The government’s long term plan for housing: its likely impact in Leeds

Sarah Cox, Partner at Carter Jonas, looks at the government's proposed housing plans for Leeds and explains why a clear infrastructure plan is key to achieving their success.

Related topics:  Property,  planning,  housing,  government
Sarah Cox | Carter Jonas
9th February 2024
Leeds 620
"All local leaders believe that improvements to public transport systems would connect more people with jobs, training and education opportunities – as well as tackling the climate emergency as part of an ambition to be a net-zero carbon economy by 2038."
- Sarah Cox - Carter Jonas

Last summer the Government heralded ‘a new era of regeneration, inner-city densification and housing delivery across England, with transformational plans to supply beautiful, safe, decent homes in places with high-growth potential in partnership with local communities.’ Michael Gove committed to ‘the regeneration and renaissance’ of Cambridge, central London and central Leeds in the form of funding and reforms to the planning system to speed up new developments.

I agree that Leeds has significant potential, both to continue its upward trajectory and to kick-start regeneration, re-balance and ‘level up’ in a wider geographical context. Leeds has already demonstrated this through its healthy population increase and social and cultural innovations. As a result, the city is seen as an attractive place to live and is well on track for increased prosperity.

As I see it, the important factor is not in the announcement itself, but how the ambition will be realised: how yet another new strategy for this part of the country might be truly strategic in its approach to investment and infrastructure, and whether this commitment will have a tangible impact.

Inevitably such a long-term vision means that we cannot hope to see immediate change as a result. It is understandable that an announcement which sets goals in decades, rather than single years, remains silent on the immediate, potentially significant, changes which may develop as the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill works its way towards Royal Assent, the progress of the NPPF consultation becomes clear, and, of course, as we approach the next general election. Yet each of these potential changes is extremely important in the planning and development prospects for the city and will impact its leaders’ faith in national politicians’ commitment.

A pressing issue for Leeds and its wider region is that a number of local planning authorities are struggling to deliver a five-year housing land supply. The issue is exacerbated whichever way you look; for greenfield sites, it is impacted by the Green Belt, which prevents many sites from coming forward through the local plan system; brownfield sites (including the major regeneration of city and town centres) are struggling to remain viable due to the weaker financial market.

A clear infrastructure plan creates certainty for central locations: specifically, a deliverable transport infrastructure plan is the single best opportunity to enable so many northern towns and cities to kick-start regeneration and bring new sites forward.

The West Yorkshire Mass Transit Vision 2040 sets out the Mayor and other West Yorkshire leaders’ vision: to be recognised globally as a great place to live with a strong, successful economy, where everyone can build businesses, careers and lives, supported by a superb environment and world-class infrastructure.

All local leaders believe that improvements to public transport systems would connect more people with jobs, training and education opportunities – as well as tackling the climate emergency as part of an ambition to be a net-zero carbon economy by 2038.

The West Yorkshire Mass Transit Vision builds on the visions set out in the Transport Strategy 2040. Published in May 2018, before the decision to remove the Birmingham to Leeds leg of HS2, the Transport Strategy set a plan for a new form of transport for West Yorkshire. It is a long-term document which paints a picture of what a successful transport system might look like in 2040. While a key component of the strategy has fallen away, it remains current in that it recognises that in order to deliver the vision for the Leeds City Region, the right transport network must be put in place.

Growth plans for Leeds and the wider region must go hand-in-hand with infrastructure, because infrastructure, specifically public transport infrastructure, facilitates residential and commercial development and the distribution of economic growth: undoubtedly, enhancing connectivity will provide the catalyst for further regeneration of the area, the flow of opportunities and benefits from economic activity.

Rethinking housing types, tenures and affordability

A broad, strategic review of the issues which concern planning and development requires a comprehensive review of housing, specifically affordable housing.

The way in which we rent or buy homes hasn’t kept up to speed with other changes in society. Today, flexibility is increasingly high on the agenda, specifically for those whose work is flexible – such as the many now working in the ‘gig economy’. Some fundamental and creative approaches to property ownership and investment could transform the lives of many – from first-time buyers to those downsizing into later living accommodations.

Long-term plans for the region should place ‘affordability’ at their heart. In the current economic circumstances, the criteria for ‘affordable housing’ may need consideration – after all, market rents discounted to 80% remain unaffordable to many. Aspirations for the growth of Leeds should be balanced alongside the affordability of housing, ensuring that any long-term plan for housing is suitable and within reach of a wide-ranging demographic. Without this, Leeds will miss the opportunity to ensure that its society and economy are inclusive.

The future role of the Innovation Arc

Leeds’ Innovation Arc offers considerable potential in Leeds City Council’s aspirations to regenerate old buildings, attract investment, create new neighbourhoods and attract new tech businesses and jobs over the next decade. Some of the most prestigious institutions and large employers operate within the ‘Innovation Arc’, as do some of the region’s largest public and private sector employers and mainstays of civic and cultural life. If delivered, the Innovation Arc can drive the delivery of improved infrastructure, support relevant funding bids, deliver jobs and opportunities and encourage people to remain local.

Conclusion

As the Innovation Arc, the Transport Strategy 2040 and the West Yorkshire Mass Transit Vision 2040 show, Leeds is not short of vision and ambition.

While long-term visions, including the Secretary of State’s announcement, are not unwelcome, the true test will be the strategy behind it and the implementation of it. To gain the support of local opinion formers, the Government will need to demonstrate its ability in the short and medium term – through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, NPPF and on significant issues such as a review of Green Belt, funding for brownfield development, affordable housing provision and immediate improvements to the public transport system.

A strategy that builds on what the leaders and residents of Leeds want and need could have substantial benefits. Building on past successes and current potential is a recipe for success; ignoring local vision and achievements will achieve the opposite.

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