A report published by the Centre for Cities this month has suggested that the way to reignite the British economy lies within a boost to housing supply, both old and new.
The centre highlights that decades of failed housing policy has resulted in the UK building 100,000 fewer homes a year than is thought to be required to meet the demand. The current aim, as set out by the government, is 232,000 new homes a year. For this to change the center suggests that ‘areas must be given the flexibility to use their funding for locally driven solutions to housing shortages which differ from place to place, rather than nationally prescribed policies.’
Areas such as Oxford, Cambridge and London, where economic growth is strong and housing demand is high would benefit more if focus was applied to kick starting stalled housing sites that have already gained planning permission, the report says. Cambridge alone has well over 2,000 stalled sites and a vacancy percentage of only 1%.
According to the research carried out by the Centre for Cities, delivering the new housing stock in such areas will increase short-term employment by creating up 90,000 low position jobs, 150,000 jobs in total and help support a 1% boost to the national economy.
The centre also focuses on how areas elsewhere that are unable to deliver new homes, due to current market conditions and lack of funding, would benefit from the refurbishment of their current housing stock. As well as reducing vacancy rates in the struggling cities, quality of life and an increase in jobs would also result.
The research has highlighted 10 populous areas that are riddled with empty houses and in need of renovation, nine of which are in the north of England. Burnley, which is the most affected area, has over 7% of its housing stock vacant. The other northern cities highlighted by the report as having the worst vacancy rate include, Bradford, Hull, Blackpool, Leeds, Liverpool, Bolton, Blackburn and Birkenhead, with the Scottish city of Dundee completing the list.
The Chief Executive of Centre for Cities, Alexandra Jones, says
“Cities must have the freedoms and flexibilities to make decisions about housing policy based on local circumstances. For some cities, lack of housing prevents people accessing jobs or means they are stuck in cramped accommodation. In other cities, incentives to retrofit empty houses could improve local quality of life. Both approaches, adapted to local needs, would generate the jobs and growth the UK needs.”
As an aside, we ask: should planners refuse applications for new homes in areas where there are many homes lying vacant and unused and in need of refurbishment?
The developers’ endless quest for profits drives the pursuit of new greenfield sites rather than expensive clearing or regenerating of existing stock. Instead of encouraging this, should Government be looking at imposing a quota on large scale developers to focus at least some of their efforts on incumbent stock in need of TLC? Perhaps developers constructing over 500 homes a year could be forced to make any further projects, above the 500, at least 10% renovation and regenerations?
We have written before on bringing empty homes back into use and the extent of the UK’s vacancy problem, read our article here.
SRJ / LCB