I was perplexed to read about a recent report by The Institute of Public Policy Research which described the “supply black hole” facing housing in the UK. According to the IPPR, England faces a daunting shortfall of 750,000 buildings by 2025.
The reason I was confused is because the report states that the only area that is exempt from concern is the North West. In fact, not only will the North West of 2025 avoid a shortfall, it will somehow produce a 40,000 surplus of homes! You can understand my confusion when Trafford Housing Trust’s waiting list for property currently stands at 7,500 and is growing at a rate of around 400 applicants per month.
Regardless of what may happen in 2025, in the context of new properties I have excellent news – Newhaven, a new development of 38 homes (great blog posts documenting the build here, here and here) built by Trafford Housing Trust in partnership with TMBC and the Department of Health is being opened today by the inspiring Bill Speakman. As well as being a war hero, and a holder of the Victoria Cross, Mr Speakman is also one of the new tenants of Newhaven.
As Newhaven opens I was thinking back to the moment when I told the Newbury Court residents that their much-loved home was going to be re-developed to make way for Newhaven. The reaction was mixed. One of the over-riding emotions was confusion. Newbury Court was a well-respected and solid development - why on earth would it need to be knocked down? The answer to that question lies in wider social trends and the changing needs of an ageing population.
As well as there being an ongoing question of whether there are enough homes, there is also the complex problem of whether there are enough of the right types of homes. Britain’s care needs are changing. Whereas once we might have looked to build Category 2 properties, now the demand is for Category 2 ½. For anyone who has yet to confront the complexities of housing categories, here’s a brief introduction (there’s a more in-depth guide to sheltered housing here if you need it). Beyond ordinary housing you have Category 1 accommodation, which is essentially an ordinary house with a pull cord. Then you have Category 2, which is usually a group of independent flats, with a small communal area and a scheme manager.
Newbury Court was a Category 2 development and it’s this type of facility that demand is falling for. The reason is simply because Category 2 is about enabling independent living. But if people are capable of living independently then they would rather do it in their own house that has been modified with the assistive technology that is available now. Beyond Category 2 then, you have what is often referred to as Category 2 ½ or Extra Care, and it’s this type of care that Newhaven falls into. The difference is the assumption that people need care and support, but that they also want a private space for them to go to when they want to get away from it all.
When you see the residents begin to move into a new development it makes you see the really important element of what we do. As much as I understand the need for new development in the North West and across the UK, for me the satisfaction is less in chalking up another new development and more in understanding them as homes for people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always a job to build something of a decent design quality and do that on budget and on time. So I feel incredibly proud of the people who have done that work. But, it’s a building and it only comes alive when you get people in it.
Newhaven is going to be home to 38 people and I think the exciting thing is the future that this group have. What sort of community will Bill and his fellow residents create? How will their lives, and their relatives’ lives, change because of the building? In the drive to meet the shortfall of houses and reduce the waiting list, we always have to remember that it’s not the buildings themselves that are important, but the people who fill them.