Leeds should focus on refurbishing its thousands of empty homes rather than embarking on a building spree to combat Britain’s housing crisis, a new report has said.
A study by the Centre for Cities said many Northern cities have very high vacancy rates, and would be better off focusing on refurbishing and retro-fitting crumbling Victorian homes than building thousands of new properties.
The Government has said it wants to “get Britain building” in order to kick-start the economy.
Ministers often quotes statistics showing the country is desperately short of homes for its young people.
But the new report suggested cities such as Leeds and Bradford may actually suffer a negative impact from a house-building drive, and that sprucing up existing empty homes could be more beneficial overall.
The report said: “In places where housing is relatively more affordable to buy or rent, focusing primarily on increasing the supply of housing is unlikely to help that city economy.
“Instead, it could put further downward pressure on house prices, hurting current homeowners.
“Policies to deal with issues of vacant housing and poor quality housing stock... can improve the quality of life of local residents, help make areas more attractive to businesses and potentially generate jobs.”
Speaking at a launch event yesterday, (Jan 21) Housing Minister Mark Prisk said he accepted that different parts of the country require tailored approaches.
But he made clear that overall, house-building levels must rise to meet the current shortage.
“We inherited a dysfunctional housing market,” he said.
“We’ve been building as a country something like half the number of homes we actually need, year in, year out, for 15 to 20 years.”
Mr Prisk said it was down to individual councils to decide their own housing priorities.
“I’m a great believer in city regions and their authorities deciding what their priorities are, and us giving them the tools to do it,” he said. “I’m not going to say some blanket national policy that Sheffield or Bradford should be doing ‘a’ or ‘b’.
“They need to choose. We need to move away from this culture that somehow the Minister in Whitehall is omniscient and omnipresent.”
But Centre for Cities chief executive Alexandra Jones said Government schemes such as the New Homes Bonus, which offers financial rewards to councils which oversee house-building, are pushing authorities in one clear direction.
“An awful lot of the incentives are directed towards new homes rather than the other [options],” Ms Jones said.