House prices in Cambridgeshire are now almost 15 times higher than average annual earnings as ‘affordability crisis’ hits the shire counties, according to the County Councils Network (CCN).
County leaders calling are now calling on the government to be bolder in planning reform to ease the situation.
An analysis from CCN, based on the last week’s Housing Price Index, shows that in Cambridgeshire the average house price was 14.6 times higher than average annual wages in December 2018 – this is the highest price to wage ratio in all of England’s 27 counties and almost double that of the national average – 8.2.
CCN figures show how the unaffordability crisis has spread from London to shire areas, with property prices in England’s largest cities and towns six times annual wages – far less than the county average. The average house price in Cambridgeshire, as of December 2018, is £438,911 – almost £200,000 more than the national average and double that of cities.
Leaders of county councils say a ‘fragmented’ planning system is holding back development in county areas, pushing up house prices. This is compounded by annual wages in those areas being £1,700 lower than the national average. In 27 ‘two-tier’ shire areas, smaller district councils are responsible for planning and housing, but the county council in each of those areas is responsible for the infrastructure for these developments – such as parks, roads, public services, and amenities. Those leaders say they want to work in closer collaboration with district partners to deliver more homes.
The counties with the largest house prices to yearly wage ratios are all in the south-east: Cambridgeshire (14.6), Surrey (14), Hertfordshire (12.8), Buckinghamshire (12.8), and West Sussex (12). In each of these areas, the ratio has widened since 2016, when Oxford Economics did a similar survey for CCN. In contrast, the top five urban areas outside London are: Southend (10.5), Bristol (9.6), Bournemouth (8.6) Portsmouth (7.3) and Southampton (7.1).
Cambridgeshire County Council’s deputy leader, Councillor Roger Hickford, said: “Cambridgeshire County Council wants to continue to support growth, which we believe to be in the long-term interests of the local economy, but we are acutely aware that while this growth places a major burden on all local authorities it falls disproportionately to those like us, with care (children’s and adults), education (schools and home to school transport) and highways responsibilities. That is why we are continuing to campaign, alongside the CCN for a fairer funding deal overall and add our voice to the calls for a more joined up and strategic planning regime.”
Cllr Philip Atkins, County Councils Network spokesman for housing, planning, and infrastructure, and leader of Staffordshire County Council, said: “We have long been concerned that house prices in county areas are becoming increasingly unaffordable, with millions of young people locked out of home ownership and the situation rapidly worsening. Building a variety of homes, more quickly, with the right infrastructure to support development will help ease the affordability crisis that is spreading from London. The government’s drive to tackle this issue is welcome but planning reforms to date do not go far enough – bolder change is needed to deliver the homes the country desperately needs.
“If we are to build the right homes, in the right places, with the necessary infrastructure, then we need to move towards strategic planning on a county scale, working with district partners and neighbouring authorities. To that end, we recommend that rural areas have the same planning powers that are currently only on offer to urban metro mayors, such as allowing them to prepare their own strategic plans, to help deliver more houses in England’s counties. At the same time, we would encourage more ‘Housing Deals’ outside of city areas. A closer alignment of planning and co-ordinated infrastructure provision across a county-wide geography will enable us to overcome the current fragmented approach to the planning system and build more homes and genuinely sustainable communities.”