Birmingham is facing a huge housing gap with new-builds in the city reaching a new low – despite demand being greater than any time since the Second World War.
With land in short supply and between 4,000 and 6,000 homes a year needed, a Birmingham Post investigation has revealed that little more than a quarter of the required homes are being built.
A pre-recession rate of 3,200 homes built a year has halved since 2008, reaching a low of 1,558 new-builds during the last year, according to details released to the Post under the Freedom of Information Act.
Community leaders and architects say developers and housing associations face an unprecedented task, and need to innovate and find ways of delivering high-density housing to meet demand.
Birmingham City Council’s deputy leader Ian Ward said: “You cannot underestimate the scale of the challenge. There have been three occasions since World War Two in which we have seen major waves of house building, but none of them were on the scale now required.
“And unlike those occasions there is not the public money there to support the development. We need to see some innovation. We need housing of higher density than we are used to, but they need to be comfortable and appropriate for 21st century living.”
The Post investigation comes as the council consults on a controversial new development plan which outlines proposals to meet demand for at least 80,000 homes over the next 20 years.
The data shows planning permissions are also dramatically down from a recent peak of almost 4,000 three years ago, to 1,832 in 2012-13 and demolitions also accelerated over the same period, before reducing sharply last year.
Coun Ward said that some existing estates would also be demolished.
The council recently approved the construction of 1,100 homes under its Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust scheme. This uses vacant council land as leverage to attract private developers who then build a mix of homes for sale and for the council to rent.
The Icknield Port Loop development in Ladywood looked at higher density housing, but this was rejected by the council’s planning committee as it involved a modern take on the Victorian back-to-back homes – members said they risked creating the “slums of the future” and asked for a rethink by architects.
Leading Birmingham architect Glenn Howells said that the development plan offers a “terrific opportunity” to transform the city with new development and new communities.
And he explained that high density does not necessary equate to poor quality housing.
He said: “When you consider some of the interwar and postwar housing on the outskirts of the city, these have some of the lowest densities but are not aspirational places to live.
“And high density housing can be high quality. Not all high density housing is back to back. We only have to look at Harborne, around York Road we have some of the highest densities in the city and there are similar places in Moseley and Selly Oak. The terrace remains popular.” According to Mr Howells, the housing market cannot be left on its own to deliver this and the local authority needs to set standards and create the right environment.
“It is no good just selling land to house builders to get on with it, we have to look at joint ventures. There have to be the schools, the shops to create communities, not just housing estates.” He said Bournville Village remains an international gold standard for community development more than 100 years after its creation and that the city needs to be looking at breaking new ground in this way again.
The draft development plan includes controversial proposals to build up to 10,000 homes and a major industrial development on green belt land on the edge of Sutton Coldfield.
But house builders have been told to come up with designs which cram more houses onto dwindling plots of land, without creating slums of the future.
The plan, which is set to be finalised this summer, also reveals there is space for just 43,000 homes within the existing urban area and talks are ongoing with neighbouring boroughs such as Sandwell to see if they have capacity, but that still leaves a massive shortfall.
Housing targets are based on Government and council projections of population and economic growth over the next 20 years – but critics claim these are based on pre-housing market crash data and need to be revised. The construction of vast numbers of homes will have a major impact on some communities – particularly in Sutton Coldfield if green belt land is unlocked.
A major campaign and petition have been raised against the proposals, not only from those who wish to protect Birmingham’s green belt, but also from many who fear that schools, transport, health services and jobs will be inadequate to meet the population growth.
Green belt campaigner Neil Nickolds said: “Schools are a big issue now. We have 1,000 homes in the Harvest Fields area which cannot get places at Sutton Coldfield secondary schools. This situation is only going to get worse.”
He said that although the Government proposes charging developers the capital costs of new school places, roads and so on, in recent times developers have pleaded poverty and been able to wriggle out of community spin off payments.
“They have claimed that development is not economically viable and been let off their contributions,” he argued.
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