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We need to allow for a better economic share for the North

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I recently attended the Board Member Conference where Ruth Davison, Director of Policy & External Affairs at the National Housing Federation presented well about Ambition to Deliver and the Homes for Britain campaign. I was a bit surprised by a point from the floor about a Southern bias to the campaign being proven by the choice of London for the rally. Ruth gave a perfectly sensible answer but the question did point to that distracting issue of what exactly the housing crisis is, how it manifests itself differently in different places and how it gets resolved.

Stereotypes tell us that the South is booming and the North is some kind of post-industrial wasteland. This manifests itself in mind-boggling housing costs and people living in sheds in London, and rows of empty homes in Northern towns that have lost their economic raison d’etre. Shades of truth in both, perhaps?  Regardless, it’s missing the point that our situation is the result of the abject failure of Governments of every political colour to promote a better distribution of economic growth over many decades. Lack of serious investment in Northern infrastructure means that while the ‘post industrial wasteland’ is a long way from the truth (think £1bn of sovereign wealth housing investment from Abu Dhabi coming to Manchester), it’s hard to mask the huge wealth and opportunity gap between North and South.

Consider this:

Manchester to Sheffield: 36 miles, about 40 trains a day (journey time = about 50 minutes). Reading to London: 41 miles, 40 trains by 10.15am on a weekday (journey time = about 30 minutes). Chicken and egg, maybe, but this little example demonstrates something isn’t right.

So, let’s have our campaign, our rally in London and let’s get housing on the front pages. But let’s not kid ourselves that building 200,000 homes a year is the answer. We need HS2, we need East/West HS3 even more, we need our devolution and we need to find a way to take economic heat from the South and allow for a better share for the North. Solve this and over a generation maybe you also solve the busted housing market.


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Written by Matthew Harrison | Posted on 14th March 2015

Matthew Harrison is chief executive of Great Places Housing Group which provides 17,000 homes across 36 local authority areas in the North West and Yorkshire. Based in Manchester, it is one of the largest developers of new homes outside of London.

Website: http://www.greatplaces.org.uk/Pages/default.aspx