NEW research has revealed that some of the seemingly most affordable places to live in the North West are where average earners are most likely to struggle.
Manchester makes sense as one of the region’s least affordable places to live, but it is keeping company alongside Oldham, Blackburn, Knowsley and Rochdale – places generally regarded as more affordable – where people on average incomes also struggle to make ends meet.
This is according to the first ‘Liveability Index’ for 2019, published by Your Housing Group (YHG), which focuses on the North West. The study identifies the most challenging areas to live; the unexpected places where there is an urgent need to deliver more genuinely affordable housing.
Despite having reputations for more affordable house prices and rents, Oldham, Blackburn and Knowsley are in fact the most difficult places to live in for average earners, it claims. Manchester is also in the bottom five because of “extremely challenging” affordability and has amongst the greatest need for new affordable housing to be built.
The North West Liveability Index is the first release from a new national study that will be launched later this year. It is said to be the first such study to map average earners’ ability to live affordably in every local authority in the country.
The study is said to create a much more realistic map of affordable housing need because it focuses not just on housing availability and costs. An essential part of its ‘liveability’ calculation takes in the “essential opportunities and amenities” the housing needs to provide access to, such as jobs, wages that meet the cost of living, and decent state schools.
It has been developed by YHG together with a former HM Treasury economist and follows on from a pilot study the housing provider launched last year.
According to the study, Manchester is the least affordable place to live in the North West, purely in terms of housing costs for people on average incomes. The average house price is 8.2 times that at (£193,367) and rents are very high (£801 per month).
But Oldham is the most difficult area to live in for average earners, the study reveals. At first sight, it looks affordable, with below-average house prices (£148,628 vs £180,697 regional average) and lower rents (£551 a month vs £568 regional average).
However, lower average earnings of local residents (£23,803 vs £25,538 regional average) plus a low employment rate of 67.4% (vs 73.7%) means locals struggle to afford housing costs.
This combines with other pressures for average earners, such as overcrowding in available housing and a challenging local labour market with a job density – a measure of job availability – of only 0.70 (0.81); all of which impedes opportunity scores.
Conversely, areas like south Lakeland, Fylde and Eden, which are renowned for high housing costs, are some of the best places to live in the North West for average earners, when the higher local average salaries are looked at alongside good opportunities in work and education, as well as good amenities on offer to local residents.
South Lakeland in Cumbria offers the best place for affordable living. Despite having higher average house prices (£269,364) and rents (£656), these are cancelled out by higher resident earnings (£26,212) and the highest employment rate in the region (86.5%).
The area also scores highly on the availability of housing and desirability is buoyed by strong local wealth indicators such as a high proportion of owner occupiers and households prepared to pay a big homeownership premium over renting (+25% vs +11% regional average).
Good wages and a healthy labour market are coupled with access to good schools, with high attainment scores (48.9 vs 45.3 regional average); making the area excellent in terms of offering opportunities to ‘get on’, the study says.
“This important new research reveals the hidden problem areas for average earners in towns and cities across the North West. Importantly, it also shows where we need to see the development of more genuinely affordable homes,” said Brian Cronin, YHG’s chief executive.
“The large commercial developers are part of the housing crisis, not its solution: they are simply failing to deliver the homes people need at a price they can afford. The attention now needs to focus on alternative providers, and I believe housing associations could play a major new role in solving the problem.
“We are now working on ideas to get new funding into this sector, including from responsible investors like pension funds, and will soon be publishing our findings.”