An attempt to chart the ‘liveability’ of the North’s towns and cities claims to have identified ‘hidden’ areas of affordable housing need, often where least expected, effectively holding back efforts to boost local economies and tackle deprivation
By Mark Cantrell
PITY poor Bradford. The West Yorkshire city has found itself bottom of a league table that ranks the best and worst places to live for people on average incomes.
More prosperous cities such as Manchester might want to hold off on the schadenfreude, though – it’s not done so great either.
Manchester comes in as the eight most difficult place to live in the rankings, a little bit ahead of Sheffield at sixth. South Lakeland, by contrast, tops the league, offering families on average local incomes the best place in the North of England for accessing housing and opportunities to ‘get on’.
But this isn’t about bruising the civic pride of the North’s towns and cities, however much that might feel like the case for those ranked in the doldrums. The report claims to have identified areas of ‘hidden’ need; a ‘blind spot’ that has effectively hampered efforts in these places to tackle deprivation and revitalise their fortunes.
The Northern Powerhouse Liveability Index, which gave rise to the above findings, was commissioned by Your Housing Group (YHG) and was produced by economic consultancy Chamberlain Walker. It is said to be the first research of its kind to look at more than just access to “affordable” housing in assessing how easy a place is for low- to average-earners to live.
Other factors considered in the analysis include access to jobs, good school places, and wages that meet the local cost of living. These were ‘crunched’ to create numerical scores (see below) that are used to rank local authority areas accordingly.
“This significant new research reveals the hidden problem areas for average earners in towns and cities across the North of England. Importantly it also shows where we need to see the development of more genuinely affordable homes,” said Brian Cronin, YHG’s chief executive.
Places like Bradford, Oldham, Blackburn, and Knowsley may have reputations for below-average housing costs, according to YHG, but with the index revealing them to be most difficult areas to live in for average earners, it shows that they are most in need of new “affordable” homes.
Average house prices in Bradford, for instance were found to be £160,700 compared to the regional average of £173,200, while the average rent was £517 a month against a regional average of £560. However, the average earnings of £24,400 still leave residents struggling to afford the average rental costs.
Manchester and Sheffield, meanwhile, were singled out for a general lack of new “affordable” housing provision that impacted their position in the rankings.
So, what does the Liveability Index have to say about where new homes need to be built? Well, Bradford for one; Manchester for another. More generally, according to Chamberlain Walker, the findings suggest:
- Local authorities with poor affordability but good quality of life need to increase their new house building
- Local authorities with poor affordability and poor quality of life may need to increase their new house building, but alongside other policy interventions
- Local authorities with good affordability and poor quality of life do not need to increase their new house building
“When it comes to new house building, market signals (house prices and rents) should always be an important determinant of where new homes are built, and commercial home builders naturally respond well to these. But housing associations are uniquely positioned to build new housing taking a more holistic view,” the consultancy said. “We need to take that holistic view, not just ‘building housing for housing’s sake’, but building where it is needed the most. That means new housing where it makes a difference to peoples’ lives, not where it locks them into poverty. That way, new housing can also contribute to a thriving Northern Powerhouse. Hopefully, the Liveability Index can help to inform that debate.”
The report made the point that those languishing at the bottom of the index may be down, but they’re not out – it’s not all negative. Bradford has high levels of ‘life satisfaction’ and the city is campaigning for a Northern Powerhouse railway station in the city centre to boost its economy and opportunities for residents.
Oldham council, meanwhile, is engaged with efforts to tackle its high unemployment by creating apprenticeships and training opportunities.
“As a housing provider we are passionate about creating more places to thrive. Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a good quality home they can afford, in a thriving neighbourhood with good community facilities and the potential for local work opportunities,” YHG’s Cronin added.
“That’s why we invest in community regeneration, such as the transformation of Anfield in Liverpool, which has seen us bring homes which lay empty for years back into use and create employment opportunities with our regeneration partners. Commercial developers simply cannot deliver this, and government needs to recognise the major role housing providers such as Your Housing Group could play to fill this significant gap.”
Henri Murison, director at the Northern Housing Partnership, said: “It is not accurate when people claim it is grim up North – prosperity and inequalities vary from area to area… Crucial to the success of the Northern Powerhouse is creating vibrant, diverse communities capable of driving the North’s ambitions, attracting the skilled jobs of the future, stimulating economic growth, and ultimately helping rebalance the UK.”
Naturally, as the Liveability Index seeks to point out, that won’t be done without the right mix of housing in the right places. Here’s to Bradford having the last laugh yet.
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By the numbers
TO compile the Northern Powerhouse Liveability Index, report author Chris Walker of economic consultancy Chamberlain Walker analysed:
- The availability of homes to rent or buy
- The cost of homes in relation to local incomes. Homes are considered unaffordable if they take more than 30% of gross individual earnings
- For mortgages, the Index calculated the proportion of average earnings of a household taken by a repayment mortgage at 90% loan-to-value with a 10% deposit, over 25 years at an interest rate of 3%
- For rents, the Index calculated the proportion of average earnings of a household taken by the average rent for the local area
- Opportunity considered the availability of work offering “attractive wages” in relation to the regional average
- Desirability concerned areas where schools achieve good attainment scores
This data was recorded for each local authority, with a baseline score of 100 representing the average for the whole region, then they were ‘crunched’ to come up with a score for liveability. An area scoring 110 for affordability would have a more affordable housing offer. Meanwhile, a local authority area scoring 88 for opportunity provides below average wage and job prospects.
Bradford scored 96 for affordability; 85 for opportunity; 81 for desirability; 69 for availability (of homes offering suitable space for household size), which gave an overall liveability score of 331.
South Lakeland, by contrast, scored 98 for affordability; 115 for opportunity; 116 for desirability; 136 for availability to score an overall 465 for liveability.
This article originally appeared in the print edition of Northern Housing magazine #1 Summer (July) 2018.