Published: 09:50, 05 June 2017
The outgoing chief executive of a housing association has made a parting shot at councils, saying housebuilding in Kent has been held back by “Mickey Mouse planning policies”.
Peter Stringer is to retire from Golding Homes on June 23 after 37 years in social housing, during which time he has guided the investment of £150 million into regenerating homes and estates.
The group has built 1,200 properties since it launched in 2004, and is landlord of more than 7,200 homes and 20,000 residents across nine districts in Kent.
However, he said many of his ambitions during his career had been thwarted by “short-sighted local councils”, including plans put forward in 2013 to build a 5,000-home garden suburb at Langley, near Maidstone.
He said the project could have included a bypass that would have reinvigorated the Park Wood Industrial Estate and created jobs, but lamented the council had focused on “linear development” down the town’s Sutton Road.
He accused officials of failing to “think outside the planning box for a minute”.
He said: “I talk to a lot of local politicians, some of whom chair the planning committees, and I think, ‘what on earth are you doing?’
“‘You’ve not looked at the garden-suburb option, which is going to free up the south side of the town for you as a local authority’.”
He questioned the rationale for developing in the rail hub villages of Staplehurst, Marden and Headcorn, where many commuters use public transport to London Bridge and Charing Cross.
“I talk to a lot of local politicians, some of whom chair the planning committees, and I think, ‘what on earth are you doing?’"... - Peter Stringer, Golding Homes
He said: “There are four or five in the households being developed but only one of them is going to London. How are the other four going to get to work or school? It’s really Mickey Mouse planning policies.”
Maidstone Borough Council declined to comment on the opinions.
Mr Stringer said the government needed to award larger grants to housing associations to help reach the national target of 250,000 homes being built each year.
The alternative would be to make land available more cheaply for social housing projects compared to private developers.
He pointed to a 40-home development the company is building near the Dog & Bear Hotel in Lenham, of which 20 will be sold on the open market to pay for its subsidised rents. It has just completed its first sale of a four-bedroom detached home for £650,000.
He said: “We are having to do some open-market sales to make a profit to keep rents down for the affordable homes on the site.
“Years ago we got a lot of capital grants from government, which allowed us to charge a social rent at 60% of the market value.
“There has been almost total withdrawal of the capital subsidy from government, which means rents have increased. We are now producing affordable rents at about 80% of the market value.”
However, he said there had been some benefits to selling some homes on developments to pay for social housing.
He said: “The good thing about it is you are developing mixed communities, so you have people in different economic groups living together. I think that is healthy.
“You can drive around that cul-de-sac in a pretty Kentish village and no one would know what is social housing and what is open-market housing.”
He believes young people should focus on the positives of renting at a time when home ownership is difficult.
He said: “In terms of our kids, what I’ve said to them is you rent at least for the first seven or eight years so that you have great mobility because owning is becoming more and more difficult in terms of job mobility.”
What is the best careers advice you’ve ever received?
It was from my dad. When I was just starting work, he asked me how I was getting on with my job applications. I had got four job offers and we went through them. One was a job at Warrington Borough Council on £3,000 a year and another was as a trainee tax inspector on £6,500. My dad said: ‘Every morning for the next 40 years you’ve got to leap out of bed, even in the middle of winter and there’s icicles on the window, and go to that work and enjoy it every day. You must do something which you think you have a passion for because if you have passion for it then you’ll be successful and the money will take care of itself.’ I took the job at Warrington.
What has kept you in this sector?
Housing is the most important aspect in anybody’s life apart from love and children. I would say love first, children second and third housing. Without a decent home, it affects your children’s education, which in turn affects their health and life chances. Our mission is enhancing life chances. It’s about more than bricks and mortar.
What is your management style?
There are two management styles generally. There’s the boom-and-bust approach, where you say ‘we’ve got a reduction in income so we’ll make some people redundant’. Alternatively, there’s my approach, which is to put all our efforts into the business priority – developing new homes. We’ll develop a shedload more homes, which increases our income, which means we can sustain the staffing level. I’ve had to make redundancies in the past but only on a minor scale. I don’t do knee jerk. I always think 30 years ahead.
What has been the biggest change to how you work in your career?
We used to have a relatively junior member of staff who’d open all the post and then put letters into pigeon holes. One of the problems with email is the number of ‘letters’ all levels now receive. There is no pigeon-hole hierarchy anymore. Now I get about 100 emails a day. That’s a massive change, and it’s a real and expensive issue, not least in terms of time. I know chief execs who delete their inbox every Friday. They don’t even look. And the world keeps going around. If it’s important they’ll call you.
Born: 11/9/1956 in Chester
School: St Nicholas Catholic High School, Hartford
Live: Chart Sutton, Maidstone
Family: Widower with two children Eleanor, 26, and Michael, 23
First job: Housing and planning assistant at Warrington Borough Council
First salary: £3,000 a year
Salary now: £130,000
Car: Audi Q5 (his 12th Audi)
Book: Touching the Void by Joe Simpson
Film: Life of Brian
Music: Arctic Monkeys, U2, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Thin Lizzy
Last holiday: Madonna di Campiglio in the Italian Dolomites
Charity: British Mountaineering Council
Peter Stringer usually gets up at 7am and arrives at the office at about 8am.
He begins his day checking emails and touching base with his three directors.
Mondays are particularly busy, picking up any issues with tenants over the weekend or clearing up anything which might cause reputational damage for the company.
He spends his days in various meetings.
He will later be talking to lawyers about a new £50 million loan for the business. He will usually go to two or three evening meetings a week.
In his downtime he enjoys mountaineering and used to play badminton and football for his home county Cheshire.
In the past two years, he has become “addicted” to golf. He intends to spend some of his retirement at a home in Tenerife.
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