Encouraging self-builds, reclaiming the phrase ‘affordable housing’ from seemingly rampant and unchecked market forces and establishing communities rather than just building houses.
These and other ideas must be allowed to flourish as Leeds bids to build its way out of a chronic housing crisis, an influential panel heard today (Thursday).
Experts from across the city - representing housing charities, social home providers and regeneration bosses - gathered at the Yorkshire Evening Post’s offices to debate the issue and try to come up with creative and viable solutions.
As previously reported, it is estimated that Leeds needs to build 66,000 homes by 2028 to cope with shortages fuelled by a population boom.
And there are 25,000 people on the council housing waiting list - but 5,500 empty homes.
Today’s gathering was the latest of the YEP’s Voice of Leeds summits, which aim to bring together influential voices to debate key issues and help shape future policy.
Points highlighted by the panel included:
>Long enshrined planning laws can be ‘problematic’ in trying to solve the housing crisis.
>The spiralling cost of renting is a big problem and tougher regulation of landlords is needed.
>The idea of owning your own home being key to success is uniquely British and can be ‘divisive’. Leeds and other English cities could learn a lot from countries like Holland and Denmark.
>Unlocking more brownfield land in inner city Leeds and encouraging investment is key to tackling the issue.
>The term ‘affordable’ housing has become “meaningless” - because it is an admittance that most housing is unaffordable to the majority.
>Encouraging more people to build their own homes could be a viable - and cheaper - way to tackle the issue.
>A lack of national Government-led housing standards has led to a sometimes ‘chaotic” situation in the social housing sector, with councils left to fend for themselves.
The panel was told that innovative housing schemes like Bramley’s successful LILAC eco-homes initiative are vital in tackling the crisis, because they are “about more than just bricks and mortar - they are about re-establishing communities”.
LOTS OF GOOD WORK - BUT THERE’S MUCH LEFT TO DO
The panel concluded that although the overall picture seemed quite “depressing”, it was important to highlight some of the good work already being done in the city.
Trailblazing projects like LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) - which built the UK’s first affordable ecological co-housing project in Bramley - are a real feather in the city’s cap, and something that can inspire other innovative schemes.
Sally Anne Greenfield, chief executive of Leeds Community Foundation, who chaired the summit, said: “Housing is not just about bricks and mortar – it is about community.
“Leeds has a wealth of innovative community projects and businesses addressing the current housing issues we face in the city.
“It was great to hear people with different perspectives share a common belief in the power of collaboration and come up with potential ideas to tackle the current housing crisis.
“We hope the summit will raise awareness of the work that is being done to encourage self-builds, renovate empty homes, develop skills and inspire more people to get involved with future discussions.”
It was suggested that the establishment of a formal “catalyst organisation” to bring new ideas together would be useful, as would a focus on trying to tackle the sometimes inaccurate perception that it’s “private sector bad, public sector good”. Lobbying to take some of the overly competitive elements out of bidding for land to develop, as well as “de-risking” the planning process, would be a good start towards achieving that.
Increased partnership working was vital, as was nurturing Leeds’s huge pool of creative and design talent.
Guests at the Voice of Leeds Housing Summit were:
Paul Belbin from GIPSIL (Gipton Supported Independent Living Ltd)
Keith Brewster from Brewster Bye
Martyn Broadest from Connect Housing
Gill Coupland from the Empty Homes Doctor
Steve Hoey from Canopy
Ursula Klingel from Shangrileeds
Councillor Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive board member for regeneration and planning
Liz Lewis from LILAC
Jonathan Lindh from Leeds Environmental Design Associates (LEDA)
Chris Thompson from CITU.