The Future of Cambridge Housing
Prime Minister Theresa May has called housing a personal mission and there have been a number of new measures announced over the past six months which seem to support this, writes Colin Brown of Carter Jonas.
From Sajid Javid’s Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places (PRHRP) to the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s renewed investment in the sector in the Autumn Budget, it is clear that housing and its delivery is a key focus for the Government.
Whilst in principle most people are on board with the government’s mission to fix the ‘broken’ housing market, a one-size-fits-all solution to meeting the supply challenge rarely works.
The fact remains that there are not enough housebuilders at present to facilitate the delivery of the much-needed new homes that have been discussed.
A total of 300,000 additional new homes a year have been pledged, however in terms of resources, planning delays and commercial considerations the current sector has a finite capacity and is unlikely to reach this goal soon.
The Chancellor has rightly pointed out that the UK has not seen such high levels of building since the post war years. However, it should also be noted that in those days around 50 per cent of new homes being built were provided by councils and there were far more housebuilders in the marketplace.
Investing in the resources and skills required is a step in the right direction, but ultimately, small housebuilders need to be enabled to play a more substantial role in meeting the need.
In the Autumn Budget, the Chancellor set out plans to build more than a million homes in the Oxford–Cambridge corridor by 2050 but there has been little detail as yet on where the necessary extra investment will come from in terms of supporting essential infrastructure.
Encouraging private and public partnerships between housebuilders and local government will be essential but this cannot be done in isolation and the requirements of the region’s current and future inhabitants must be taken into account.
So, what is the outlook for Cambridge against this national landscape? Well, Cambridge is a relatively small city with a lot of high-earning individuals so finding a home close to work, at an affordable price can be quite difficult, and many young workers face significant and tiresome daily commutes into the city.
AstraZeneca moved into Cambridge Biomedical Campus last year and will be joined shortly by Papworth Hospital, which will undoubtedly see the demand for city centre living continue to rise and may further marginalise some local first-time buyers.
Demand for housing in the city means that the new homes market here is generally flourishing. Even some of the more expensive properties that faltered around the time of the EU referendum have subsequently sold following price adjustments, although the rate of sales has unquestionably slowed compared to properties at the middle to lower end of the market.
There is nevertheless cautious optimism in the sales market and we expect to see competition among buyers in prime central locations, which could continue to push prices up.
The new train station in Chesterton has helped to drive the property market in the north of the city too. The flow of activity is positive, despite remaining concerns on the supply side, and the late autumn and winter months are likely to be busy.
However, perhaps one of the main issues with the speed in housing delivery is whether the political will is genuinely there that is required to ensure its success.
Is there an argument for the government to take more control of strategic infrastructure and housing through the Planning Inspectorate or can the local authorities be trusted to get it right?
The current Local Plans process locally has been excruciatingly slow and we are set to officially leave the EU in March 2019.
Whatever is in store for us over the next 15 months the need for housing delivery cannot be delayed; politics may have to wait.