Lord Heseltine of Thenford may not be the 'big beast' that he once was in the Conservative Party, and how much he actually contributed to the 91-page report on the Tees Valley released this month is anybody's guess, but the fact that he put his name on it gives it a degree of significance that anyone involved in housing should note.
Apart from his role in Margaret Thatcher's downfall, Heseltine is most remembered for his part in the 'Right to Buy' policy to allow council tenants to buy their homes and for the regeneration of Liverpool after the Toxteth riots. Whatever you think of the conservative policy to sell off council housing stock, this was a defining policy of aspirational working class conservatives that still resonates within the party which currently governs us. Heseltine's subsequent role in the regeneration of Liverpool was widely credited across the political spectrum and saw him awarded a Freeman of the City of Liverpool in 2012. More significantly from our perspective, it re-affirmed his political philosophy of 'localism' - taking power out of the hands of Westminster and devolving it to local government.
While this might all be ancient history to most, Heseltine still has considerable influence within the party of government - George Osborne is a fan, and David Cameron clearly aligns himself with the 'one nation' tory party epitomised by Heseltine. Indeed, his 2012 document 'No Stone Unturned' - a plan for economic recovery in the aftermath of the banking crisis - has largely been adopted by the current administration.
So Heseltine's name on the Tees Valley report indicates that - far from being the ramblings of yesterday's man - this report is very much about current government policy and how they would like to see power devolved to the regions to generate growth and create jobs.
The Tees Valley area is an obvious choice for the government to choose as a showcase regeneration project. While it would be wrong to paint the picture of an entire region that is an underperforming economic basket-case, there is the legacy of traditional industries in long-term decline, higher than average rates of unemployment and welfare dependency, and some areas with poor housing stock and relatively low educational achievement.
In short, the area is ripe for regeneration and there is plenty of scope for improvement - in infrastructure, commerce and education.
The Tees Valley Devolution Deal that was agreed in October 2015, saw five local authorities - Darlington,
Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees – become a Combined Authority earlier this year, with plans for a directly elected Mayor by mid-2017. The Combined Authority will control finances for skills, transport and infrastructure, innovation and business support.
The success of the model of a Combined Authority with a directly elected Mayor is key to the government's strategy of encouraging growth away from the South East by devolving power to the regions, so expect the Tees Valley to be the poster boy (or girl) for regional devolution and the much trumpeted 'Northern Powerhouse'.
If all goes according to the government plan, improvements in transport, infrastructure and education - coupled with incentives and support from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills - will bring businesses into the area, creating jobs and generating wealth that will be self-sustaining after the 'support' element has moved on.
As far as housing is concerned - if everything goes according to plan - Heseltine enumerates the key outcomes as follows:
Fine words, but there needs to be some delivery on the Northern Powerhouse, Combined Authorities and directly-elected Mayors - so we wouldn't be surprised to see lots of help (financial and otherwise) - for any developer looking to get involved in the Tees Valley regeneration project.
Expect land to be freed up (and cleaned up - those brownfield sites aren't going to prep themselves!), a developer-friendly planning environment, easy access to low-cost finance and assistance with training and employing local people.
If the Tees Valley experiment looks like working, expect the model to be replicated across the North - and get set for a piece of the action. Better yet, head for the Tees Valley now and get building - there's never been a better time!
And if things don't work out? Well, Tarzan's getting on a bit, and let's face it - the conservatives don't have that many votes to lose on Teesside!
View the full Tees Valley report here.
Photo Credit: By Chatham House - Lord Heseltine, Deputy Prime Minister, UK (1995-97)Uploaded by January, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29316493