Guest blog: The "missed opportunities" of the housing boom
Paul Brant is the deputy leader of the Labour group on Liverpool Council and is also a board member of Riverside Housing Association.
Here Cllr Brant guest blogs for Dale Street Blues about the "missed opportunities" of the now deflated housing boom:
The collapse of some major property companies in the city such as King's Dock Developers, David McLean shows the fragility of the city's housing market. I believe we will look back on the recent housing boom as a missed opportunity to build sustainable communities in the city. The city has developed a housing market which is particularly vulnerable to the downturn and has failed to provide affordable housing to many of the city's residents, especially people needing a home for the first time.
The council's planning powers should be used to work with developers to ensure profitable developments which fit in with the long term aspirations of the city. The council has allowed large developments of exclusively one or two bedroom flats in the city centre which has led to an oversupply of this type of accommodation. As soon as the housing bubble started to deflate demand from speculative purchasers dried up and some of the developments got into trouble. We now have a number of high profile city centre sites which are likely to remain part built construction sites for years. If the council had ensured that a mix of houses, and family properties were also required on these sites then the more robust demand for these larger properties would have helped keep the developments afloat.
The demand for larger family homes in the city (shown by the years spent on waiting lists by many) has remained robust. It is important that we build communities where young people, families and older people (who all have different housing needs) can be accommodated. Many couples when they start a family find they have to move out of their areas because there is no larger housing, and they often move out of the city. By failing to ensure we have a mix of property available we have weakened our city's attractiveness as a long-term place to live, and now have many vacant flats in the city centre.
Finally the council repeatedly refused to use it's legal powers (known as Section 106) to require a proportion of the homes built were 'affordable' or 'social' homes. In London, Ken Livingstone required 50% of developments to be affordable. The result is that we have effectively large private estates being built, often alongside social housing estates which official reports have shown is not good for long-term community cohesion. Mixed communities work much better in the long term (we don't want to go the way of the US with gated communities inspired by fear). What is more, social homes are the only area of the market where there is enhanced demand and developments which have a proportion of these homes are more likely to be kept financially afloat.
Whilst we cannot recover these lost opportunities, the council has a vital role in the changed landscape, especially as there is still huge demand for good homes in the city. Labour's last manifesto proposed the council bringing forward some of it's own vast areas of vacant land for construction of affordable mixed homes. In partnership with Housing Associations and the private sector we could take advantage of lower construction costs and create employment for the city's depressed construction sector and much needed new homes. It is time for the council to use it's muscle to deliver affordable homes in sustainable communities which we can all be proud of for decades to come.