New homes for a growing Greater Manchester

Deborah McLaughlin explores how Greater Manchester can grow its housing offer sustainably in the face of some considerable challenges.

Greater Manchester has good reasons to be confident about the future. The economy is worth over £57 billion, the population back up to 2.7 million people and there are over 105,000 successful businesses. Once again Greater Manchester competes on a global scale.

As that success continues, we’re expecting to see 200,000 more jobs created by 2035, a further population growth of around 300,000 and we’re looking at needing an extra 226,000 homes.

This strong continued growth, even when you’ve factored in post-Brexit uncertainty, is a key reason why we need a spatial plan for the conurbation: the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

So far, so good, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and some major challenges to face.

We still see major inequalities in living standards and life expectancies across Greater Manchester, and we’ve got to see success spread more equitably across all ten boroughs.

Greater Manchester is a diverse, varied city region, and local housing markets vary hugely even within our borders. We don’t envy or want to repeat the negative impacts of high pressure housing markets that our friends in London and elsewhere are wrestling with.

So in one sense we’re lucky that building new homes that working people can afford to buy or rent is a realistic ambition in Greater Manchester. We can and must contribute to achieving those national housebuilding targets, and make sure that our communities will benefit directly from doing so, and from the thousands of jobs that work will create.

But lower prices and values bring their own challenges — they can make it much harder to generate the big investment needed to turn a brownfield site with a chequered industrial past into a viable development opportunity, to clean up the land so it’s ready for housing and connect it into modern infrastructure.

Despite a lot of hard work by councils, Homes and Communities Agency and our partners, and very visible success in increasing investment in residential development in and around the city centre in particular, we are still developing just over a half of the new homes we should be delivering.

That’s why Government and the Combined Authority are working together through the GM Land Commission to help in bringing together land for housing, especially public-owned land.

It’s why there’s work going on with landowners, housing associations, big developers and small local builders to bring new homes forward, including direct investment through the GM Housing Fund. And it’s why plans to directly commission new homes that we know our residents want to see built for themselves and their children are being considered.

Because, while it’s true that Greater Manchester’s housing market has avoided the superheated pressure of London, we also know that average house and flat prices are well beyond the reach of people on an average £25,500 household income, even if you have pulled together the deposit. An average flat in Manchester sold for £137,436 last year; a semi detached would cost you £173,591.

No wonder then, that the level of private renting has doubled from 10% in 2001 to around 20% in 2016.

If we want to take the pressure off, we need to increase our supply of housing.

We currently complete around 6,000 new homes per year in Greater Manchester, and under our new spatial plan we want to boost that up to around 11,000 per year.

We need to make sure that plenty of these are within reach of ordinary people, and that we have a decent supply of social housing, too.

We need fresh thinking about how we deliver the homes our communities aspire to, and how that matches with what they can afford to pay to buy or rent.

We need new ways of moving from renting toward home ownership, of bridging the deposit gap that is such a challenge for many of our residents — but we also need to help them to raise their income, accessing better jobs and raising their skills.

While we’re at it, we should be innovating too. The homes we create should satisfy a whole range of needs, from those just starting out, to families who need a bit more room, to older people who want to be able to retire comfortably.

There should be a better choice of homes, so as our lives change we can have the right home in the right place and know that it will come with high standards of design and sustainability.

There are many ways to measure the success of a major city region: it’s economic output, it’s reputation, happiness and wellbeing, levels of environmental sustainability; we need to add to that list the most simple of measures, that everyone has somewhere they are happy to call home.

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