Most people haven't heard of levelling up - but housing focus can make concept 'real', new research claims

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have been urged to put housing funding at the heart of ‘levelling up’ – after new research found most voters haven’t heard of the Government’s flagship agenda.

Boris Johnson has been urged to put housing policy at the heart of the levelling-up agenda.

Research commissioned by Homes for the North, an alliance of 17 housing associations responsible for 450,000 properties across the region, said making improvements in existing housing and building more affordable homes could provide tangible evidence of levelling up, which is currently lacking.

The report, which has been shared exclusively with The Yorkshire Post and is being submitted to Government ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review, follows polling of more 1,200 people and holding six focus groups across the country, with 57 per cent telling researchers they had either not heard of levelling up or didn’t know if they had. Two-thirds of working class voters did not know what levelling up was.

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However, the research found there was strong support for the arguments surrounding levelling up, such as increasing investment in regions like the North. The report stated: “Levelling up is not well understood by the public, even though it is supported. Spending on housing will make it real, and show it is working.”

Nigel Wilson, chairman of Homes for the North, said he wasn’t surprised by the lack of widespread knowledge about levelling up.

“If it is going to mean something, then it has got to have some teeth,” he said. “When you look at the findings in terms of what people say is important to them in their area, there is lots of discussion about money for the high street to be invested in but also affordable housing is absolutely critical to people in their communities, whether that’s for their families or themselves. Our argument is housing can be central to that whole investment in regeneration.”

In addition to the focus group, the research has also created a ‘Levelling Up Place Index’ highlighting the areas of England with the greatest need and opportunity for housing improvements by assessing 17 indicators such as levels of inequality and housing delivery.

The index put 66 per cent of Yorkshire in the highest priority category, with Hull the highest-priority place nationally and Doncaster and Bradford also in the top 10.

Mr Wilson said: “Hull has a combination of consistently high socio-economic need coupled with high levels of opportunity for a positive return on housing investment. The city’s performance across the 17 indicators demonstrate that it has both a high need for investment but also has considerable potential for further housing development in future.”

The report suggests the index could help form the basis of a new framework for housing funding decisions, replacing the existing 80:20 rule that commits 80 per cent of resources in areas of ‘highest affordability pressure’ – a system which has been criticised for skewing investment towards London and the South and which the Government has already committed to replacing.

Mr Wilson said it was important to strike a balance between building new homes and improving existing properties.

“Lots of our properties are older and need significant investment, there are others that are no longer fit for purpose, but it is then about making sure we’ve got new supply coming in, providing those homes for people and families and older people,” he said.

“People are living longer, they need more adaptable properties and we need to make sure we can provide for people. How we blend that in together is a real challenge.

“Some of that will be about in some town centre locations and how do you take what was previously shops and offices that are no longer in demand and turn them into residential units to keep some heart in some of those town centres which otherwise would struggle.”

He said his message to Mr Johnson and new Levelling Up and Housing Secretary Michael Gove was a simple one - “work with us”.

“Housing can be so integral to the levelling-up agenda. Allow us to work with you to develop ideas that can make a real difference in the North.”

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