Leadership for Oxfords housing challenges

Leadership for Oxfords housing challenges

Challenges around Oxford’s housing situation are well-reported. A combination of unique and complex historical constraints, resulting planning protections, together with natural limitations of the floodplain area mean residential space is at an absolute premium. Add to this a student population of nearly 34,000, question marks over green belt development and a public perception that local government’s housing strategy is not clear and the picture is both complex and unclear

This leaves us with a housing market under pressure, with poor choice, high prices and a real need for leadership as to how the City plans for the future.

A City for students, keyworkers and young people

Oxford’s high student population inevitably puts acute pressure on the private rental market. Both the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University are responding to this by developing additional bespoke accommodation blocks, enabling more students to opt for university housing, freeing up capacity in the private rental sector. Recent planning policy changes, however, have made this more difficult as the city planners seek to limit the criteria for locations of new student accommodation schemes. Some Colleges, such as Somerville, have been able to construct new high quality purpose built accommodation within their own boundaries, but it is not possible for all.

At the same time, both key workers and young people find it increasingly challenging to get on the housing ladder; the average young person has to spend 16 years saving up for their deposit for a first home. Even then, their options are too expensive or very poor quality stock; figures from Oxford City Council show that the average house price here is over 17 times average earnings.

Shaping the economy

The shortage of affordable housing has wider implications. Oxford’s growing economy as an education hub and location for fast-growth tech companies means its unemployment rate is just 1%. This in turn puts further pressure on the City’s employers.

Businesses are essentially competing with the London market or the science and business parks such as Oxford Science Park and Harwell Campus, as employees opt to live in more affordable outskirt locations. The end result? A shortage of talent in both the public and private sectors, and traffic congestion on the roads in and out of the City.

Property trends in Oxford

Where does this leave Oxford’s property market? From our perspective, the exciting buildings have been centred around the University of Oxford such as the new Maths Institute and the Blavatnik School of Government. Where protection and planning allows, developers are looking at converting old buildings and using permitted development rights. If we look further afield, real innovation and place-making is happening in centres such as Harwell Campus, with its masterplan to blend specialist laboratories, bespoke office space and leisure facilities to create a genuinely unique and modern place to work and live.

Looking at more original ways to expand housing options, let’s look at the impact of the successful Westgate development on the centre’s landscape. Despite concerns that the shopping centre would draw shoppers away from the high street, a broader trend to independent and more sustainable shopping could support boutique shops with residential occupation replacing current old office stock on the upper floors. With the option to develop housing above these independent retailers, it is possible this could create a more vibrant city centre.

Room for real leadership

With the local population increase set to put ever more pressure on Oxford, the time for a joint solution – across government, universities and business – is critical. Collectively we need to work together to create a broader vision, think long term and have the confidence to go beyond traditional thinking. Whether it is midrise buildings in the City centre, extending development in the green belt or widening streets to support infrastructure, decisions are needed. We only have to look to our friends in Cambridge to see how an entire landscape and eco-system can be transformed when we dare to innovate.

The Oxfordshire Voice initiative is one such response to the perceived lack of leadership. A collaboration between public and private sector organisations, it aims to inform and influence those policies and decisions that impact the future economic performance and growth of Oxfordshire.

For now, decisive action is needed to ensure we retain our thriving, forward thinking economy and behave responsibly for our residents.

Written by: Richard Smith, Partner, Commercial Property, Planning and Environmental Law – Penningtons Manches


Penningtons Manches

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Oxfordshire Voice Housing

FORUM 3: How can we solve our complex housing crisis?

Forum date & Venue

Thursday 31st January 2019
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1UL

The housing forum at Blenheim was the most vociferous and lively so far, with a vast range of opinions being expressed and a multitude of creative ideas proposed.

Although it is unquestionable that there is a housing crisis in Oxfordshire, particularly in affordable housing, it was also accepted that our region does not do enough to highlight the advantages and combat misconceptions about the depth of the crisis. Several attendees noted that many of their workforce or the people they had tried to recruit assumed accommodation and housing in Oxfordshire is far more expensive than it really is. Again this highlighted a need for better and co-ordinated communication.

Blenheim was the perfect venue for this forum as it has an ambitious and impressive housebuilding strategy already in place.

The forum listened to a very broad range of opinions but there was consensus that housebuilding is not just about putting bricks and mortar on top of each other but building viable and vibrant communities around those buildings. The forum heard from the growth board and it was clear that many of its initiatives are already in place and paving the way. However, there was concern that the long awaited housing policy documents from local government had still not materialised.

The forum watched a shortened version of an OV documentary by Rob Scotcher of B4 on the housing crisis in Oxfordshire. Since the forum and at the time of writing the full documentary has been accessed and watched more than two thousand times. OV will be making a second documentary to update on progress of the projects it has covered. This mixture of forum, documentary, survey and feedback will be a constant theme at Oxfordshire Voice. The proof of the pudding will be in all of the partners, businesses, local authorities, and other organisations all collaborating and getting results.

Simon Howson-Green, Oxfordshire Voice

We welcome your comments and views. Get involved today!

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Jayne Woodley | Your Voice

Jayne Woodley from Oxfordshire Community Foundation gives her opinion on what needs to change in Oxfordshire, from Educational attainment and falling the young to housing and homelessness.

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Jayne woodley

I disagree: there is an affordable housing crisis

A few weeks ago I promised to share some thoughts on something that had left me feeling somewhat conflicted, yet the fact that I am only now putting it out there must say a lot about the general state we find ourselves in as a society – to disagree these days seems to take a huge amount of time and effort.

However, as someone who has always felt compelled to amplify the voices of those who get drowned out or even worse those who are never given the same opportunity to be listened to, I am always hyper alert to the language used by others or the subtlety of words chosen to deliver an impact grabbing headline.

Thus my objection with the rider Crisis? What crisis? for the press release following a debate I attended at Blenheim Palace, organised by Oxfordshire Voice. The topic being discussed was the lack of affordable housing and whether or what impact this is having on economic growth in the county.

As always happens it is very difficult to understand things you haven’t personally experienced and even worse when everyone in the room is not starting from the same place in terms of knowledge. So it’s also easy for the loudest voices to want to rush to a solution rather than realise they have two ears and one mouth and society might become a lot better if only we listened ever more attentively to what the silent majority might be wanting to say. I think they would be unanimous in their opinion that there is most definitely an affordable housing crisis.

I am very supportive of what Oxfordshire Voice is aspiring to achieve yet the voice of business is not the only one that needs to be heard especially when the topics being discussed affect so many who would not necessarily see themselves as natural bedfellows with business. Therefore, I would suggest that Oxfordshire Voice will have the greatest impact when it reaches out with open arms to welcome more of those with quite different opinions and ideas into its discussions in future.

As I mentioned in January at the Blavatnik launch event, the social challenges we face today need a totally different approach and will require us all to pool our collective knowledge and resources to solve them. Perhaps, I am being naive but this is still something I would really like Oxfordshire Voice to embrace. It is also why I have agreed to add my support and help to make it a powerful and influential force that could set it apart from all the many other networking groups out there.

What I would like to believe the press release was attempting to do was highlight that whilst there is a huge amount already happening almost no one has a good overview of what that is or how they might find out about it.

Furthermore, there are many existing and community led solutions that could benefit from our support, enabling them to scale up. It is obvious to me that these have the potential to make a tangible difference right now as opposed to accepting the status quo and deciding to wait it out for the delivery of the Growth Fund or depend on those with the loudest voices making plans on our behalf.

I believe as humans we thrive best when we can interact with each other and by making connections with those we wouldn’t typically meet we also create opportunities to hone our skills by learning to disagree and become more open-minded to change.

Hence the quote below ‘It is only when we can understand different viewpoints, disagree well and find common ground that communities can move closer and grow stronger’…. more meaningful lives for ourselves as well as a greater common good.

Jayne Woodley – Oxfordshire Community Foundation

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Oxfordshire Voice Housing Forum

Business Leaders and Town Planners Launch Initiative to Tell More Home Truths about Housing

Crisis? What crisis?

When it comes to housing Oxfordshire’s workforce that’s the new message from a cross-section of the county’s planning and business community.

They say there are many serious issues facing the region and the shortfall in the number of affordable homes for its workforce is the most pressing.

But, they also say a negative perception over the way the issues are being handled is overshadowing the far brighter reality and discouraging thousands of much-needed employees from coming to live and work in Oxfordshire.

Now, town planners, elected officials and the business community are coming together on a mission to explain the real issues facing the county and its housing problems and what is being done to address them.

Through the Oxfordshire Voice organisation (oxvoice.co.uk) they have launched an initiative to ensure the public get a much clearer and more accurate picture of what is being done to solve the housing shortage facing the country.

Nigel Tipple – Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) said: “We are recognised globally as a place that can support innovation-led growth, greater productivity and major ‘place potential’ as we move towards an ever-increasing internationally-focussed economy – and with a GVA of £23billion per annum – we are one of only three net county contributors to the Exchequer.

“We also have a track record of nurturing genuine innovation and taking it to a world-stage, whilst – between 2012 and 2017 – we have seen a total of 50,000 new jobs created in the county.

“With this demand, it’s really important that – as a county – we create forums for discussion between business, local authorities and property developers to improve the diversity and availability of quality housing for our communities.”

This misconception was highlighted in a recent Oxfordshire Voice survey which found more than nine out of ten (95%) business people in the county think there is a looming housing crisis and a lack of vision and management skills amongst planning organisations to address it.

However, at the Oxfordshire Voice forum, it was agreed this widespread misconception needed to be addressed to set the record straight and provide people with easy to access information on what housing options are available now and in the future.

That forum was held at Blenheim Palace – which is also undertaking a multi-million-pound community and house building scheme.

“Oxfordshire needs more affordable homes for our children and grandchildren and if we are to attract and retain teachers and nurses for our schools and hospitals. The market alone cannot be relied upon to do that so the challenge for Oxfordshire is how public, private and third sector partners can work together to influence the market.” says Paul Staines from the Oxfordshire Growth Board.

Bob Price – former city council Leader – reinforced the Growth Board claims. He says of the hundred thousand new homes already designated, 19,000 have already been built. The rate of new home construction has accelerated substantially in the past three years in line with the Housing and Growth Deal.

“To meet the 102,000 figure, we need an improvement in construction industry capabilities – skilled workers, capital investment and material supplies,” he says.

The waiting lists for social housing across the county add up to around 10,000 families. This highlights the need for a massive increase in the supply of social homes for rent.

Jayne Woodley of Oxfordshire Community Foundation agrees: “The real issue should not be between social and affordable,” she says. “Affordable housing should mean affordable housing. That’s a range of homes which are affordable to everyone who needs to put a roof over their head.”

“There are a host of very attractive and workable schemes in place already which will meet many of the housing demands for people working in the county – whatever their income,” says Simon Howson-Green from Oxfordshire Voice. “We are now working together under the Oxfordshire Voice banner to make sure people know this.”

The OV forum debated the pros and cons of releasing some green belt land to create more homes and build communities. The hundreds of acres of brownfield land which is currently laying fallow were also discussed.  Bringing the cost not housing down to suit everyone pocket is dependent on finding more land on which to build.

“Oxfordshire faces a real challenge in delivering 100,000 houses in the period to 2031, however, the unique mix of land ownership where many of the landowners have very long term roots in the area including Blenheim and the Oxford Colleges does present an opportunity to do things differently and create a long term positive legacy for both themselves and the county,” says Roger File of Blenheim Palace.

The forum concluded the problem is one of perception. Companies are desperate to bring workers into Oxfordshire. It’s a thriving business community with huge potential. But the failure to inform people of home building plans in the pipeline or the range of ownership and rental schemes available is persuading potential workers to strike Oxfordshire off their wish list of places to live and work before they know the facts.

“You can sum up the communication problem like this,” says Kate Faulkner – a property expert in the private sector.

“Employers offer people a job and before anyone agrees to an interview, they log on to Rightmove. This gives a very skewed snapshot of the housing market and gives the impression that buying a home here is beyond most people’s reach.”

“We need a far more effective approach to telling the housing story and letting people see the range of buying and renting options available.” says Richard Rosser of Oxfordshire Voice “That’s where this initiative with Oxfordshire Voice comes in.”

Upcoming Oxfordshire Voice Events

Connectivity Conference at Unipart House (Open to all)
Date: 15th February 2019
Tickets: https://ov-connectivity.eventbrite.co.uk

OV Forum at St Catherine’s College (Open to OV Partners only)
Date: 21st February 2019
Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/february-oxfordshire-voice-forum-tickets-52255260892

More about the Oxfordshire Voice forum:

See also links below to pictures and footage from the Oxfordshire Voice forum:
Housing Documentary: https://youtu.be/IKO5FcdUUrc
Photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmzYngb4

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