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New housing: an urgency, not just a convenience


By Nigel Murphy

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has highlighted a rapid rise in house prices across the UK, with the most acute upward curve being here in the North West.

Estate agents and brokers have cited multiple reasons for this exponential growth. One of them being, notably, the effects of the pandemic, in that a period of confinement and an increase in homeworking provided many people with an opportunity to assess the long-term suitability of their accommodation.

This surge in demand, coupled with an ongoing lack of supply, has seen prices skyrocket in the North West. Even though we’re generally starting from a better-value average than many other parts of the country, this is still an alarming increase, particularly for young local people looking to get on the housing ladder.

The simple fact behind all this is that not enough housing has been built in the UK for at least the past fifty years. Right-to-buy removed swathes of social housing from the general stock, much of which was also not replaced. So, we are now suffering from a severe imbalance between demand and supply, both for social and private properties.

A consequence of this has been the rise of the private rental market. Whilst there will always be a place for private lettings, both demand and rents have surged as social housing is in increasingly short supply, and high demand for private housing sees it rendered unaffordable for many young people looking to get on the ladder.

During my time as Deputy Leader here in Manchester, we were forced to clamp down on problem landlords who were providing substandard accommodation, often at exorbitant rents, and sometimes problem tenants who were not respecting the properties they lived in or the neighbours around them.

Ultimately, housing should be a stable nest for individuals and families to grow and feel secure. It should not be a property version of the ‘gig economy’, which is the situation we’re increasingly faced with in the UK.

The only solution to this is to build and build quickly.

Far too often, government have set ambitious targets, but have then run away from providing sufficient support to local authorities to enable them to deliver on these targets. Furthermore, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and its predecessors repeatedly shifting the goal posts when it comes to local government structures and planning guidance has only served to further stymie major strategic projects and bewilder anxious local Councillors and residents.

Government should be providing far greater funding, incentives, and powers to individual local authorities to enable them to bring forward development on brownfield sites, whilst still ensuring our vital green spaces are protected.

This should not be a difficult balance; but it is a balance that seems to have eluded us for far too long.

Local authorities can, after all only do as much as they are permitted to.