Blackfriar: Northern Powerhouse plans must be more than hot air

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond

Following Chancellor Philip Hammond’s update on his Northern Powerhouse strategy at the Tory Party Conference, new research shows that Northern business leaders want his plans to boost the supply of affordable, family homes in the North.

The independent survey of more than 500 business leaders from across the North of England, which was commissioned by Northern housebuilder Avant Homes, found that half (47 per cent) believe that there isn’t enough quality, family housing in the North of England to support the region’s growth.

Some 56 per cent said that a lack of desirable housing is limiting the appeal of the North to potential employees based outside the region.

Leaders said more homes are needed both to meet the housing needs of local workers while attracting the best talent from outside the region.

According to the research, 45 per cent of Northern business leaders believe that the Government’s Northern Powerhouse plans will attract new staff from outside the region for employment.

In addition 46 per cent believe the Government’s initiatives will encourage more staff to stay in the region for work, thereby making the current housing supply and demand imbalance in the region even more acute.

Adding to the pressure, 63 per cent of the companies surveyed said they are planning to expand their operations over the next year, with 58 per cent confirming that the Government’s Northern Powerhouse initiatives will encourage them to invest still more in the region in the future.

Worryingly, 49 per cent said that a lack of affordable family housing has had a negative impact on their business to date.

This was due to difficulties around attracting new employees to the region, existing employees moving away for better housing elsewhere and the long commute times from home.

Large companies with 251 to 1,000 employees have been most affected by this trend, with 54 per cent confirming that employees have left the company due to a lack of quality, affordable family housing in the region.

Avant Homes chief executive Colin Lewis said that while Mr Hammond’s new £400m commitment to improve road and rail links in the North is a welcome development, it only addresses part of the problem that is holding back the Northern Powerhouse plans from reaching their full potential.

He said that with recent reports predicting that the Northern Powerhouse initiatives could create an additional 850,000 jobs in the North of England, the Government needs to devote more funds to address the current housing supply and demand imbalance in the region.

He said this needs to be done before the chronic under-supply of new housing in the North reaches breaking point.

As the research shows, the North must be able to retain, attract and house the best talent.

The availability of quality affordable homes across the region is crucial to this.

Mr Lewis said that although improving transport links and extending Help to Buy funding by £10bn are good news for buyers, these policies have very little impact on the supply side.

To boost this, we need to see the Government promoting a far more supportive local approach to planning permissions for housing in the region.

Otherwise the North will struggle to provide enough quality, attainable homes to match the anticipated demand of the future workforce.

Now the Conservative Party Conference is over, it’s clear that good news stories have been few and far between.

It’s a far cry from the party faithful’s exhuberance at last year’s conference. Manchester will be remembered for letters dropping off the signage during Theresa May’s speech and a prankster handing her her P45.

Mr Hammond’s desire to boost the North is commendable but it has to be backed up by a coherent Government strategy on housing if he wants his promises for the Northern Powerhouse to be more than hot air.

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