An interview
with our Chair

Professor Paul Leinster CBE joined the bpha Board as Chair in April 2018. He is Professor of Environmental Assessment at Cranfield University and, until 2015, was Chief Executive of the Environment Agency. We caught up with Paul to find out how his first 18 months has been, and what he hopes to achieve at bpha.

What attracted you to bpha and how has your first 18 months as Chair been?

I’ve lived in Bedford for more than 30 years and I’ve seen bpha playing an important role in communities across the Oxford, Bedford, Cambridge region. I was very pleased when I was appointed because bpha’s ethos and values reflect my own. My time at the Environment Agency (EA) has also prepared me well for my bpha role. Our responsibilities included constructing, maintaining and managing flood defences across England and involved engaging with a wide range of stakeholders including communities. I have been able to use and build on this experience in my bpha role.

Following my first year as Chair we maintained the highest rating possible for governance and financial viability with the housing regulator, so we’re doing very well. We’ve also developed a five-year strategy which will take the organisation forward and includes a commitment to build around 600 new homes a year.

“Overall, I want us to be clear on where we’re going and to make sure that everyone is signed up to it.”

What do you think bpha does particularly well?

bpha is clear about what it does. The maintenance and improvement of existing homes are priorities alongside the building of new homes. Making sure our core services are of a high quality, provide value for money and that we meet customer expectations is fundamental. bpha is good at re-investing the money it receives in maintaining and improving existing homes, in building new homes, and in delivering new and improved services. bpha also works well with communities – to improve the quality of life of residents and to benefit wider communities.

What do you think bpha needs to improve on?

bpha is a well-run organisation and I think it’s doing a great job. However, there’s always room for improvement in any organisation. We should always be striving to be better at what we do. I’ve been challenging bpha to look at what we can learn from others – not just housing associations but all types of businesses and organisations. We should be asking how others create a good customer experience, how they develop new services and where they get their ideas from and how we can apply what we learn to our situation.

What do you hope to achieve during your time at bpha?

I want residents to be happy living in their homes and neighbourhoods and, as a major employer in Bedford, I want our staff to feel valued and have the opportunity to develop themselves further through training and experience.

I’m also keen for us to focus more on what we can do to protect and improve the environment. For example, when we’re designing and building new housing developments, and maintaining and refurbishing existing homes how do we best take into account energy and water use and how do we incorporate habitats that will provide multiple benefits. Protecting and improving the environment has been the focus of my career and it’s something that’s very close to my heart.

Overall, I want us to be clear on where we’re going and to make sure that everyone is signed up to it. Our new five-year strategy gives us that clarity and it’s an exciting time to be part of bpha.

What’s the most important thing about customer service?

I want us to provide a level of service that I would expect to receive from others – high quality, value for money and timely. And I want us to do what we say we are going to do. We are a people-focused organisation; we have to concentrate on giving a great service to the people who live in the homes and communities we serve. In addition, we need to remember that many people in bpha have internal customers and they also deserve excellent levels of service.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for housing associations at the moment?

Getting funding to meet the needs we see is the biggest challenge. In the areas where we work, just like other parts of the country, there is an urgent need for more homes of all types – to both rent and buy in a way that is affordable for people. We also need more community investment, through local services and projects, to help people overcome the barriers to achieving a better quality of life.

Name a person in history that you’d like to meet, and tell us why?

I’d like to have a conversation with Jesus. I’d be interested to know what he thinks about what’s going on in the world just now.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had?

To treat others as you’d like to be treated.

If you could volunteer for a month anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I’d like to work on a project that provides clean water, better sewage facilities and education in a country that needs this kind of help – perhaps a country in Africa or in India. The EA’s adopted charity was Water Aid and I continue to support Tearfund (a Christian charity that supports people living in poverty).

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I have six grandchildren, aged from 22 months to six who keep me busy! I also like to play golf, albeit not as well as I would like to, but with great enthusiasm and hope. I enjoy walking, watching sport and I’m a leader at a local church.

More about Paul

Paul is Professor of Environmental Assessment at Cranfield University and Chairs the Bedfordshire Local Nature Partnership and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment. He is a non-executive board member of Flood Re, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Delphic HSE. He is a member of the Natural Capital Committee, which gives advice to the government on protecting and improving the environment and on the sustainable use of natural assets such as forests, rivers, land and the sea. He has extensive experience of the environmental, planning and infrastructure opportunities and challenges within the ‘growth and innovation’ Arc between Oxford and Cambridge.