It is a moot point that the North East needs more housing. The population is growing - the baby boomers’ babies want to get on the property ladder and older people are living longer - there are huge waiting lists for council houses and demand for new executive homes is outstripping supply.
Couple this with delays to councils’ Local Plans and we have what North East Chamber of Commerce Policy Adviser, Rachel Travis, calls “the biggest housing crisis in a generation.”
She said: “Years of under-supply, escalating demand and a lack of access to homes people want have created a vicious cycle that will not be broken without immediate action.”
A report by the Newcastle-based Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners this week backs up that claim.
Partners at the planning consultants say that if housebuilding continues at the current rate - local authorities are on average 23% behind target with North Tyneside the only council on course - the region will miss out on 60,000 skilled jobs and economic benefits of £350m over the next decade or so.
Agreement may be unanimous on the need for more housing but where it should go, and indeed what type of housing it should be, is an entirely different matter.
Shirley Ford, a leading Green Party campaigner, said councils’ targets are too high while developments with planning permission on some brownfield sites still haven’t got underway.
She said: “The Green Party has been active in objecting to these over-inflations and consistently pointing out the need to go ahead with developments in the current urban areas.”
Ms Ford added: “There is also undoubtedly poor quality of housing stock in the North East, and we strongly argue that councils should have the right to buy existing properties and improve them, to provide good quality homes.
“The NLP report talks of the need for more new houses to be built to be sold, but does not refer to the massive waiting list for social housing across the region. This is where there is the most urgent and desperate need.”
The Green Party wants Newcastle’s Great Park to become a self-contained community garden city surrounded by greenbelt rather than development to be on greenbelt itself.
The housing market is also causing problems as developers effectively abandon developments viewed as no longer “viable”.
NLP, however, believe a wholesale review of the greenbelt may be simply unavoidable.
Ross Lillico, associate director (economics), said: “There are real challenges facing the North East in relation to the quality and quantity of its housing stock.
“There is an over-abundance of old terraced housing and a widely acknowledged shortage of executive housing. Coupled with low rates of overall delivery, this is serving as a substantial drag on our economic growth.
“The housing market is stimulated by first-time buyers, and government initiatives such as Help to Buy are therefore welcomed. However, more needs to be done – the average age of a first-time buyer has risen to 36 and it will be 43 by 2035, if things are allowed to continue unchecked.”
He suggested campaigners view the region as already over-developed and that this is not the case.
“There is no desire by house builders to cover the greenbelt in new homes, but there is the potential to develop some of the lower grade farmland which borders our towns and cities,” he said.
“It is important to recognise that over 90% of the region (and the wider UK) is undeveloped – making us one of the least built up countries in the EU27. It is estimated that – at the national level – just 0.5% of land would be required to fulfil housing needs for the next decade.
“It is critical that new housing delivery supports the growth of our key cities – recently recognised by the Chancellor as major engines of economic growth. Cities account for just 9% of the UK’s landmass, but are responsible for 63% of economic output. In order to remain competitive, cities must continue to grow and exploit the clustering and agglomeration benefits that help to drive productivity gains.”
But Ms Ford believes this is code for more private housing which is less affordable to people who live and work in the North East.
She said: “In our experience, unfortunately, developers spend all their energy in reducing the amount of affordable housing, eg recently a developer in Amble insisted that to be viable they had to reduce the number of affordable homes from 35% to 7%.
“The danger is that if the developers cherry pick the greenbelt housing developments and say that the brownfield sites are too expensive and therefore not viable, the effect will be doughnut cities, as we have seen in the USA.
“People will live on outside and the inner areas will decay completely. This does not make sense socially, economically or environmentally.”
Durham City MP Roberta Blackman Woods, a shadow Communities and Local Government minister, acknowledged a delay in councils’ Local Plans but said flaws in the planning process have led to an increase in objections.
She believes plans must start with community consultation and end with a blueprint rather than the public feeling they have no stake and planners putting forward flawed applications.
It is essential, she says, that communities are offered infrastructure benefits for developments to win approval.
She said Labour would offer ‘people power’ and streamline the delivery of councils’ Local Plan.
“We need to have a different conversation with people,” she said. “We can’t just ask people at the start of the process and then say ‘take it or leave it’.
“We need to involve people in the whole planning process so that people are shaping their own communities. I just don’t know why we don’t do that.
“I think there is this belief that people will just object whatever. Often, the reason people object because the development actually is in the wrong place or that there aren’t enough quality homes.”
Ms Travis added the North East is a “prime location for development” but regional leaders must convince developers of as much.
She said: “We would like to see strong leadership that presents a clear, proactive and pro-development stance on behalf of the North East. Whether this comes from local authorities, combined authorities or local enterprise partnerships in not important; what is essential is that a single body takes responsibility for driving this policy agenda forward and is willing to be held accountable for doing so.
“Housing is an engine of growth. Every house built in the North East equates to an £80,532 boost to the regional economy. It creates 1.9 jobs and contributes £1.3bn to our economic output. Our housing offer is intrinsically linked to our ability to attract and retain a skilled workforce, as well as strengthening local communities.
“The North East should be a prime location for development. With an abundance of potential development land, fantastic quality of life and lower population densities to list but a few, the foundations for a strong housing market are here.”