Cambridge Key Workers and the Housing Racket

07:07 Wednesday 3rd October 2012
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Cambridgeshire is the fastest growing county in the country. The city of Cambridge has grown by almost 14% over the past ten years, Peterborough by almost 20%. It’s been predicted that Cambridge will grow by more than a quarter between now and 2031. The entire county will grow by 20% in that time. Peterborough has doubled in size since the 1960s. But where are all these people going to live? All these people that come here, where are they living now? Ed Balls says the key is to build more affordable homes. But can people actually buy them? Can they afford affordable homes? .. Dotty Mcleod is with us this morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I’m standing outside one of Cambridgeshire’s newest developments. Houses are being thrown up right here on the Trumpington Meadows site, which is just off the M11. Now I’m standing near the Trumpington Waitrose, for those of you who know it. And this site extends as far as the M11 and beyond, so it’s a huge site. When it’s finished, there’ll be about 1200 homes here, 40% of them affordable, but .. a lot of people feel affordable housing just isn’t really affordable. Now with me is Robin Pellew from Cambridge Past Present and Future, which is a conservation organisation in the city. Robin, what do you think of this take that affordable housing, affordable for whom? People still can’t afford it.
ROBIN PELLEW: This is because the planning system is determined by the developers. The developers buy the land. They own the land, they build the houses. And so they basically call the shots. And so you end up with housing which is largely unaffordable to the people, the key workers for whom it’s designed. If the local authority was to own the land, it itself could call the shots in terms of the type of housing, the proportions of affordable housing, and who lives in them, in a way that it would have much greater control.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And I suppose an economist might say, increase the supply of housing, flood the market with houses, which will make prices drop. But presumably as a member of a conservation group, that’s not something you’d be delighted to see.
ROBIN PELLEW: Well we need more housing. It’s a question of where the houses go. Do we want to trade more Green Belt land and allow the city to expand, or do we want the city to remain reasonably compact, and to put the housing elsewhere, with good communication and transport links. But flooding the market is not really an option, because it’s not in the interests of the developers to do it. Developers want to have high prices, because they’d make bigger margins. And so because the developers are in control of the development, and they will only start building as and when the market is good, and is strong, then they want to see the prices, so that they can improve their bottom line.
DOTTY MCLEOD: There are a lot of developments happening around Cambridge and Cambridgeshire at the moment, both in the north and the south of the county. And on most of them there is some kind of requirement that a percentage of the houses have to be affordable. Is that just lip-service do you think?
ROBIN PELLEW: Well there’s this 40% rule at the moment, which we’re very keen to see continued. What we want to see is that 40% scattered peppercorn throughout the development, not in affordable ghettos as such. To a certain extent it is lip-service, and one of the problems Cambridge has is that key workers in Cambridge also includes some quite specialist types of jobs, people who service a lot of the high-tech industries, lab technicians and so on, who the Government won’t consider as being key workers. But they are, certainly in the Cambridge context, to keep the Cambridge economy turning.