THE North is being neglected when it comes to Government support to boost housebuilding, a body representing the region’s social housing providers has claimed.
Despite some welcome measures announced in Monday’s Budget, the Northern Housing Consortium (NHC) said that the way the money is to be allocated takes little account of the North’s particular housing problems. As a result, the lion’s share of resources will benefit the south.
With measure such as the extra £500 million to pay for the supporting infrastructure that allows the building of new homes, the organisation said it brought an “expectation of a nationwide boost to housebuilding” only for these hopes to be dashed a few days later.
At issue is the decision to allocate 80% of new funding to areas of “highest affordability pressure” and covers several different funding streams over the next five years: Housing Infrastructure Fund (Forward Fund); Estates Regeneration Fund; the short-term Home Building Fund; the Small Sites Fund; and the Land Assembly Fund.
“We recognise that the pressures faced in buying a home do not affect the whole of the country in equal measure,” says the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. “Some local authorities in this country see house prices at three or four times the average earnings, whilst others see prices at 40 times earnings… so it is right that government funding is directed to address affordability where it poses the greatest problem for the country, so homes can be built where they are most needed.”
But NHC says this geographic targeting of the funds means that Northern authorities will only be able to access a maximum of 20% of the new funding for housebuilding. According to the organisation, this effectively excludes most of the North East, the North West, along with Yorkshire and Humber.
“It seems that funding to meet house-building ambitions is a ‘geographic’ issue, not a nationwide issue, with the vast proportion of the funding going to the south,” said Jo Boaden, the NHC’s chief executive.
The geographical targeting of funding to the South across the five housing programmes draws “stark attention” to the North/south divide, the organisation claims. There are, it says, areas of the North facing “severe constraints” that need additional targeted investment.
“The national focus on a certain definition of affordability prevents different housing markets from tackling unique challenges,” the organisation says. National policies must be flexible to target specific local issues, it argues — market access in unaffordable areas or quality and renewal in more affordable ones, for instance.
“The housing deficit isn’t just in new supply; it is also to be seen in the quality and age of the existing housing stock, with large quantities of pre-war terraced housing,” NHC adds. “Investment to bring brownfield land to market is perhaps the single most important immediate measure that could be taken to accelerate the public sector delivery of new homes in the North.”
Boaden added “It is in areas where private sector investment has been weakest where there has been far less public infrastructure investment. Regional inequality in public infrastructure investment could mean that it becomes more challenging to attract other investment in housing. Government must ensure the investment plan can meet the scale of investment needs in all parts of the country, not just in areas of highest affordability pressure.”