Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Assessing the Need for Key-Worker Housing: A Case Study of Cambridge

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Assessing the Need for Key-Worker Housing: A Case Study of Cambridge

Article excerpt

In growing recognition of the affordability problems in high-cost locations in England, particularly for those working in the public sector, the Government has advised local planning authorities to assess locally the housing needs of key workers and make provision for them. However, little guidance exists with regard to defining key workers and key-worker housing or how to undertake a local assessment of housing needs for this particular section of the community. The purpose of this paper is to help inform this debate through the use of a case study that focused on the nature and extent of the key-worker problem in Cambridge. Drawing together evidence from published statistics on the affordability problems that exist in the city as well as extensive surveys with employers and employees in the area, the paper suggests that there is a case to include policies for key-worker housing in the Cambridge Local Plan. It also suggests adopting a broad definition of key workers to allow planners the freedom to tackle the problems locally. Finally, it suggests that to meet key-worker aspirations, key-worker housing should be defined broadly to include not just subsidised rented housing, but also shared ownership, discounted market ownership and fixed equity tenure.

Debates about the level and type of housing required across different regions of England are ongoing (Holmans et al., 1998; Holmans, 2001). However, a number of recent reports have called for greater political action to address growing housing shortages and the lack of affordable housing in England (JRF 2002a; HBF 2002). Drawing on new population projections, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF, 2002a) study estimated that the overall housing deficit in England and Wales will exceed one million homes by 2022.1 Although all regions are expected to see a growth in the number of households, the report clearly demonstrated that the greatest pressures will continue to be felt in the South of England.

Population, household and employment growth without an equivalent growth in the housing stock has resulted in overheated housing markets in different localities across the South of England. This is reflected through substantial increases in house prices and rents, as well as construction and land prices over the past decade in many southern towns and cities (Holmans et al., 2001). This in turn has led, in many places, to both a current and projected increase in the demand for social housing provided at subsidised cost. However, the ability of social housing providers to meet this growing demand has become constrained by restrictions on the volume of available government housing subsidy, a general lack of affordable land for development in the South, and the continued loss of council owned housing through the 'Right to Buy' policies available to tenants (Monk and Whitehead, 2000).

A more recently recognised problem is the growing number of local people on low or modest incomes unable to gain access to suitable affordable housing through the market that is within reasonable reach of their workplace. At the same time, these households are not eligible for the oversubscribed rented social housing managed by local authorities or registered social landlords (RSLs). Traditionally, social rented housing met the needs of many lower-income employed households. However, with the increased emphasis on catering for those in priority housing needs who are increasingly outside the labour market, this group of households has fallen into a growing gap. Lower-income employed households are being effectively squeezed between those who are eligible for traditional subsidised social housing and those who are able to afford the local high prices and rents in an area.

Increased affordability problems have at the same time contributed to households moving away from the main centres of employment to find relatively cheaper accommodation further away. This population overspill not only puts additional pressures on an already overstretched infrastructure, but it also creates an extension of local housing markets away from larger urban settlements into surrounding areas that lie well beyond reasonable commuting distances. …

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