Making places that work
“If we are to have successful housing markets in the North we must broaden our approach and consider regeneration as part of the solution.”
Jo Boaden, Chief Executive, Northern Housing Consortium (NHC)
Ahead of the UK Infrastructure Show 2018, we speak to the event partners about the importance of infrastructure. In today’s article we speak with Karen Brown, Senior Policy Advisor, at Northern Housing Consortium.
To strengthen housing supply we must focus on supporting and improving existing areas as well as building new homes. Recent figures show that at least 500,000 additional homes are required in the North during the next 10 years and 70% of those are to be located in the seven City Regions.
The NHC has been consulting with its members and is clear there is a series of common issues facing neighbourhoods in the North – some of which derive from the regions’ industrial past. While many of the symptoms are similar, often the causes will vary from place to place and so the tools and strategies needed to make progress will also vary.
So what are the challenges for these areas and how can we overcome them?
Currently, deprived areas can act as an overall drain on public resources. This stems from a concentration of issues such as low incomes, poor health, weak educational attainment and high crime levels. Typically, there is a low level of engagement and confidence from residents which in turn impacts on the reputation of neighbourhoods resulting in low-quality housing in unattractive environments.
We also need to respond to demographic changes and the growing need for specialist and supported housing — in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber the number of people aged 65 and over will increase by an average of 18% by 2024. In the North West for example, this equates to an over-65 aged population of over 2 million by 2024 with total specialist housing currently in the region of 4,359 units. 
Even though house prices are comparatively low, there is limited access for residents in these areas to own their own home due to their income levels, the nature of current types of employment and a lack of access to deposits (which on a house today is more than half the average income). These areas are dominated by low quality private rented sector homes which bring with them significant public investment through Housing Benefit, tenant insecurity and concerns over decent standards and safety.
If we can use the strong investor interest in providing good quality new rented homes in the North (which to date has often been concentrated in relatively few places and market segments) then this could attract new investment to provide a far better privately rented product. We could achieve improved choice, standards and longer tenancies. This work to improve rental standards could be complemented by targeted enforcement work to tackle those landlords who do not offer good quality homes.
Other opportunities include support and capacity for local authorities to be able to build on currently unviable brownfield sites. Focused place-based plans and dedicated investment from government will give confidence to existing housing providers and to new developers to help overcome barriers and meet common, shared objectives.
We need a clear, long term vision and commitment to raise the quality and quantity of housing in the North as part of the wider planning framework. This would be strongly place focused and shaped by and with residents. This vision and commitment would be backed by a comprehensive strategy to bring about positive change and enhanced capacity to develop as well as providing the tools needed for success. A high degree of local flexibility in policy and investment is required to help identify these challenges, and then to prioritise the solutions to ensure a tailored approach for each area.
We must have up front physical and social investment in order to demonstrate commitment, to overcome initial barriers and to create the conditions needed to boost market confidence. In addition to this we need to improve low quality existing homes making them safer, warmer, more attractive and easier to maintain. In order to have a viable private rented sector we need to work with and support landlords to raise property and management standards. Alongside all of this we need housing to be part of the wider transport and infrastructure initiatives to ensure a comprehensive, holistic approach to improving communities across the North.
 Future Housing requirements for the North, A Litchfield Report for Homes for the North, June 2017
 ONS Population Projections
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