Housing is top of the agenda
Over the last few years our members have regularly identified three issues as being crucial to future economic development – modern office space, sufficient housing supply and good public transport to link the two.
However, more recently I have detected a change of emphasis which seems to be that people are prioritising affordable housing. This has been driven, across virtually all sectors, by the increasing difficulty of attracting and retaining skilled staff – a serious threat to our achieving sustainable growth, which will be to the benefit of the whole community.
Members say the lack of affordable housing, especially for younger members of staff, severely impacts expansion plans as they are looking for talent in an exceptionally competitive market and there is a real risk they miss out on candidates who take jobs elsewhere, where housing is more available and affordable.
We hope the issue of housing is front and centre when development decisions are made and it might be time to review some of the regulations which are holding back building projects, particularly in relation to ecology. Clearly, it is important to consider the impact on nature and the environment, but we are hearing of some quite extraordinarily extreme positions being adopted by planning officers which are at odds with the current needs of people.
Difficult decisions are being made in every business on a daily basis so surely it is right for rational compromises to be made when it comes to planning, especially when there are so many people crying out for a decent home.
Of course there are other ways of providing accommodation and it may require some creative thinking to deliver it. In the past I have called for a fresh look at the rules governing houses of multiple occupancy, often seen purely as student housing, but actually a valuable source of housing for young working people.
Perhaps there is a way to help businesses create accommodation spaces for employees as was common in the past ? That might mean converting some employment space into staff apartments. Obviously a change in planning conditions would be needed but that should not be beyond the bounds of possibility.
There’s another interesting model in Bristol with the Paintworks scheme, where a derelict industrial site has been converted into a neighbourhood in which people both live and work. And other schemes are being thought about where older people living in large houses with available bedrooms could offer accommodation to NHS staff who in turn could provide some light level of care or companionship.
None of these ideas will create the full amount of accommodation we need on their own. But they could all make a small contribution towards the total. It’s a tough conundrum but if we approach it with some fresh thinking and an open mind there’s no saying we can’t solve it.