Cambridge property – average earners priced out

spies07:08 Wednesday 29th April 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: A typical working family hoping to take their first steps onto the property ladder would find no homes that they could afford in Cambridge. That is the bleak assessment from a report by the housing charity Shelter. They compared the asking prices for houses on a popular property website with what they calculated would be the average combined salaries of a couple in their 20s, so just over £30,000. And nationally they found families on that money could afford 17% of homes. In Cambridge 0%. Well Kevin Price is Labour’s Executive councillor for Housing on Cambridge City Council. Morning Kevin.
KEVIN PRICE: Good morning Dotty.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And also with me on the line is Catherine Smart, who is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridge City Council. Morning Catherine.
CATHERINE SMART: Good morning.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So Kevin, do you accept this research? Is the situation really as bad as Shelter are saying?
KEVIN PRICE: I’m afraid it is Dotty. Since housing has stopped becoming a place for somebody to live but an investment we’ve forgotten all about what housing is for. And unfortunately in Cambridge there are no homes, as you’ve stated really, for people earning the sorts of money, which is not bad money by any means. But it has just proved impossible for people to find housing that is actually affordable for them in the city.
DOTTY MCLEOD: This is a scandal isn ‘t it really? How has this been allowed to happen?
KEVIN PRICE: Largely because of the lack of social housing, council housing, is pretty much what has caused a lot of this. In 1980 Cambridge City Council had somewhere in the order of 14,500 council houses. They now have just over 7,000, due to the right to buy. Consider how many people that would have been able to rent at rates that they could possibly afford if we’d still got that level of housing. Unfortunately that’s lost to people on medium to low incomes.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And Catherine, what do you think is the impact of this situation, where people who come from Cambridge and work in Cambridge cannot buy houses here?
CATHERINE SMART: Well they move to where they can afford, and then of course have to travel in to work. The terrible traffic congestion that we get in the morning and the evening is a direct result of this. I agree a lot with what councillor Price has just said. It’s something that’s been building up for quite a long time. It’s actually the problems of success. because there are lots of jobs in Cambridge, people obviously want to live near the job, they don’t want long .. and therefore people want to live in Cambridge. So there are a lot of people .. there are more people who want to live in Cambridge than there are houses for them. And as I said, it’s a problem of success. better than problems of failure, but it’s still a problem. And I am not saying anything. The only solution is to build, not just houses for social rent, though again I have a lot of sympathy with what councillor Price has said, in fact I agree with him, that we do need houses for social rent, but we also need houses for people who want to buy. One of the possibilities which is being used in Cambridge is that we have houses where people can buy half and rent the other half. And reading the Shelter report, they excluded that particular form of purchase from their research, which is fair enough. But it is a possible option for at least some people.
DOTTY MCLEOD: One of the problems surely which neither of you have really mentioned is a failure over the years for more houses to be built. If more houses had been built over the past decade say, then we wouldn’t be in this situation. Now Catherine, you were Executive councillor for Housing on Cambridge City Council for a number of years. Do you take some responsibility for that?
CATHERINE SMART: Some, but not a lot, because we had got plans, we were pushing ahead with building, then the recession came, and the developers all just stopped, because they were afraid people wouldn’t be able to buy. And so we’re what, four, five years behind where we’d hoped to be. The solution is absolutely we must build more, of all kinds. That’s the only long term solution. Other things are sort of, you know, you can fiddle with things, but they’re tinkering at the edges.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Let’s hear from Kevin on that. Do you think that Catherine is right, that it’s the recession that’s to blame for a failure to build more houses?
KEVIN PRICE: I think the recession can be said to be partly to blame. Under the Coalition Government there have been on average 139,000 completions, and less than that average in the last year. Under the previous Labour Government they were averaging 190,000 completions a year.
DOTTY MCLEOD: These were different times though, weren’t they?
KEVIN PRICE: Well they were slightly different times. They were before the recession and coming up to it. But they were being built, and they are not being built now. And they do .. you’re quite right .. they do need to be built. We do need to be building more houses. I have personal experience of the difficulties for young people to afford to live in Cambridge. My son and his partner both work in Cambridge. Couldn’t afford to buy in Cambridge. Were never going to get social housing because their income was reasonably good. And they’ve moved twenty miles out of Cambridge.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well here’s a thing though Kevin. Is there anything wrong with that?
KEVIN PRICE: Well I’ll come to the bit that’s wrong with that Dotty, (which) is that they now have to have two cars, because they can’t come into Cambridge at the same time. They do different jobs, work different hours. So we now have another two cars making a journey into Cambridge and a journey out of Cambridge. So that’s four car journeys that are unnecessary, and would not be necessary were they able to afford to live in the city.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Right Catherine. Let’s talk about the future. What needs to happen to start trying to correct this? I fear that this could take years and years to sort out, couldn’t it?
CATHERINE SMART: Yes. Well all the big parties in the national thing are putting a little bit of thought into housing. Not as much as I would want. The Liberal Democrats are certainly saying that .. they’ve got in the manifesto that they want 300,000. Can I just make one comment on what councillor Price has said about the last Labour Government? There were fewer social houses when the last Labour Government left office than when they came in. So although the record of the Coalition is not as good as I would want, it is better on that particular thing, than the last Labour Government. Quite frankly I think the national government needs to stop messing about and just get on and allowing local authorities to get on with pushing for more houses to be built in these areas where we just need it, where Shelter highlighted something which is absolutely crucial. We must build more houses, otherwise the economic powerhouse that is Cambridge is going to start stuttering and so forth. And the other thing I would like to say as far as the future is concerned, and I’d like to say to our national politicians, stop thinking of good headlines and just get on with it. For instance, the idea to say oh well, houses must only be for local people. Fine. Sounds good. But what would happen when Astrazeneca decided to come to Cambridge? Would the Astrazeneca people not count as locals? If they move in from outside the area, they wouldn’t be local people.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Catherine, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much for your time this morning. That’s Catherine Smart, who is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Cambridge City Council. was Executive councillor for Housing for several years when the LibDems were in power on Cambridge City Council. You also heard from Kevin Price who is Labour’s Executive councillor for Housing on Cambridge City Council.