Test 25 January, 2018

Win:Win – the NHS and councils together, for better health facilities and affordable homes

The confirmation of a £10bn extension to Help to Buy and the abolition of stamp duty for some first-time buyers in the November 2017 Budget mean that the focus of housing policy continues to be on home ownership. Given this emphasis and the severe constraints on government resources, public land will need to take the strain in delivering much needed affordable housing

Sir Robert Naylor’s review of NHS land and property outlines a new estates strategy based on the release of surplus assets for reinvestment and the delivery of 26,000 new homes. If NHS organisations use their space more efficiently, Naylor found that £2.7bn could be raised via land sales, rising to £5.7bn if additional measures are implemented, including reductions in affordable housing levels.

Last October, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care announced a ‘Homes for Nurses’ scheme, which will give 3,000 NHS workers first refusal on affordable housing generated through the sale of surplus NHS sites. However, a recent study found that 80% of homes currently being built on NHS sites are for market sale, the vast majority of which are out of reach for NHS key workers. Further, of the 20% of homes classified as ‘affordable’, which is well below the 35% target set by most councils, only half of these are for social rent and, therefore, in reach of nurses on average salaries. This means that only one in ten of homes currently being delivered on NHS land are genuinely affordable to nurses.

The reinvestment opportunities identified by Naylor are essential to delivering a fit for purpose NHS estate but it would be a false economy and counter to the aspirations of ‘Homes for Nurses’ to increase the capital available by further reducing affordable housing levels. The Department for Health can play a key role in simultaneously releasing capital and delivering affordable homes by working with local councils and new devolved health bodies, such as the London Estates Board, to ensure that NHS disposals deliver affordable housing at the policy levels outlined in local plans. This would deliver of double bottom line – improved health facilities and homes that NHS key workers can afford.