James Palmer is the directly elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.
Between 2017 and 2018, nearly 3,000 people aged 20-34 left Cambridge, a net loss of over 2.5 per cent of the population of the city in a single year.
This is a significant dent in the number of young professionals and young families and bad news for our communities and for business.
Haemorrhaging young people, the lifeblood of our economy, on this scale, year on year, would be a sheer disaster for growth and would leave our cities, towns and villages hollowed at their core.
An exodus of working aged people seems entirely probable and quite likely, however, when you consider that average house prices are between ten and thirteen times average income in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire and between six and seven times in Peterborough and Fenland. With most mortgages offered at four times salary, buying on the open market is out of reach for most people in the region.
This is a problem faced by people across the UK, with average house prices eight times that of national average income. With average house prices having risen six times faster than median income for people aged 25-34 in the last quarter century, it is particularly acute for those under 35, known as ‘generation rent’.
Since 2001, the housing supply in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has increased by 17.8 per cent compared to 11 per cent nationally. But still, the struggle to find housing that is affordable is one faced by people of all ages, in all corners of the region. From Whittlesey to Waterbeach and Manea to March, architects, engineers, pastry chefs, trainee lawyers, bar staff, office workers, and librarians are having to move further and further from their place of work or out of the area.
This is untenable and as the directly elected Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough it is my duty to do something about it. Which is why I am determined to bring to market £100,000 Homes, a genuinely affordable housing initiative that will make homes available to people on average income or below, in the areas they live or work, for £100,000.
£100,000 Homes offers outright property ownership with an achievable deposit and affordable monthly repayments. This is a more sustainable model than Shared Ownership or Help to Buy where buyers are often faced with high monthly outgoings or large loan repayments after an initial interest free period.
Providing homes for people close to where they work will help stimulate and sustain the economy by increasing work productivity and removing unnecessary burden on transport infrastructure whilst also helping to reduce avoidable carbon emissions.
Historically, local growth has been strong, with GVA increasing by 84.6 per cent between 2001 and 2016, compared to a UK average of 72.7 per cent. Latest figures from the ONS show Cambridgeshire GVA grew by 4.7 per cent and Peterborough by 10.4 per cent between 2017 and 2018, while UK GVA increased by 3.4 per cent.
But this growth is under threat, as house prices far outstripping wage growth drives people and businesses out of the area. Larger cities such as London with more advanced transport networks that allow people to live in cheaper areas on the outskirts, but enjoy better commutes are attractive.
In our devolved region, there is staggering diversity from the high grade agricultural areas of the Fens in the east, the rapidly growing industries of Peterborough in the north, to the knowledge based economy and international businesses of Greater Cambridgeshire in the south – a microcosm for the UK, in fact.
The opportunities and challenges are vast and part of why I am proud to be Mayor. But we must improve the economic prospects of everyone in the area. Frankly, why should local people rejoice in our economic growth, when their children can’t afford to live in a place, they call ‘home’? £100,000 Homes will make home ownership possible for many more people, helping to ‘level up’ the prosperity of the region.
£100,000 Homes will be sold at a discount rate to their open market value to achieve a price tag of £100,000. The discount will be passed onto future buyers, helping more people onto the property ladder.
With cross-party local and national political support, we are working with local housing developers to deliver £100,000 homes, offering low interest loan funding and help navigating planning processes.
The first set of homes are under construction, with the first cohort of owners expected to move in at the end of this year.
For developers, getting people on the housing ladder at the bottom end helps create future demand further up the chain. They can fulfil their affordable housing obligations without the involvement of third parties and build homes to the same standard as their open market properties.
Feedback from developers has been they want to be part of the solution in what is a huge issue facing the economy. They say that unless young people are helped onto the ladder, we face a tipping point of no longer having a sustainable market.
The government has a well vocalised commitment to levelling up the economic prospects of the country. But with a huge proportion of the population unable to buy a home, the gap between those who own assets and those who don’t, is widening. We must continue to develop solutions such as £100,000 homes to address this, or far from levelling up, economic inequality could be locked in for generations to come.