Experts serve up solutions to Yorkshire housing issues

A winners' dinner and discussion brought fresh ideas and some radical suggestions on how to solve Yorkshire's housing issues. Sharon Dale reports.

Leeds needs more homes, say property experts
Leeds needs more homes, say property experts

Solving the housing crisis in three hours was a tall order for a group of property industry professionals but a “winners’ dinner” and discussion provided plenty of food for thought. The event, organised by Paula Dillon of law firm Bond Dickinson, brought winners, sponsors and judges from the 2016 Variety Yorkshire Residential Property Awards together for a round table talk. It encompassed everything from affordable homes and infrastructure to ensuring that the region has the housing it needs to support economic growth. Here are some of the suggestions and observations.

*Making housing more affordable for young people was the hottest topic of debate. One of the more controversial suggestions was to make Leeds city centre apartments smaller and therefore less expensive. The argument is that building smaller is the only way of providing more affordable homes to buy and rent in the place young people want to live and work. Good design, said one expert, can make up for the lack of square footage. There was also a call for the “silent majority” i.e. young people to make their voices heard and campaign via social media for affordable starter homes.

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*We must look at the Yorkshire map and identify land surrounding arterial routes and existing railway stations that could become new settlements with infrastructure funded by government.

*Build to Rent. The housing white paper’s emphasis on build-to-rent as a way of boosting housing delivery was questioned by some. Affordability was identified as one of the issues as many of the amenity-rich schemes have above average rents. Renting is the norm in many European countries, including Germany where 60 per cent of the population are tenants. While there was a feeling that Britain may follow suit, it was suggested that young people are being forced into long-term renting and would still prefer to have a home of their own.

*Affordable homes. In many local authority areas, planning policy often dictates that developers must build a number of affordable homes, usually for rent through housing associations, alongside those for sale on the open market. However, one developer noted that in desirable areas with high land values, this usually means that only one or two affordable homes are created. His suggestion is that all councils adopt a strategy regularly employed in London and Newcastle, where the cost of building affordable homes on a high value site is “commuted off” and used to construct more homes in areas with lower land values. He said: “It means that instead of building one big house in an affluent area, you get six or seven in another.” More joint ventures between local authorities and developers on publicly owned land were also called for.

*Fringe benefits. Encourage more buyers to target the affordable fringes of Leeds city centre. There was a consensus that this should be supported by better transport links into central Leeds

*Transport links and infrastructure are the key to unlocking land for development. The new train stations at Kirkstall Forge and Apperley Bridge on the Leeds line were put forward as examples of how rail can spark a renaissance. The state should provide new rail and road links and essential amenities in areas with brownfield land suitable for development. This “build it and they will come” approach is the best way to create sustainable new communities.

*Leeds needs homes. Yorkshire is a region of great cities but Leeds is the capital and the economic argument for more housing here is strong. However, there are fears that the council’s development land allocation plan will not cater for the need. According to many of the winners’ dinner experts, an impressive masterplan and more homes are needed if businesses are to grow and others are to relocate to the city. Educating people about the economic and social benefits of new housing is vital.

*Bank finance is the main barrier to housing development. Although the Housing White Paper announced financial support for small to medium-sized developers, they have immense difficulty in getting bank loans structured to their needs. One expert said that the banks had not “recalibrated their lending criteria” since the recession.

*The planning process needs to be less combative. One expert said: “There is an ‘us versus them’ approach and a suspicion that developers are there to ride roughshod over the council’. In fact, developers are a lot more socially responsible than they were 20 years ago.” The economic advantages of construction should be highlighted: more jobs, more apprentices and stimulus for economic growth.

The conclusion was that a better understanding between local authority planning departments, councillors and all those involved in housing delivery and assessing need is imperative. Central government also needs to take responsibility for planning and funding transport links and infrastructure to stimulate housing growth. Moaning, negativity and mistrust should be replaced with a “can do” attitude so that future housing needs in Yorkshire are met. Manchester was held as a shining example. Its vision, joint ventures, positive approach and ambitious housing delivery plan for the city core and suburbs have brought economic wealth. It is now Britain’s fastest growing city - and yet everyone agreed that Yorkshire has just as much, if not more, to offer as a place to live and work.

*The property professionals offering food for thought and ideas at the event included Paula Dillon, partner, Bond Dickinson; Emma Aspland, New Home Finder property portal; Jonathan Morgan, Morgans City Living; Julia Field, partner, Bond Dickinson; Claire Brook, partner, Bond Dickinson; Tim Waring, director, Quod planning consultancy; Louise French, French PR; Graham Edward, Edward Architecture; Anthony Mackle, Urban Splash; Jocelyn Denton, Legal Director, Bond Dickinson; Lee Wilkinson of PcC; Jon Kenny, development director, CEG; David Rolinson, chairman of planning and design consultancy Spawforths.