Saturday, 11 February 2017
The North-South (Housing) Divide - a lesson
So I'm at a seminar in North Yorkshire and a question is asked about housing and house-building. The person answering - a senior councillor from 'down south' - responds by asking a question:
"How many of you own your own house?"
Nearly the whole room - consisting mostly of councillors aged 50 or more - raises their hand. One group, all professional staff up from London, don't raise their hands. These twenty- and thirty-somethings in good jobs are all renting. And some are having to share just to make that renting possible.
The senior councillor asks another question:
"How many of you have children who aren't able to buy a house?"
The expectation was that a forest of hands would rise demonstrating how housing is unaffordable and inaccessible. That's what would happen in London.
Not a single hand was raised. All of the twenty- and thirty-something children of these Northern councillors, whether from Teeside, Bradford or leafy North Yorkshire, have got onto the housing ladder.
That senior councillor from 'down south' was a little surprised. Later he told me "I knew you were all rich in the North".
Because of the extent to which London''s economic success has created jobs, the south has struggled to meet the demand for housing. Even were there an adequate level of new housing development (and, as that same senior councillor observed, people want a house not a pokey little flat), London would have faced problems given the difference between the number of people looking for a home and the number of homes available - across all tenures - at any given time.
This is not true for the North. Our slower growth and balanced population (with modest outward migration in some places) means that young people who get a halfway decent job and save a bit can buy a house. There are some parts - Manchester, North Leeds, Ilkley, Harrogate - where some of that London-style overheating is happening but most of the North does not have a housing crisis, is not short of housing supply to meet current market demand, and presents the chance to manage future housing supply without huge government bungs or running roughshod over the green belt.
The problem is that national policy is determined by London's genuine housing crisis, not the North's more balanced and inclusive economy. Maybe those of us 'up here' should both be grateful for this and also careful about what we wish for?