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Housing riddle remains

When it comes to the subject of housing everyone is agreed there should be more of it. Unfortunately that’s where consensus ends and the arguments begin, which are largely about how many there should be and where they should go.

The topic is of huge significance to business because the supply of attractive houses that staff can afford to own or rent plays a big part in creating a pool of talent and a workforce that can fill jobs, help companies succeed and so grow a sustainable local economy.

The National Housing Federation has recently confirmed that the average house price in Bath and North East Somerset is £321,674 or almost 13 times the average salary. That’s a chilling statistic which everyone should heed and it should influence the thinking of those whose default setting is to set up a wail of protest every time a housing development is proposed.

It will certainly be influencing those currently involved in producing a spatial plan for the whole of the West of England over the next twenty years. What is being called the Joint Spatial Plan is a vital piece of work and I hope as many businesses as possible express their views during the process.

At the moment there is a thought that something like an extra 85,000 houses will be needed by 2036. Even if that target were to go up or down, we need two things to deliver them – local authorities willing to identify sites and give them planning permission and developers willing to build them. The usually politically unpopular decision to approve sites, virtually any sites, will worry Councillors who would like to be re-elected, whilst the need to manage the market will influence the rate at which developers act as they will naturally be reluctant to flood the market and potentially drive down prices, always assuming they could find enough construction workers to do it.

One good thing to have come out of the process to produce a joint plan is that the four local authorities in the West of England are working together and taking a strategic approach to the problem. That means if Bristol should find it needs more houses than it can physically build, neighbouring areas will be asked to find the space. Unfortunately that is bound to cause controversy if, for example, large developments were proposed in the likes of Whitchurch or Keynsham. That might be one way of solving the housing riddle. One thing is for sure, the sooner we do it the better.

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