Sheffield's flawed Local Plan exemplifies broader housing crisis: Charles Dunn

As a nation we have known for years now that we face an ever-worsening house crisis. Even if you haven’t personally had to fight tooth and nail with other bidders for that dream house (or, more likely, just any old house), or struggled to find a decent place to rent, you will certainly know someone who has.

Worryingly, the seriousness of this situation isn’t reflected in the decisions of our politicians, both nationally and locally. Judging by their actions, you’d be forgiven for thinking that housing was plentiful, and our economy was purring along sweetly.

This is certainly the case here in Sheffield, where recently the Council has consulted the public on a draft version of a new Local Plan that seems in many ways at odds with reality. Don’t get me wrong, there is much to be admired in a Plan that seeks to prioritise the environment and the regeneration of brownfield land.

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However, in the Plan the Council openly admits that it isn’t even trying to deliver the amount or type of housing that Sheffield needs. Even worse, buried deep in the detail, its own ‘viability assessment’ suggests that the new policies they want to put in place will make it almost impossible for developers to build the City Centre flats that the council wants.

Sheffield's Local Plan has been called into questionSheffield's Local Plan has been called into question
Sheffield's Local Plan has been called into question

Sheffield City Council, like many others across the country, is failing to – indeed it is refusing to – build the homes so desperately needed.

This serves as a striking example of the systemic issues we face, and it is not merely a local or regional issue, but a national one, with far-reaching impacts on our economy, environment, and social fabric.

The ‘Housing Theory of Everything’ is a simple idea that is getting increasing attention. It describes the way that a lack of house building is a major drag on our economy: it’s not just about roofs over heads, but about injecting life into our economy and paving the way for a brighter future for everyone.

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And the impacts are not confined to the economy alone. The housing crisis is also exacerbating climate change, as older, poor quality housing typically means energy inefficiency. It is impacting social cohesion, with friends and families finding it harder to live in the same communities, and the increasing chasm between the housing haves and have nots; leading to growing societal divisions.

Charles Dunn of Urbana. Picture: Dean AtkinsCharles Dunn of Urbana. Picture: Dean Atkins
Charles Dunn of Urbana. Picture: Dean Atkins

It is even influencing birth rates, with people delaying starting families due to housing insecurity, and stifling the economy as an household income is increasingly spent on rent and mortgages.

The situation in Sheffield is a microcosm of this crisis. However, this is not a moment for despair, but for action. It is time to reimagine what’s possible and to advocate for a more ambitious approach to housing in Sheffield, Yorkshire, and across the country.

Access to high quality housing is the backbone of a thriving society, and with a little vision and a lot of determination, we can tackle this crisis head-on. But this requires a paradigm shift. We need to move beyond seeing house building as just constructing homes, to recognising it as an essential pillar of our national development. It is not only Sheffield’s Local Plan that needs to be revised, but our collective national vision for a better and more prosperous future.

Charles Dunn is Director of the Sheffield Property Association