Housing Solutions chief executive to retire after 21 years

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Will Taylor

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The chief executive of Housing Solutions is set to retire after 21 years with the affordable homes provider.

John Petitt, who joined the company in March 1995, will leave in September and be replaced by Orla Gallagher, who is currently the programme director for the Housing Transformation Programme at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.

He said: “I’ve got to say I’ve loved it.

“There is really good job satisfaction, actually building homes and thinking what you can do for people in terms of foundations that you give them, it gives you a real kick.

“We genuinely transform people’s lives.”

Housing Solutions provides affordable homes across the South East.

Homeless people can apply to the Royal Borough to be put on a waiting list and, when possible, will be moved into a Housing Solutions home.

John said the housing crisis in Maidenhead needed to be resolved by co-ordinated cross-party local and national government policy designed to encourage house building, and by taking a more pragmatic approach to development.

He said: “Maidenhead is a good example, constrained by National Trust, Crown Estate land, greenbelt, we’ve got all that, then people get agitated about now having relatively high rise buildings in the town centre.

“The bottom line is you can’t have it both ways, you can either build on greenbelt or have higher density.

“There are areas of greenbelt that are frankly no use to beast nor man, we may as well build on that.”

In particular, he singled out greenbelt land around the sewage facility in Stafferton Way as something to be developed on.

He continued: “Maidenhead has been regenerated and that’s great, it really is, you are going to have lots of new offices and maybe bars and restaurants.

“Well, people have to work in those restaurants, they’ve got to clean those offices, and they’ve got to live somewhere.

“I think it’s going to take decades to sort out.

“I do genuinely worry that we are saving up a huge problem for ourselves here. You look at house prices and you think, ‘how are people going to get on the property ladder?’”

Housing Solutions committed from 2014 to build 2,000 new homes by 2020.

John joined the organisation after he was made redundant by his previous employer.

He joined as a temporary finance director during the large scale voluntary transfer, when the council’s housing stock was transferred to two newly created housing associations – one for Maidenhead and one for Windsor.

He joined the Maidenhead and District Housing Association because it needed a finance director to oversee the transfer.

He said: “My main job when I joined was to sort out the funding agreement with the banks.”

He was then offered the post permanently, and in 1999 he was made acting chief executive before eventually being confirmed in the role as the full chief executive.

In 2000, the Association changed its name to Housing Solutions.

It owns 90 per cent of all the social housing stock in Maidenhead, according to John.

Discussing other factors affecting housing in Maidenhead, he focused on the expansion of right to buy and Brexit.

“Some of our tenants have a right to buy.

“But the bottom line is there’s still a huge number of people who need affordable housing to rent because no matter how much you might aspire to home ownership they are never going to afford it and you have got to be realistic about it.”

On Brexit, he said: “If interest rates go up that affects us as an organisation because we borrow.

“Our funding is essentially a huge mortgage against our property stock.

“If they go up our interest costs go up.

Discussing specific solutions in Maidenhead, he said: “It will mean looking at if we need a new settlement somewhere outside of the town centre.

“You have to think in those terms.”

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