Northumberland more than meeting its housing need

Are we building enough homes for the future? Picture by Edward Clack
Are we building enough homes for the future? Picture by Edward Clack

The supply of new homes in Northumberland has far outstripped the need in recent years - unlike large parts of the country, new analysis shows.

The BBC’s Shared Data Unit has looked at housing data across the UK’s local council areas to try to paint a clear picture of regional variations in current housing supply compared to long-term targets.

Is your area building enough homes to meet need?

Is your area building enough homes to meet need?

The analysis revealed that a decade after the recession, fewer than one in five areas of England are building enough homes every year at a pace to meet the Government’s medium to long-term housing need estimates, and the majority of areas have still not got back to supplying new homes at the same rates they were before the economic crash.

But this is certainly not the case in Northumberland, where the average supply of new homes per year is 135 per cent of the Government's annual assessment of housing need.

This is despite almost half (44 per cent) of land being green belt, heritage or otherwise protected/restricted for development, and places the county 18th nationally in terms of supply outstripping need.

The Government says Northumberland needs 707 new homes each year and the average delivery is 958 (this figure include all additional dwellings, such as conversions, and not just new builds).

The county's new draft Local Plan sets a higher target of 885, but whichever figure you look at, the number of new homes created is well above this in recent years with 1,447, 991 and 1,531 new homes created in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 (the last full year of data available) respectively.

This is up from post-recession lows of 558, 621 and 559 in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively.

Coun John Riddle, Northumberland County Council's cabinet member for housing, said: "This is good news for Northumberland and means that we are already well under way in meeting targets for new homes in the county.

"We have been stressing that there are already many homes built, under way or with planning permission - and the number of new houses proposed in our new Local Plan is reduced from the previous version.

"Through the new Local Plan, we want to meet the housing needs of all of our communities while reflecting an ambitious growth-led county.

"Northumberland is obviously a very attractive place for developers. but we want to make sure that our plans enable the right number and types of homes to be developed in the right places.

"We want to extend the choice in the housing market, meeting the needs of Northumberland's resident population, including the diverse needs of an ageing population, and to provide attractive housing options for those moving into the county to boost the economy."

The national analysis also shows that there is a north-south divide, with many areas in the north building faster and in greater volumes than the south.

The rest of the top 20, in terms of areas where the supply is above the Government's need figures, are all in the north, including a number of districts and boroughs in Cumbria and North Yorkshire, while the North East is represented by Darlington and Redcar/Cleveland alongside Northumberland.

By way of contrast, the majority of the bottom 20 are in London and the south-east.

Across England in 2016-17, 217,000 new homes were created. This was a five-year high, but still significantly short of the latest government target of 300,000 new homes a year.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "This Government is committed to building a housing market fit for the future and 217,000 new homes were delivered in England last year. This is up 15 per cent on the previous year and the highest increase in nine years.

"We have also set out an ambitious programme of reforms to boost housing supply – including planning reform and targeted investment to help us deliver an additional 300,000 properties a year by the mid-2020s."

But the Shadow Housing Minister, John Healey MP, claimed the housing crisis is getting worse.

"And while there are certainly failures at a local level, the main responsibility must lie with Government," he said.

"When you have deep cuts in investment in new affordable homes, when you have government weakening the powers of councils to drive a better bargain with big house-builders for people in their area, when you get a Government chopping and changing the planning rules as they have done in five separate acts of Parliament in the last eight years, you get a system which is failing - and we have a housing crisis which housing policy is failing to fix.

"What we get from ministers is still all talk and very little action on numbers. But it’s not just about numbers.

"Part of the Labour plans for dealing with the housing crisis is to say to councils 'we are not just interested in how many you build, and how many get built in your area, we want to see a higher level of homes that are genuinely affordable for people in your area, and we will give as much weight to that as the total numbers'.

"Our definition of affordable links back to local incomes - so what's an affordable home for someone in Cornwall on an average income will be very different to what is affordable for someone in Camden in the centre of London, or in Coventry in the West Midlands. We have to tie our definition not to the market but to average local incomes."

James Prestwich, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, also highlights the importance of affordable housing and has called on the Government to do its bit.

"Central government departments own a lot of land and we know that when government departments dispose of land, they dispose of it at the highest price and not necessarily at the best social value," he said.

"I think there is potential for the Government to take the lead in terms of land it owns. If government was to set a minimum threshold of affordable homes on its own land, maybe 50 per cent, then I think that would show leadership and that would certainly help to boost build-out rates."