A former government economist has urged developers in the North to build homes “where there are jobs and opportunities for people so they can get on in life” as he set out a new study ranking its towns and cities on their quality of life.
The first ever Northern Powerhouse Liveability Index, seen by The Yorkshire Post, compares all 72 local authority areas across Yorkshire and northern England on criteria including housing affordability, opportunities and the desirability of the local area.
Rural districts in North Yorkshire fare well in the study, thought to be the first of its kind in the country, with Craven ranked third and Scarborough and Ryedale also featuring in the top ten.
But Bradford was listed as the city with the lowest ‘liveability’, with Sheffield and Middlesbrough ranked sixth and seventh-worst respectively as places to live in for average earners.
The report’s author Chris Walker, who spent 12 years as a civil servant in several government departments, said low average earnings in the West Yorkshire city meant many residents struggled to pay for housing costs despite them being lower than the northern average.
If there was one thing I would really like this index to inform a little bit, it would be building houses where there are opportunities for them.Chris Walker
The survey prompted renewed calls for more investment in transport infrastructure in Bradford, with local leaders hoping the city will host a station on the high speed Northern Powerhouse Rail in the coming years.
Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, which represents business and civic leaders, said young people in Bradford had been short-changed because “they are currently not properly connected to the mainline rail network”.
He said: “Crucial to the success of the Northern Powerhouse is creating vibrant, diverse communities capable of driving the North’s ambitions, attracting the skilled jobs of the future, stimulating economic growth and ultimately helping to rebalance the UK and narrow the North-South divide.
“Areas in need of more focus from the government include towns, and less well-known cities, which have missed out so far on much private-led investment and infrastructure.
“Led by Coun Susan Hinchcliffe and her team, real efforts are being made in Bradford to ensure that children in the UK’s youngest city have improved job prospects and a brighter future.”
City MP Judith Cummins said the study “does not reflect the Bradford I know” and said: “We are home to globally successful businesses, we’ve got fantastic countryside on our doorstep and our city has a great mix of heritage and culture.
“The issues facing Bradford are not a secret - but the question is what we do about them. Good quality, affordable housing is one part of the picture but most of all we have got to tap into the enormous potential in our city by getting as much investment into it as possible.”
Housing provider Your Housing Group, which commissioned the report, says it challenges existing thinking about where the priorities for new housing development are.
The research creates a new measure of ‘liveability’ in the North, focusing not just on access to affordable housing, but the opportunities that housing provides access to, such as jobs, wages that meet the local cost of living and good school places.
Mr Walker said: “If there was one thing I would really like this index to inform a little bit, it would be building houses where there are opportunities for them.
“Moving away from building houses for houses’ sake and building houses where there are jobs and opportunities for people so they can get on in life.
“It is not just about nationally building [the Government’s target of] 300,000 homes a year, it is where we build those homes that is important. Not just building them in deprived areas because you will just lock people into poverty.”
According to Brian Cronin, chief executive officer of Your Housing Group, the handful of large commercial developers that currently build most of the country’s housing do not meet the needs of people on modest incomes.
“Financed by speculators looking for a short-term gain, these providers are the people behind problems like land banking, where land sits for years with planning permission before any building starts, in order that the housing crisis makes the land more and more sought after over time.
“They also skew the commercial viability tests that accompany new development permissions in order to bias larger houses in more expensive areas where the profit returns are going to be highest.
“To his credit, Sajid Javid, the Housing Secretary, says he recognises these issues and will act to crack down on them, but the problem is that it will take years to unpick all the planning rules to try to change the situation.”
The high ranking for Craven, only below South Lakeland and Fylde in the overall rankings, comes a few months after it was rated in a survey as the happiest place to live in the country.
Paul Shevlin, chief executive of Craven District Council, said “We’re delighted to come out as one of the top areas in the North of England in terms of liveability.
“Craven is often recognised as being one of the best places to live in the country and when you look at our beautiful countryside, brilliant schools, low employment levels, amazing communities and our warm and friendly people it is not surprising that we get the highest score for quality of life.
“There is always room for improvement however and one of our council priorities is developing more market and affordable housing for the district, which is something the study has also highlighted.”