The challenge of delivering affordable housing in the South West

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by Dannielle Sinnett, Hannah Hickman, Katie McClymont, Stephen Hall, Cat Loveday, Jessica Lamond and Rebecca Windemer

We were commissioned by Homes for the South West, a consortium of housing associations, to examine the factors affecting housing affordability in the region and provide an estimate of future housing needs. To do this, we drew on Government data, a survey of local authorities, interviews with housing associations, local authorities and private developers, and a review of planning policies in the region.

Mulberry Park, a new development by Curo in Bath (credit Andrew Sykes and Curo)

How affordable is housing in the South West?

The South West faces acute problems of housing affordability. The region is conspicuously less affordable than England as a whole, and the North and Midlands in particular. In 2021, median house prices were approximately ten times greater than the median earnings. These inter-regional disparities are also becoming progressively more pronounced; in 1997 house prices were around four times greater than earnings.

Three quarters of local authority areas have affordability ratios (the ratio between house price and individual earnings) higher than that for England as a whole, and all have affordability ratios higher than those for the North of England. There is also substantial diversity in affordability ratios within local authority areas in the South West. The ten least affordable neighbourhoods in the region have median house prices more than 28 times median earnings. Even in the most affordable neighbourhoods median house prices are still more than three times median earnings.

Which factors impact housing affordability?

Property prices in the South West are markedly higher than England as a whole, and have risen nearly fourfold – faster than the national average rate of increase – in the past 25 years. However, the region has lower than average earnings, which have failed to keep up with house price increases. This has significant implications for local people, especially younger households or first-time buyers.

House prices are often higher in places with a high environmental quality and good access to local amenities and services. We found that, within a local authority area, neighbourhoods closer to the coastline are less affordable, as are those in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In general, more rural places are less affordable than towns and cities, but within these rural areas, those with better transport and broadband connectivity were even less affordable. Stakeholder reported that the high land values in the region undermine the viability of affordable housing.

Furthermore, these locations are also popular retirement and tourist destinations. It appears that local authorities in the South West with a greater proportion of second homes are less affordable and in-migration is dominated by arrivals from elsewhere in the UK (as opposed to international migration). This suggests, perhaps, the existence of a distinctive residential ‘offer’ in the region, one that attracts retirees, people working from home and those commuting to London and the South East, further increasing demand for new homes.

Finally, we looked at the supply of new homes compared with projected household formation since 1997. Over this period, the supply of new homes in the South West has not kept pace with demand, with an estimated deficit of 99,978 homes. This shortfall does not account for holiday lets or second homes, so is likely to be much greater. Most local authorities’ assessments of housing need will not address this shortfall by 2032.

Planned affordable eco-homes by Bromford Housing Association in Moreton-in-Marsh

What is the impact of Right to Buy?

Housing providers in the South West report that Right to Buy has had a detrimental impact on housing affordability in the region, particularly in respect of its role in the depletion of the overall stock of affordable housing. Since 1997, some 33,220 local authority-owned homes were sold through Right to Buy, whereas local authorities in the South West delivered only 2,320 new homes. The impact of Right to Buy appears to be particularly acute in small rural communities where a handful of sales locally might equate to a high proportion of total stock and may be difficult to replace given the higher unit costs of construction on small rural sites. In addition, development viability and funding challenges make it difficult for local authorities to replace social housing on a one-to-one basis.

What is the impact of national and local policy?

Regional stakeholders were critical of the complexity created by multiple definitions of affordable housing observed in planning policies. More importantly, they argued that these definitions do not equate to genuinely affordable housing.

The under-resourcing of planning was identified as a significant impediment to timely decision-making and on-site delivery.

Assessing future affordable housing need

To assess future housing need we estimated the number of new homes needed for each local authority in the South West from 2022 to 2039, and the proportion of new households that would need to spend more than 40% of their monthly income on mortgage repayments (i.e. unaffordable housing).

We estimated that around 28,337 homes need to be delivered in the region each year between 2022 and 2039, of which 17,282 would need to be affordable for those on median incomes – around 60%. These proportions are far greater than the thresholds in many planning policies.

Despite these challenges, stakeholders detailed how collaboration and partnership working between housing associations, local authorities and SME housebuilders was able to deliver affordable homes. They also highlighted that the delivery of affordable homes was intrinsic to other priorities, including ensuring high quality homes and responding to climate and ecological emergencies. Such practices provide opportunities on which to build to ensure that housing is delivered in the region which is affordable and sustainable.

The full report can be found here:

“The idea of citizen participation is a little like eating spinach…”

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Katie McClymont, co-author of a recent comprehensive review of the evidence between community-led housing (CLH) and health, describes a stimulating stakeholder workshop session…

In her famous and oft-quoted article, Sherry Arnstein describes community involvement thus: ‘The idea of citizen participation is a little like eating spinach: no one is against it in principle because it is good for you’.

 A similar comment could be made about community-led housing (CLH).  Both its proponents, and government sources and commentators, view it as a solution to many of the problems associated with the contemporary UK housing market and unhealthy and unhappy urban lifestyles more widely.  However, there is surprisingly little robust evidence used to back up many of these claims. Little is known definitively about the benefits of community-led housing, despite the assertions made for it as a mode of development and living.  The review which we have just undertaken, and the seminar on which this blog reports, aims to take the first steps in remedying this lack of evidence, as well as outlining the directions in which we think future research agendas need to go.

Before proceeding, however, a few steps of clarification are needed. Most readers may well be familiar with what is meant by the term ‘community-led housing’ but for those who are not, a useful definition is provided in the CLH Toolkit.  It stresses three aspects which are necessary for any development to be defined as CLH: first – for there to be meaningful engagement throughout the process; second – for a local group to own/manage/steward the development; and third – that the benefits of development are asset-locked to that area.

We were commissioned by Power to Change to undertake a comprehensive review of CLH and Health;  to investigate what evidence there is that CLH influences both the health of those involved in it and people in the wider neighbourhood.  The idea of linking planning, development and built environment factors to health outcomes is not a new one. Substantial research has demonstrated that the built environment has an important effect on people’s wellbeing (see RTPI, 2014, PHE, 2017), and specifically that housing plays a major role in this, with poor quality housing being linked to both mental and physical health problems (Toms, 2019). The aim of our review, expressed in the seminar and report, was to explore the specific role that CLH does or could play in this agenda.

We outlined four key strands from the literature where a link between CLH and health outcomes can be found.  These are each addressed as statements: CLH supports healthy aging, CLH promotes social inclusion, CLH may lead to improved physical health and CLH can support people who are disadvantaged or in need of additional support.

During our seminar, each statement was discussed in a ‘world café’-style workshop, as described below. The aim of the event was to ensure that the review was open to scrutiny and feedback from other experts, but also to begin dialogue about the gaps in existing evidence and ways of improving communication to enhance both practice and understanding. The 22 participants divided into four small groups, and each group discussed the findings from a strand for ten minutes with the help of a facilitator.  The facilitators then rotated around the groups so that all participants had the opportunity to provide input on each statement.  The participants came from a wide range of backgrounds: academics, community activists, those involved already in CLH in various forms, planners and policy-makers. 

Participants took the debate further by raising the question of how to involve the widest range of people in CLH, but how also to make this equitable and inclusive, rather than intrusive or assuming that all have the same aspirations about where and how they live. They considered how the process of being involved in establishing, developing and building a CLH settlement could change the self-image of a community from being ‘vulnerable’ to ‘empowered’. However caution was raised that CLH may further segregate marginalised groups if the housing is not integrated within a wider neighbourhood too. Health was viewed as a useful lens by participants who were advocates for CLH – it was seen as offering the potential to quantify some of the positive outcomes of CLH in a way which would be understood in ‘cost-benefit’ analysis. The feeling was that this event marked the start of a conversation – a very lively and engaging one which as chair and timekeeper I had to work hard to keep under control!

The final report has now been published, and we hope it is useful to practitioners, funders and researchers.  We also hope it will be a first step in developing new research projects which begin to address the gaps which we have identified. Most of all, we hope that this work plays a small yet important part in changing policy and practice to bring about healthier, happy, more inclusive and more empowered communities through increased control of housing choices and benefits.

To access the published report please see

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