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One million homes: meeting the need and ensuring a legacy
23 April 2019
Government has clearly stated its ambition: delivering up to one million homes by 2050 in the Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Oxford corridor. But, what step change in housing delivery and strategic infrastructure investment do we need to achieve this? Good planning, local infrastructure, joined up policy and sustainable placemaking were at the heart of the debate at a recent London First panel hosted by AECOM.
The context: maintaining economic success
Recognised as one of the most economically successful regions in the UK with a global reputation in research, development and knowledge-based sectors, the Cambridge, Milton Keynes, Oxford Arc also has one of the fastest growing populations with 46,000 new jobs created annually since 2010. This growth, however, has not been matched by housing delivery: on average only 15,000 new homes a year have been delivered in the past decade. This chronic undersupply has resulted in the house price to earnings ratio exceeding the national average (8:1) in all but a handful of authorities, with Oxford and Cambridge running at 12:1 and 13:1 respectively.
Addressing the housing shortage is undoubtedly key to maintaining and growing the Arc’s future economic success. And the calculations have been done: the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) report ‘Partnering for Prosperity’ identifies that 30,000 homes a year are needed across the Arc to meet future housing requirements to 2050. This includes an allowance to make good previous under supply and provide homes to compensate for under supply in areas such as London. The 7,000 homes per annum target for unmet need elsewhere is very welcome and would amount to more than 150,000 homes by 2050. However, this needs to be set in the context of London’s housing gap — currently in excess of 20,000 homes a year.
The infrastructure: think regional and local
Two big ticket regional infrastructure investments — The East West Rail route and the Expressway (a strategic link between the M40 and the A1) — are planned in the Arc. These will dramatically improve connectivity where a journey from Oxford to Cambridge is a three to four hour bus journey, or an expensive train ride via London.
However, investment also needs to be directed to more local, intra urban public transit systems. Enabling greater mobility, without the need for a car, is essential for delivering sustainable communities and will support a wider mix of housing including the opportunity for higher density development in new and existing communities.
Capturing the uplift in land value will be essential to this infrastructure funding and in the long term there will be the prospect of new towns and cities generating a positive return back to the public purse. Here government involvement is vital: providing up-front investment which will run ahead of development. And the £445m investment to support the development of Didcot Garden Town and North East Cambridge is indicative of the pump priming investment required.
The planning: an Arc-wide policy
Infrastructure is just one part of the puzzle and integrating policy across a number of government departments for a wide regional area could be more effective through an Arc-wide National Policy Statement (NPS) providing a clear framework for decision making and investment. For example, large new communities are not defined as nationally significant infrastructure which means consent would have to found through a conventional planning process. An NPS would help secure an integrated approach and also ensure that key issues such as climate change resilience, planning for natural capital, water supply and the protection and enhancement of heritage and environmental assets are addressed effectively.
The ability to establish locally-led development corporations with powers derived from the 1981 New Towns Act could also provide powerful delivery bodies, combining local accountability with the powers to assemble land and deliver infrastructure. However, these new development corporations will require significant technical and professional resources across a range of professional disciplines to support such large-scale community building.
The future: people and places
So, while there are big ticket considerations and investments to be delivered, we mustn’t lose sight of the end-goal; creating attractive places that people want to stay in and sustainable communities which will benefit from social, environmental and economic success.
The NIC report and the Spring Statement both emphasise this but, as our debate highlighted, it’s an integrated approach that will help deliver a long-term legacy for the Arc, as well as meeting the housing needs of today and tomorrow.
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