Leeds is among UK’s top house builders - but it’s still not enough to end the homes crisis

Homes in Harehills, Leeds.  'Picture James Hardisty.
Homes in Harehills, Leeds. 'Picture James Hardisty.
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Leeds is building more homes than almost anywhere in the country - but messy planning laws and a “fetishisation” of the green belt are hampering efforts to create enough new housing to help the city reach its economic powerhouse potential, it is claimed.

New analysis of official Government data reveals Leeds is behind only Tower Hamlets in London and Cornwall in the number of homes it has built on average every year in the last decade since the economic crash.

Is your area building enough homes?   MAP: BBC

Is your area building enough homes? MAP: BBC

This works out at around 84 per cent of current government annual estimates of need to 2026. However the numbers are not enough to meet long term demand.

The city still has the fourth highest long term annual need outside London according to Government estimates, and the second highest need in the whole country according to the city council’s own assessments. The discrepancy between the two numbers is also one of the biggest in the country.

The analysis by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit - a comprehensive examination of regional house building rates across the country as compared to local estimates of need - found that a decade after the recession, more than half of English areas have still not got back to supplying new homes at the same rates they were before the economic crash.

‘OUR GREEN BELT OBSESSION IS HAMPERING PROGRESS’ SAYS HOUSING BOSS

It’s time to sweep away the current planning system, get rid of our obsession with the green belt and empower local authorities to get building the homes the city and the country needs for long term prosperity.

That’s the view of Leeds City Council’s housing boss Richard Lewis as new research today reveals that a decade after the recession, less than one in five areas of England are building enough homes every year at a pace to meet the Government’s medium to long term housing need estimates.

Analysis of official data by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit found that the majority of areas have still not got back to supplying new homes at the same rates they were before the economic crash.

It comes after the Government recently made a renewed pledge to build 300,000 new homes a year by 2020.

Although overall house-building rates have been going up nationally year on year since hitting a post recession low in 2012/13, the pace of supply is not enough for the country’s long term demands.

In England in 2016-17 - the last full year of data available for overall new homes supply rates (which includes new builds, conversions, changes of use and minus any demolitions) - 217,000 new homes were created. This was a five-year high, but still significantly short of the latest government target of 300,000 new homes a year.

One expert suggested the actual number of homes needed was 340,000 a year.

In Leeds, the housing crisis has been defined in recent years by a row over a council target to build 70,000 new homes by 2028.

The new analysis showed the city has been building around 2,230 new dwellings a year over the past ten years, which works out at around 84 per cent of current government annual estimates to 2026, as laid out in its recent consultation as part of the ‘Fixing the broken housing market’ pledge.

In pure numbers, Leeds is building the third HIGHEST number of houses per year in the country outside London.

Despite this, the city still has the fourth highest long term annual need outside London according to Government estimates, and the second highest need in the whole country according to the city council’s own assessments. The discrepancy between the two numbers (1,011) is also one of the biggest in the country.

Councillor Lewis, cabinet member for regeneration, transport and planning, believes the current planning system itself - and our “fetishisation” and “politicisation” of the green belt - are the biggest problems.

“I think we need to sweep away the current planning system and come up with something that is radically different that enables people to have a democratic input,” he said.

“Secondly, take away the cap on local authorities’ borrowing. Enable them to build.”

He also claims there is a clash between what ministers are telling council decision-makers in private and in public about targets.

“We do need to look at the world differently,” he says.

“We just get wrapped up in repeating an argument that’s been going on ever since the green belt was introduced.

“Well, Leeds has built on so much green land - not green belt always - over the last 80 years, and Leeds has probably tripled the size that it was back then.

“We all buy into the lie that the green belt was ever intended to stop development. It wasn’t. It was to control urban sprawl. It wasn’t to control the building of new houses on greenfield sites.”

However councillor Andrew Carter, leader of the opposition Conservative group, said; “Green belt is hugely important and valued by communities across the city. But once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. The effect of losing all those green belt sites would be to transform Leeds beyond recognition. In that context, it’s right that we do all we can to protect it, particularly as the latest evidence says the city doesn’t need the level of housing currently being proposed.”

He said the latest government methodology suggests that the city’s “true” housing need amounts to 42,384, which is 2,649 homes per year over the plan period.

“That figure is more sustainable [than the original 70,000 target] and would mean the city could plan properly for where new housing should go, protect our green belt and green spaces, and build affordable homes of the right type in the right places.

“The council has belatedly agreed to review its housing target, but is still advocating a higher figure than the government suggests is necessary.”

Meanwhile the research revealed a mixed housing picture across the rest of Yorkshire.

According to the BBC analysis, two thirds of council areas in Yorkshire are failing to get home building rates back to pre-recession rates a decade after the financial crash.

Wakefield is performing better than neighbour Leeds in terms of its percentage build rate versus Government estimate.

Against a Government figure of 1,033 homes per year, the city has a current build rate of 1,151 (111 per cent).

However the council’s own estimate of needs is 1,524 homes a year.

Overall, twelve of 21 council areas in Yorkshire are currently building equal to or above Government annual assessment, as suggested in its formula.

But experts say that “messy” planning policies and a “fetishisation” of the green belt are hampering the overall pace of building - and thereby slowing the economic growth potential of the region as a whole.

Across the country, experts say the UK faces a “national emergency” in housing of a scale not seen for 40 years.

Shadow housing Minister John Healey, MP for Wentworth and Dearne in South Yorkshire, said the housing crisis was “a crisis of affordability”. A report by the National Housing Federation last year found that average house prices in Yorkshire are SEVEN times average incomes.