Blog: 11 February 2022Levelling up: are our councils committed? North East & Yorkshire edition

Stuart Natkus

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Stuart Natkus

Planning Director

Leeds office

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The Levelling Up White Paper has been published, and while there’ll now be scrutiny of its effectiveness, the Government has repeatedly talked up its commitment to the agenda.

But are our local councils also committed? Here I explore my regional patch. Bradford and Leeds have both rejected the 35% uplift applied to the Government’s Standard Method. And this week – on the same day the Levelling Up White Paper was published – Sheffield also voted against it.

These decisions could have serious implications for the future housing stock in West and South Yorkshire and knock-on impacts for economic development in those areas.

The uplift applies to cities and urban centres with the 20 largest populations in England. It’s designed to help reach national housing targets of 300,000 homes per year. It matters locally because housing supply is directly linked to economic and social progress – the ultimate aims of levelling up.

There’s no doubt that all of our Yorkshire local authorities are ambitious for the region’s economic potential. Growth strategies include attracting new businesses, skilled workers and investment. Using the region’s key assets – including affordable living, areas of outstanding natural beauty and top-class universities – we’re working towards those goals.

But housing also plays a crucial role in economic growth. The number of new homes needed to underpin the plans pursued by Leeds City Region and Sheffield City Region is not to be underestimated.

Leeds City Region’s Strategic Economic Plan aims to deliver 35,000 additional jobs by 2036 and Sheffield City Region’s plan is to deliver 70,000 additional jobs. With those plans – whether it’s building on the successes of the professional services, life sciences or advanced manufacturing sectors – comes workforce growth.

We need good quality, affordable homes for those workers. Without them, the plans will quickly run out of fuel.

Political pressures are obviously bearing down on our councils, but I cannot stress enough, time is of the essence. We’re already experiencing a significant undersupply of homes, and not acting now will only compound it, scuppering wider levelling up efforts.

The Government itself has acknowledged that just making sure housing supply keeps pace with household growth would only be sufficient to stand still and the supply would need to surpass these numbers by considerable margins.

Our research shows that Leeds and Sheffield are among the top ten places in England set to experience substantial population growth by 2031.

Between 2021 and 2031 the population of Leeds is projected to grow from more than 571,000 to 607,070, while population density is forecast to increase by 21 percent since 2001. And during the same period, Sheffield’s population is set to grow from 519,000 to more than 549,000.

Meanwhile, Bradford’s population is projected to grow from more than 360,000 to 378,890, while population density is forecast to increase by 24% compared with its level in 2001.

We’re already struggling to meet existing need, never mind ten years into the future. Councils must get a grip of the housing delivery strategy so as not to stunt growth, and also to deliver the good quality homes that will genuinely level up their areas.  

And don’t just take my word for it. Recent research from PwC found that 70% of the public say focussing on housing would be the most effective way to level up the country and reduce inequality.

The research also pointed to the impacts of the pandemic. For some people the new hybrid working approach has become a welcome opportunity to spend more time at home, whereas for others in substandard homes, it’s refocussed attention on issues of quality, affordability and access to green space.

New homes – designed and built to meet new ways of working – can address that gap and help to deliver the economic growth and prosperity which we are all looking for.

A version of this post originally featured in the Yorkshire Post.

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