THE North of England needs two million new homes by 2050 if its economic recovery and growth is to avoid falling flat, says an alliance of the region’s largest developer housing associations.
Homes for the North (H4N), which takes in 17 organisations and is chaired by Riverside’s chief executive Carol Matthews, has released its latest report. The publication, The Role of Housing in the Northern Powerhouse, presents the results of research carried out on its behalf and makes its case for an economically empowered North — with housing at its heart.
“For the last three years, Homes for the North has campaigned to bring housing to the forefront of rebalancing the UK’s economy,” said Bronwen Rapley, chief executive of H4N member Onward Homes.
“We recognise that the North has a wealth of untapped growth potential that needs to be developed, but to unlock that potential, people need homes to live in, homes they can afford and homes in places where they want to live. That’s why this report has explored in depth, the number, type and distribution of new homes we need to support a transformed northern economy.”
The two million extra homes the report argues are needed breaks down to an annual delivery of 50,000 homes up to 2027, accelerating from then to 70,000 a year until 2050. It may sound like a big ask, but the stakes are high — not just for the North, but for England too — if the region is to realise its potential and contribute to the nation’s fortunes.
As the report notes: “Failing to provide the right housing in the right places will inhibit economic growth. A strong local housing offer is critical to attract and retain highly skilled workers. History has shown that housing will not ‘follow’ high pace growth organically, and markets have failed to deliver until prices have risen and affordability suffered. Government intervention to correct housing market failures over many decades proves that housing should not be treated as an afterthought.”
The report argues that housing must be integrated into the wider picture of economic regeneration; joined up with planning for infrastructure and transport. This means a pan-Northern strategic approach.
Making the best use of brownfield land is a case in point: H4N’s research says it has identified sufficient brownfield land to deliver 300,000 new homes across the North, but such sites can take years to unlock, which provides a further reason why an integrated approach is required, it argues.
The North can’t rely on newbuild alone, the report adds. The region also needs to address quality issues in existing stock. Compared to the south, the North has a high proportion of older properties, and many towns “have a legacy” of pre-1919 housing.
“There should be a strong focus on developing housing for social and intermediate rent, addressing the major backlog in provision that currently exists,” the report adds.
Key themes in the report include:
- Housing will be a key enabler, alongside transport and skills, in unlocking northern economic and social potential and therefore needs to be recognised as essential infrastructure
- Housing supply is “inelastic” and is therefore slow to react to changing economic circumstances. This means the ‘predict and provide’ approach to planning should be replaced by an approach that is similar to Transport for the North’s in planning the future transport system, that is one based on ‘vision and validate’
- More and better housing is needed if the planned transport investment is to fully unlock the economic potential of the North. That means to bring about a shift to a higher skilled, more productive economy. Without joined-up national and regional policy, quality of life will be adversely affected, and growth momentum held back. In the long term this will generate costly social dislocation
- Transport investment increases the range of choices available for meeting emerging strategic housing needs. This includes unlocking new housing but also better linking existing housing to areas with high quality employment opportunities. This will help spread future prosperity to areas that might otherwise be left behind
- There is a strong case for integrating policies focussed on economic growth, the regeneration of towns, sustainability and quality of life. In this context, decisions about housing provision cannot be left to market forces alone
“This report highlights the importance of the integration of housing, infrastructure and economic growth,” Rapley added. “The housing market needs effective intervention now to work in the long term for local people and for people who will be local, joining us in the revitalisation of the North.
“The time to address our future housing needs is now to ensure we build a future that works not just for the North, but for the nation.”
In November, Homes for the North is hosting its first major conference in Leeds where the findings of this latest research and more will be discussed. More details on this event can be found on its website.