Making the case for investment in the north and midlands of England
In this blog, Ed Ferrari and Gareth Young discuss how the pandemic has highlighted a number of social issues and challenges affecting parts of the north and midlands of England, and set out the next steps of the North of England and Midlands Hub going forward.
At the time of writing, England has emerged from its second COVID-19 lockdown and grappling with the tier system, which sees the majority of the north and midlands within the most restrictive Tier 3 banding. Understandably, this has been a critical concern for local leaders, arguing that there was not enough being done by central government to ensure appropriate funding was devolved to shore up the future of towns and cities across the northern regions and maintain momentum of the ‘levelling-up’ agenda. This recent report from IPPR North confirms what many of us already suspected: COVID-19 has exacerbated inequality. Much of the country will start the long road to recovery from a position made all the more challenging because of the deep-seated inequalities that existed pre-Covid.
The pandemic has highlighted a number of social issues and challenges. Two that feel particularly noticeable are, first, the unequal impacts that the pandemic has had on different regions and on those on low-incomes, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic populations and in different housing tenures; and, second, the critical role that housing and place has on people’s lives, particularly their physical and mental wellbeing and their resilience in the face of the pandemic many impacts (see an interim report conducted by CaCHE colleagues exploring the role of housing and placemaking post-Covid).
For many working in policy, practice and research roles in these areas, this isn’t surprising. However, the pronounced impacts witnessed do provide an opportunity to really start highlighting the importance of focusing on, and improving, housing quality.
There is a need to ensure that housing (and related fields such as health and employment) in the north and midlands have that concerted focus from central government policy. We need to ensure that there is a compelling case for increased investment to ensure that communities are in a position to ‘build back better’ – not just to return to the divisions of old.
The latest spending review did offer some suggestion that there’s a commitment to investment in regeneration. Key headline announcements include a new £4 billion Levelling-Up Fund to support local regeneration, a £7.1 billion National Home Building Fund for housing infrastructure and a recommitment to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. However, it has been argued that insufficient attention is being paid to the way in which regions can access this money, meaning that already over-stretched local authorities are required to use limited resources to submit speculative requests for funding. The risk here is that areas across the north and midlands won’t have the same access to the financial supported needed.
What role can the North of England and Midlands Hub play?
Within CaCHE we have five Knowledge Exchange Hubs, which were created to bring together key participants from across the housing system to operate as ‘critical friends’ of our work and to help steer the research and knowledge exchange priorities of CaCHE. The North of England and Midlands Hub has been exploring how we can come together to draw on our respective expertise and evidence to develop outputs that focus on making the case for increased investment in the North and Midlands. Critically, we have agreed that this evidence must support the case for a sharper emphasis on the regeneration of housing and communities, and not just to focus on new supply.
How do we aim to achieve this? We think that we need a whole-systems approach to housing, place and people across the north and midlands, demonstrating the value that a commitment to investing in housing and place could offer to communities.
Whilst the key issues identified by the Hub at its inaugural meeting in 2018 haven’t changed, the landscape has shifted exponentially. Through the lens of COVID-19, new political and economic challenges have emerged alongside those we are still grappling with. Though not an exhaustive list, a few key policy areas that need attention are:
- Net zero carbon: The government have legally-binding targets to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. There have been recent policies like the Green Homes Grant voucher, helping homeowners to fund improvements, with a focus on lower-income households. However, there’s still more to be done, and there needs to remain a concerted focus on this agenda in the aftermath of the pandemic.
- Quality and the home: Though housing quality and conditions (especially of some of our older stock, or older home owners) has been a key concern for stakeholders, COVID-19 has highlighted the important role that housing plays on people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing (see recent research by the University of Huddersfield and Northern Housing Consortium).
- Place and economy: The predictions of COVID-19’s impact on the economy is stark, and will be layered onto the impact of our final divorce from the EU, whatever that may look like. According to the Resolution Foundation, the pandemic will cause permanent economic scarring, with households’ financial worth expected to reduce by £1,400 by the middle of the 2020s, as well as long-term impacts on pay. Realising the link between the economic state and what this means for housing affordability is critical.
- Private rented sector: The eviction ban throughout the pandemic has been welcomed across the sector, however, the extent of the evictions crisis has not yet played out. This is partly because of the ban, backlog in the courts and as the furlough schemes end, and job losses escalate, arrears could escalate (see the CIH’s UK Housing Review 2020).
What are the future opportunities post-Covid?
As we continue to progress through the winter with ongoing uncertainty, the work of the North England and Midlands Hub continues to draw together research and evidence collaboratively with colleagues across the housing system to help demonstrate some of the opportunities for placemaking and housing investment. The Hub recently heard from the Northern Housing Consortium and National Housing Federation, who identified some key areas of opportunity, including a better appreciation of the importance of home, investment in zero carbon, and a recognition that policy and new working habits could help to transform the fortunes of towns beyond the biggest core cities. However, we do need to be mindful of ensuring we keep a focus on the quality of housing stock, the life chances of people – especially those who might be more vulnerable, have less flexibility in the work place, be on lower-incomes, or who might feel excluded because of their diversity.
Date: December 8, 2020 12:40 pm