The high cost of housing in the south will put economic growth at risk unless industry, politicians and communities work together to encourage the building of more homes, leading regional specialists warned at an event hosted by South Coast Real Estate Network (SCREN).
The warning comes in the wake of a report by the Southern Policy Centre which highlighted evidence that talented young people are increasingly looking elsewhere for jobs or having to commute greater distances because of the unaffordability of homes in the region.
The report, “A great place to live… if you can afford it”, raises fears that for some companies, an inability to attract skilled staff to the south could force them to re-examine plans for growth and investment, and even to consider relocation.
Dr Simon Eden, associate at the Southern Policy Centre, introduced the report, sponsored by Radian Homes and Enterprise M3, at an event hosted by SCREN at the Ageas Suite of the Ageas Bowl, Southampton.
SCREN is made up of representatives from businesses including the law firm Blake Morgan, planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, commercial property specialists Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) and accountants and business advisers BDO.
Debate focused on how housing unaffordability was impacting recruitment and retention in the south across all grades and roles, and how growth could only be supported by a joined-up approach to housing, infrastructure, business and community engagement.
Robin Shepherd, partner at Barton Willmore, said: “This report highlights something that we have known for a long time – that high house prices driven by demand for homes outstripping supply is likely to have a detrimental effect on the region’s economy. Prosperity depends on encouraging people to live and work here If people can’t afford to live here, they go elsewhere – so business suffers, and the economy declines.
“The key is to make sure that everyone involved understands that they need to collaborate to ensure that not only do we deliver more new homes, but also the infrastructure to go with them. Local authorities need to do more than ‘just enough’ when it comes to allowing development. Last week a report by the National Audit Office concluded that the ambition to deliver homes was hamstrung by a lack of resource and expertise in local authorities, and flaws in the method of calculating housing need that risk under-delivery. This cannot continue.
“There is also work to be done in communities to help them understand the need for homes, and that sometimes difficult decisions need to be taken for the benefit of the region. The panel heard about some innovative solutions being used by some councils, such as Eastleigh Borough where delivery of homes is supported by the authority getting involved in the development at a much deeper level than merely granting planning permissions.”
Graham Holland, head of South Coast office agency at LSH, added: “We continue to see that despite challenging conditions, the south holds its own, with confidence in the region’s economy evidenced by the number of speculative industrial and offices projects that continue to bring investment to the region.
“This event was a timely reminder that businesses need people to thrive – and those people need to live somewhere. It’s clear that we cannot simply do the bare minimum when it comes to housing and expect that not to have a negative effect in the long run.
“Businesses also have a part to play. One intriguing suggestion from the floor came from Aldred Drummond of the Fawley Waterside development, who wondered whether there ought to be a return to the Victorian ideal of employers providing housing for employees. The example of Bourneville was cited, but there have been other more recent models where companies have done this in order to recruit and retain staff.”