing associations' business plans to such an extent that our capacity to build new homes is sharply reduced. The danger of our tenants falling into the hands of payday loan companies was also widely recognised and its impact needs to be monitored

Overall it was great to see that housing seems to be finally moving up the political agenda albeit that the scale of the challenges ahead and the level of response needed are yet to be fully embraced by all. PlaceShapers will continue to work with others to promote the critical role that community-based housing associations can contribute going forward. This will include promoting the added value we deliver through our community investment work, collecting evidence of the impact of reforms and policy initiatives locally and debunking any continuing assumption that our sector only needs a few big players...astonishingly a view that is still held in some quarters.

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