A Better Future Starts At Home – How Our Strategic Partnership With Surrey Is Tackling The Housing Crisis.


Wednesday, 12 July

By Matthew Bennet, Managing Consultant at Inner Circle Consulting


Surrey is a prosperous and wealthy part of England. It’s known, with good reason, for its high quality of life.  Surrey County Council’s local partners and stakeholders refer to it as having long been seen as “some sort of Shangri-la” or “England’s California”. High praise indeed.


Yet despite this reputation, local public services have been struggling to recruit and retain staff. Local businesses have also been finding it increasingly difficult to hire. And high streets are starting to suffer because workers are unable to afford to live or commute to these jobs. Consequently, the good life that Surrey had come to be known for is under strain. One local chief executive described the situation to us at Inner Circle as a “burning platform.”


Against this backdrop the county council decided to act and brought Inner Circle in to deliver a new strategy for Housing, Homes and Accommodation across this county of over 1.2 million residents.


Given the sensitivities around housing development, it was clear that a narrow ‘housing strategy’ approach would fail. Instead the brief agreed by the county, together with the eleven districts and boroughs, was to look more widely: To consider not only supply and affordability, but also the interface with inward investment, with health and well-being and with climate and 20-minute neighbourhoods. This is exactly the approach that ICC advocates: it’s impossible to look at housing without thinking about the climate impacts, or to look at local economic vitality without considering housing. These issues are deeply intertwined and interdependent and if we want to make progress on any of these areas then we need to step back and look at them all.


Housing is a contested space in Surrey, as it is across much of the country. We knew that anything presented as a baseline assessment needed to be robust and comprehensive. Over the summer of 2022, the ICC team pulled together over 90 gold-standard data sets, drawing on data published by central government, by the Office for National Statistics, the Regulator for Social Housing and locally-held data.


It painted a stark picture of the challenge faced by Surrey. Median house prices there – the cost of ordinary homes for ordinary families – are now 13 times median earnings. At the same time, the county has far fewer social and affordable homes as a share of its housing market – some 25,000 fewer than the English average. The pace of affordable housing delivery would take over 30 years to clear existing waiting lists for council housing – and only so long as nobody else joined those lists.


The most recent internal migration figures showed the impact this was having on Surrey’s ability to attract families and economically active younger residents. While Kent and Hampshire had both seen a net gain of 6,000 residents in 2019-20, East and West Sussex had jointly gained 8,000, Surrey gained just 1,400 – and in one year saw 5% of its population leave, the highest rate of departure in the South East.


Inner Circle supplemented the raw data with over 30 one-to-one conversations with key partners and stakeholders from the wider private and public sectors in order to bring these statistics to life. We wanted to ensure that the baseline assessment was rooted in the lived experience of those confronting the housing crisis in Surrey, in all its aspects, on a daily basis. Some of the examples we heard were astonishing. One NHS trust in Surrey was losing around £4m a year to the cost of recruiting much-needed clinical staff from overseas – only to see a sizeable number of those staff leave Surrey to work elsewhere in the NHS. From exit surveys the lack of good quality affordable accommodation was a top reason why doctors, nurses and therapists were leaving.


By speaking to businesses, housing associations, developers, planners, universities and housing professionals, we were able to build a detailed and vivid picture of the state of housing in Surrey, and in so doing, build confidence in key stakeholders in the strength of this work. The breadth of this analysis, alongside the depth of the data meant we were able to better define the shape and structure of the local housing crisis. This process helped build a coalition across Surrey of partners who, for the first time, were able to see the full extent of the crisis they were confronting. Many knew their area in extraordinary detail, but had never heard from a wider range of stakeholders about how the housing crisis was directly impacting them, or seen a contextual analysis that compared their situation to that in other regions.


We then held four workshops with over 70 housing professionals and partners from across Surrey, culminating in a Surrey Housing Summit with more than 100 council leaders, chief executives, senior officers, housing associations, businesses, developers, charities and national organisations, all committed to action.


The end result? A two-part strategy containing a ‘Call to Action’ that sets out how local partners need to act and operate differently and take a more holistic approach to the Surrey Housing Crisis, including pooling of resources, a strategic approach to land, and a stronger role in affordable housing delivery for local councils. There’s also a ‘‘Call to Government’ from all the partner authorities in Surrey – setting out what needs to change in national policy for progress to be made at a local level. This included Homes England changing their policy to offer funding for replacement units on regeneration schemes, a change which has now taken place.


At the start of this process there was a sceptical push back from some quarters about the strategy. We quite often heard: “So what?” from hard-working local stakeholders who felt overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. By taking the time needed to build trust and confidence in the quality of Inner Circle’s advice and the robustness of our process, the most recent thing we’ve been hearing is: “What’s next?”