Ben Procter of Oxford Property Consultants raises his views on the problems Oxfordshire faces, including the lack of affordable housing and the need for a better transport network.
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
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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.
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
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
OV Forum at St Catherine’s College (Open to OV Partners only)
Date: 21st February 2019
More about the Oxfordshire Voice forum:
See photographs from the Oxfordshire Voice Forum: ‘Key Worker Housing In Oxfordshire.’ Hosted at Blenheim Palace, on Thursday 31st January 2019.
In the first of a series of documentaries investigating the key issues stifling growth in Oxfordshire, we look at the shortage of housing and what plans are in place to house Oxfordshire’s growing working population. The final documentary will be released in February.
Watch the trailer below