Would it surprise you to know that in some parts of Letchworth, predominantly prosperous areas with high proportions of mature residents, the housing crisis is not one of supply so much as dispersal of that supply? Theoretically, in Letchworth there are more than enough bedrooms for everyone – it is just they are disproportionately spread among the population, with some better-off and more mature households living in large Letchworth homes with many spare bedrooms, and some younger Letchworth families being over crowded.
Yet it is not the fault of these well-off mature residents that this is the current situation. Let’s be frank, Letchworth doesn’t have enough housing full stop (otherwise we would not have the large Council House waiting list and all the younger generations renting instead of buying), but up until now it hasn’t been clear that Letchworth actually also has the wrong types of properties.
We are not building the smaller homes in Letchworth that are needed for the starter homes and we are not building enough bungalows for the older generations, so they can be released from their larger Letchworth homes, thus allowing those growing Letchworth families to move up the ladder.
Looking at the stats for Letchworth, and SG6 in particular…
When I compared Letchworth (SG6) with the regional stats of the SG postcode, the locality has proportionally 40.3% more apartments, yet 14.4% less semi-detached homes. Looking nationally, Letchworth (SG6) has proportionally 39.2% more apartments and proportionally 26.7% less semi-detached homes.
I am finding that there has been a shortage of smaller townhouses and smaller apartments being built in Letchworth over the last 20 years, because most of the new builds in the last couple of decades seem to have been either large executive houses or the apartments that have been built were of the larger (and posher) variety, even though demand for households (as life styles have changed in the 21st Century) have been more towards the lower to middle sized households.
The builders do want to build, but there’s a deficiency of building land in Letchworth, and if there’s a shortage of building land, then of course new homes builders build whatever gives them the biggest profit. The properties that give them the largest profit are the biggest and most expensive properties and they certainly are not bungalows as they take up too much land. So who can blame them?
Yet would it surprise you to know that it is not a lack of space (look at all the green you see when flying over the UK), it’s the planning system? Green belts must be observed, but only 1.2% (yes 1.2% – that is not a typo) is built on in this country as a whole with homes – we need the planners to release more land (and then force/encourage builders to build on it – not sit on it). Another problem is that of the smaller new homes that have been built, most of them have been snapped up for renting, not owning.
So, what is the answer? Build more Council houses? Yes, sounds great but the local authority have not got enough money to cut the grass verges, let alone spend billions on new homes in Letchworth. The Government did relax the planning laws a few years ago, for example for changing office space into residential use, yet they could do more as currently new homes builders have no incentive to build inexpensive homes or bungalows that the system needs to make a difference.
So, what does this mean for Letchworth homeowners and Letchworth landlords?
Changing the dynamics of the Letchworth, regional and national property market will only change in decades, not years. The simple fact is we are living longer, and we need 240,000 to 250,000 houses a year to stand still with demand, let alone start to eat into 30 years of under building where the average has been just under 170,000 households a year.
That means, today as a country, we have a pent-up demand of 2.25m additional households and we need to build a further 4.2m households on top of that figure for population growth between 2019 and 2039. So, irrespective of whether we have short term blip in the property market in the next 12/18 months, investing in property is, and always will be, a great investment as demand will always outstrip supply.
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