It’s time to Level up the South West – and affordable housing is key
A blog by Victor da Cunha, Homes for the South West Chair
If we have learnt anything from these past two years, it’s the importance of access to a safe, secure and warm home. Yet this has not been equally achievable for all, or indeed all parts of the country. As Chair of Homes for the South West, this week I was heartened to be in Parliament with councillors, MPs and Peers who all demonstrated their passion for the region and the case for making affordable housing accessible for everyone.
Critics of the levelling up agenda challenge it for being too broad or not clear enough about its objectives. However, in my view what’s certainly clear is that if it’s going to mean more opportunities for left-behind regions, and improvement of standards, this cannot just cover the North or Midlands. Levelling up affects us all, from Scunthorpe to Bristol, Stockport to Cornwall.
The South West is one of the most beautiful regions in England. It is home to eleven areas of outstanding natural beauty, four UNESCO world heritage sites and two national parks. Yet, because of these features, the unique social and economic challenges that it faces are often misunderstood.
The region was one of the worst-hit parts of the UK for job disruption during the pandemic, and at the same time continues to face prohibitively high house prices, up to fourteen times the average annual income. This, combined with the prevalence of second homes and holiday lets, can mean that access to affordable, quality housing feels out of reach for many. If levelling up is to deliver more opportunities and improvement of standards, it’s clear there is more to do.
As Homes for the South West, we are calling on Government to work together with us and urgently address this shortage by:
- Delivering new homes quicker through public sector land reform, making the provision of public housing the priority
- Doubling the number of homes we can build to 45,000 over the next five years with the right support from Government
- Offering greater flexibility on the use of the funding already earmarked for affordable homes – for example, by allowing grants for decarbonisation, fire safety and new supply to be pooled and used for estate regeneration. Doing so would also address the growing quality crisis as well as taking pressure off the greenbelt through densification.
The South West is of course not one economy; as Homes for the South West we’re clear about the need to recognise the unique issues affecting each part of the region, whether urban, rural or coastal. That’s why we have just commissioned a local partner, the University of the West of England, to conduct a comprehensive study of housing need at a local authority level in the region and to consider how this might be affected as a result of the changes emerging from the pandemic. I look forward to sharing their results later in the year, which I am sure will help drive policy and investment decisions.
Hearing the consistently supportive response from MPs and local authority representatives this week in Parliament has been very encouraging, and I look forward to working in partnership to make sure that the South West has its own part to play in the levelling up agenda. In the context of rising living costs, a secure home is more important than ever and it’s only by working together that we can make this a reality for all.
Victor da Cunha is Chair of Homes for the South West, a group of chief executives from 11 of the largest housing associations in South West England.