An inspirational leader is needed to help solve the North East’s housing crisis.
That was one of the conclusions reached by business bosses, economics experts and housing association chiefs at an event today to launch a report into the critical issue.
Called “Solving the Housing Conundrum”, it has been produced by the North East Chamber of Commerce and law firm Watson Burton after 12 months work.
Based on a survey of businesses in the housing sector and supply chain, interviews with industry figures and stakeholders, and overseen by a task group, it first of all laid out the economic contribution housing could make.
NECC Director of Policy, Ross Smith, said: “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.”
Yet despite signs of progress of late, demand continues to outstrip supply in the region with a shortfall of 75,000 houses expected by 2031 if building continues at the present rate.
And a damning section of the report stated that: “A lack of leadership in the North East means that the region does not have a respected and visible flag bearer to champion development in the region.
“Investors looking to the region can be uncertain of whom they should be speaking to, for instance the existence of multiple bodies and organisations can cause confusion.”
Who that leader should be and from what area that person should come from was not detailed in the report.
In a lively panel discussion after the report was made public, some talked of an elected Mayor of a “Boris Johnson-type” figures, others weren’t so sure.
However there was general agreement the existing North East Combined Authority and the Government’s Local Enterprise Partnerships were not doing enough about housing.
Mr Smith said: “We need somebody, some part of our public sector and our political class to take the lead and change development in the North East.”
And Keith Loraine, head of Isos Housing group who was on the panel with him, added: “Leadership is going to be critical. We need to get our leaders speaking with the same voice.”
He said the difference in recovery of the housing market in this region compared to others in the UK is highlighted by the fact that house prices in the North East were 15 to 20% lower than 2007, while in parts of London they were 15 to 20% higher. “And the gulf is getting wider,” he warned.
As part of the survey, when asked how the North East’s housing market is performing relative to the rest of the UK, 55% of respondents said it was either under-performing or seriously under-performing, with only 4% indicating the market to be performing strongly overall.
The report outlined a three-phase approach regarding finance, planning and how to deal with existing stock to turn this around.
It said the Government must use public finances better and improve access to it with greater incentives tailored to the housing market.
It called for a more pro-development approach to planning applications and more willingness from local politicians to back housing developments.
And it warned authorities to avoid a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to empty homes, with some brought back into use, and others demolished and redeveloped.
Philip Barnes of Barratt Homes who also on the panel expressed the frustration of builders at the attitude of planning departments, although he himself pointed out these departments had been the hardest hit in the local authority cuts.
He called for more land in the region to be freed up for building purposes and criticised a “small vocal minority” who spoke out against such developments to the detriment of the “silent majority”.
Tracy Hall, Watson Burton Partner and Chair of NECC Housing Task Group which prepared the report, said: “The UK faces the biggest housing crisis in a generation. 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.”
The report, according to it authors, is to be used as a lobbying tool in a bid to get housing development moving in the region.
Ms Hall added: “What we now require is a commitment from local and national government to take on-board the views of business and carry the message to decision makers who can make these vital changes.”