As a Northern developer we have a keen interest in how the regions are developing and what the future holds. Whether you look at Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield or Hull, it is clear that the fortune of individual places in the North is dependent on the success of all.
In the sixth article of this series, we take a look at how the North must implement a modern housing infrastructure to combat the crisis and avoid the mistakes made in London. The capital has become inaccessible for many; if Northern cities are to truly succeed then they must be open to all – and that starts with housing.
The goal of the Northern Powerhouse project was to boost the regions and rebalance the national economy away from London. The purpose of this was to narrow the North-South divide and bring greater prosperity to the Northern regions which had been neglected for too long.
There is a lot to admire about the growth of London, and a lot to emulate, but one thing the North should avoid is accidentally creating a carbon copy of the capital’s housing market. House prices and rents are so high in London that the city has become unaffordable for many. More and more people leave every year looking for greater opportunity, and a large number of people can’t afford to go there in the first place. 2016 research from the Sutton Trust showed that fewer than 6% of new graduates moving to London were from the most disadvantaged fifth of UK local authorities. There is no indication this has changed in the three years since.
A disproportionate number of the UK’s most deprived authorities are in the North of England, and the future prosperity of the region depends on utilising the talents of everybody – not just those who are already well off or already happen to live in city centres. If people are unable to find suitable accommodation close to the centres of our towns and cities, they are essentially locked out of the highest-paying jobs which deprives us all of growth in strategically important industries.
Getting housing policy right is one of the keys to unlocking the economic potential of the North and ensuring we can compete with the rest of the world. Put simply, this means building more homes in the right places. It is estimated that the five major city regions in the North will need at least 86,000 homes between them by 2030 and not all of those will fit in city centres.
This means that housing policy must encompass whole city regions as a minimum, bringing in nearby partner towns and building what is needed for particular areas.
A good example of how this could, and should, work is the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) which has laid out a regional building plan across all the local councils for the next 20 years. Crucially, the GMSF doesn’t just promote Manchester city centre, it also goes out of its way to boost the regeneration of the surrounding towns. By prioritising more than only the big city centres we can lay in resilient growth which will last for many years and not repeat the mistakes of London by centralising everything.
Furthermore, the GMSF promotes the benefits of devolving infrastructure and funding decisions to the Northern regions. By demonstrating a responsible, workable approach it is to be hoped that further powers will be devolved to the local authorities which know the needs of their regions best. In this way, getting housing right can demonstrate the way forward and be a force for good in the Northern Powerhouse.
In the meantime, the Private Rented Sector continues to be a big part of the future of the North. By providing high quality rental accommodation in key Northern cities, we can help to attract the best talent and businesses inwards which will in turn continue to push our economy forwards.