Research commissioned by Your Housing Group has ranked South Lakeland as the region’s most liveable place, followed by Fylde, Ribble Valley, South Ribble and Copeland.
The report, released today, compared data from every local authority in the North of England and suggests that affordability issues are affecting areas with reputations for below-average house prices, with Oldham, Blackburn, Knowsley, Pendle and Manchester ranked as the least liveable areas.
The first Northern Powerhouse Liveability Index has been compiled to challenge existing thinking about where the priorities for new housing development are. Chris Walker, the former government economist who led the research, told Place North West: “What we’re trying to do is inform the debate a bit more on housing, in terms of where we should be building, beyond merely talking about house prices, which tends to dominate the media narrative.
“It’s our belief that housing policy can’t be looked at in isolation, there has to be a holistic approach if you’re going to truly rejuvenate places. There is no point in knocking down old housing and replacing it with new houses if you’re not also going to improve access to jobs and good education.”
The index is a quality of life report, which considers four areas; affordability, opportunity, desirability, and availability. A value of 100 is ascribed to the average in each of these fields, so that somewhere totally average would have a score of 400. South Lakeland topped the whole of the North with a score of 465. Bradford in West Yorkshire, the lowest in the North, scored 331.
Affordability is classed as how house prices and rents relate to average wages, while the “opportunity” factor looks at the availability of decent jobs and the quality of education, for which the Attainment 8, students’ average scores across eight key subjects, is the measure used.
In terms of desirability, the study uses wealth indicators, including the proportion of empty properties – touching on the ‘broken window’ theory of regeneration – while in availability it looks at average household sizes – smaller averages suggesting a greater quality of life, as overcrowding can adversely affect mental health.
In South Lakeland, higher than average house prices and rents are cancelled out by higher earnings and the North’s highest employment rate. South Lakeland also scores highly from the desirability of its area with good housing availability and access to good schools with high Attainment 8 scores.
Among other challenges, residents living in Oldham and Blackburn with Darwen also face above average rates of unemployment, both suffering unemployment 40% higher than the national average. Knowsley, Manchester and Blackburn all suffer from higher rates of deprivation than the national average. The English Indices of Deprivation describes almost half of Knowsley’s, 40.8% of Manchester’s and 30.8% of Blackburn and Darwen’s neighbourhoods as “deprived”.
Walker said: “What’s striking about South Lakeland is that its affordability is close to the average, but there is a good level of opportunity and standard of jobs, while obviously the desirability comes from its location.”
Trafford topped the whole index in terms of opportunity, scoring highly in jobs, standard of jobs and educational attainment. Both Cheshire authorities scored highly on desirability, but poorly on affordability, unsurprisingly.
Walker pointed out that policy interventions are already taking place – in Oldham for example, where in 2013 the council launched a co-operative approach to tackle unemployment and create apprenticeships and training opportunities that have contributed to the creation of more than 6,000 employment placements.
Brian Cronin, chief executive of Your Housing, said: “This significant new research reveals the hidden problem areas for average earners in towns and cities across the North of England. Importantly it also shows where we need to see the development of more genuinely affordable homes.
“We will be sharing our findings with policymakers and setting out ideas on how our sector can boost the supply of affordable housing where it’s needed most.”
Northern Powerhouse partnership director Henri Murison said: “Ensuring people can continue to afford decent places to live, even as in the coming decades we close the £7,000 income gap on average between workers in the North and the South, will mean different priorities in housing to deliver affordability across the North.
“Crucial to the success of the Northern Powerhouse is creating vibrant, diverse communities capable of driving the North’s ambitions, attracting the skilled jobs of the future, stimulating economic growth and ultimately helping to rebalance the UK and narrow the North-South divide.”