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Housing is the real key to Northern Powerhouse success

With all the talk of infrastructure fuelling the Northern Powerhouse, the region’s leaders can’t forget the role housing needs to play in the North’s growth.

With the momentum building, city and regional authorities are turning their attention to the infrastructure and investment opportunities that will help fuel the Northern Powerhouse.

But while infrastructure is undoubtedly significant if the North is to achieve growth and rebalance the economy, housing is another vital element that must not be ignored.

Looming crisis

With the greatest need for new homes, the South-east dominates discussions around the UK’s housing crisis. But housing must also push forward in the North, with balanced UK economic growth only truly achievable if cities and regions in the North can create well-connected communities where people want to live.

Without incorporating housing into decision-making and planning for the Northern Powerhouse now, the North faces a looming housing crisis that will stifle growth in the longer term.

Housing is not currently considered an enabler of the Northern Powerhouse. But its successful delivery requires a focus on improving existing housing stock, strengthening communities and building new homes to accommodate growth and ensure people will want to live and work in an area.

“Balanced UK economic growth is only truly achievable if the North can successfully create well-connected communities”

Northern Powerhouse minister Andrew Percy highlighted the retention of graduates as one of the biggest challenges facing the region in his speech at the Northern Powerhouse Conference last week.

Key to tackling this issue will be creating communities where aspirers and skilled professionals want to live. As regions in the North develop and change, the housing mix will need to reflect the diverse communities that emerge. When making decisions on allocating funds across the Powerhouse agenda, local and regional authorities must, therefore, consider housing.

A chance to lead from the front

New transport infrastructure such as Northern Powerhouse Rail presents opportunities for authorities to develop long-term, strategic growth plans to maximise the potential for housing along route corridors.

By looking at brownfield regeneration, garden towns and green belt reviews, authorities can identify land of low environmental value close to new transport links that is ripe for development.

With manufacturing another critical focus for Powerhouse delivery, the North also has an opportunity to lead the way in utilising innovative construction methods such as custom-build and prefabricated homes.

In its recent housing white paper, the government confirmed its support for offsite construction, but successful implementation in the UK will require a robust supply chain.

The North has the skills to deliver and the opportunity to take advantage of the growing support for this emerging industry. Enthusiasm at the conference last week indicates that the commitment and drive needed to progress the Northern Powerhouse still exists.

As cities and regions in the North take steps to mobilise their plans, it must not be forgotten that housing is also vital to Northern Powerhouse delivery.

Richard Green is director and business unit lead for the North of England at Aecom

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