A new housing strategy is urgently needed

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If we want to level up, we need to reverse the “brain drain” of talent from our cities. The increase in productivity and the creation of conditions for higher wages and better living standards will only occur if we succeed in enticing private companies to invest not only in the Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge, but in every region of the UK. More and better jobs will be the single most important way for all regions of the country to retain highly skilled workers.

It is clear that the government is trying to lay the groundwork for precisely this. The relocation of the Whitehall departments to Wolverhampton and Darlington, the creation of eight Freeports across the country and the distribution of money through the Leveling Up Fund are just three examples of how the Prime Minister is pulling together various levers to entice businesses and companies. people to consider living in our major cities and towns in the Midlands and North.

Although the government is now taking clear steps to increase job opportunities in places outside of London and the South East, the way housing needs are currently assessed and how public housing investment is geographically distributed they are not fit for purpose. Put simply, there is no alignment between the policies that will attract more people to live in places like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds and how we assess where future housing should be located.

This is the focus of a major new report from the Building Back Britain Commission. Our analysis shows that over the next 20 years we will need as many as 140,000 new homes each year outside the South and predominantly in the North and Midlands. That means up to 67,000 more homes each year beyond current government estimates for those areas. We will also need to see more investment in renovating existing homes and replacing many homes that are no longer suitable or in poor condition.

A new housing strategy that specifically aligns housing needs and investment with leveling is urgently needed. At the heart of this plan must be a dynamic and forward-looking assessment of where the job opportunities of the future will be. If we continue along the current path, we will build too many houses in the counties and too few outside the southeast.

Any new housing strategy must also recognize and respond to two pressing problems that the construction industry is currently grappling with. One such problem is the growing skills shortage, with the combined forces of the pandemic and Brexit potentially exacerbating a crisis that already existed in the construction industry. The second major problem that the industry is currently facing is a shortage of materials, caused by a rapid increase in prices.

This challenging environment underscores the need to further embrace the opportunities offered by modern technologies, products and processes to deliver the built environment, collectively known as Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). MMC not only offers faster and more predictable deliveries and significant environmental benefits, it also represents an opportunity to address the skills crisis faced by the construction sector. To foster innovation, new construction methods and improve the level of training available to workers, the government should also commit to creating at least one ‘construction cluster’ in every part of Britain by 2030.

Michael Gove clearly understands the importance of building the right homes in the right places. At the conservative party conference, he called for more construction in the north. He’s right. There will always be demand for homes in the Southeast, but rebalancing the numbers is critical to further help transform many of our big cities.

With existing homes upgraded alongside new good quality homes of different mandates and higher quality, better paid jobs, we can stem this talent brain drain and reverse decades of low productivity in regions outside London. The result could be a country where cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool are as successful as London.

Terrie Alafat is president of the Building Back Britain Commission. He is also president of The Riverside Group and is a former director of housing at the Department of Communities and Local Government and a former CEO of the Chartered Institute of Housing. She was awarded a CBE in 2013 for homeless services.

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