This article was written for the News & Star.
I am always quite puzzled when some people are keen to knock our city for all sorts of reasons. Personally, as someone who arrived in Carlisle over 30 years ago, I think the city really is a truly hidden gem. There is a huge amount to offer – much of it not publicised as much as it should be.
One such positive in the city is the issue of housebuilding and home ownership. This is an issue which is always in the national headlines, but also has significance locally. There have been many debates about the fact that we do not build enough houses and homes for the population. This lack of supply is creating huge problems for people who want to purchase their own house and get on the housing ladder.
In the past, the opportunity to buy a home was greater – and prices were more reasonable compared to income. All this is leading to a reduction in the number of homeowners compared to previous generations – especially amongst younger people. I don’t think this is a good thing.
However, I often get frustrated that the debate does not recognise the fact that there is no such thing as a national housing market. Housing markets are in fact more regional, or even sub-regional, in nature.
Take Cumbria for example. There are parts of the county that have very expensive areas, such as the Lake District. But then there are far more reasonable priced areas in the county. Indeed, a recent analysis on house price-to-earnings ratios to find the most affordable places to live in the UK came back with 3 areas in Cumbria in the top 10 ranking.
Here in Carlisle, I am quite conscious of the housing stock and the prices as this matters for people who want the opportunity to acquire a home. Of course, not everyone is in the stage of life where they necessarily want to purchase a home, but I would like to see it be something that many people do aspire to and can achieve if they want.
Ultimately, to ensure that this happens we need a steady supply of new homes to make sure that the market does not overheat and that house prices do not accelerate. Here in Carlisle, we do have a reasonably balanced market. In addition to the relative affordability, we have a good mix of housing; with some quality Victorian houses, 20th century properties, and a number of well-built modern homes. There is also a strong (though could always be bigger) supply of social housing.
However, it is critical we don’t just look at the present, but also 10 to 15 years ahead. This is where projects like the Garden Village come into their own. This is a real opportunity for our city to plan for the future, plan for growth of the city, and to ensure that there is a steady supply of new homes which are available at reasonable prices. To achieve a fair and equal market we need a steady supply, and this is precisely what the Garden Village will offer. This is why the £220 million investment by the government into our ring road is hugely welcome, as it will unlock the Garden Village area and create the opportunity for our city to continue grow in a steady and sustainable way.
When talking to colleagues in Parliament representing other parts of the country where housing is a very difficult and controversial issue, I often think that Carlisle is extremely well placed to be an attractive destination, not just for those who come from Carlisle, but also for those who want to come here for career and work opportunities. Just as it was for me more than 30 years ago.