Using the North to help the South
Going back to your roots is always an eye opening experience. Last weekend I returned to my place of birth, Bradford in West Yorkshire, to see relatives. For the last part of the journey, I shared a taxi with my Mum and Sister, both also born in Bradford. What we saw was enlightening, and a slightly saddening sight. As we drove past a number of impressive looking traditional stone properties, many of them now with boards nailed to the windows and left void, a number of comments were uttered along the lines of “this has changed”. I realised that the housing crisis we see in the South manifests totally differently in the North.
There are large numbers of unoccupied properties in Northern towns and cities, figures of up to 1 million have been suggested. This is the flip side of the housing crisis coin. The headlines go to London, with its property shortages, intense competition and rising prices. London though is an international mega-city, similar to New York or Tokyo. Its popularity only serves to further increase its popularity. In the North there at least appears to be a portion of the solution, standing void and waiting for someone to do something about it. When you consider the increasingly real option of using technology to work remotely, paying through the nose to be close to work starts to make no sense.
Is it as simple as northern cities finding a way to market themselves? The devolution of powers proposed by George Osborne appears to give some of the initiative to them, and Manchester has revealed plans to build thousands of new homes. The strange thing is that although London offers higher wages and a greater variety of work, the standard of living is often much more pleasant in the north. Fewer crowds, spectacular countryside and larger homes are just part of this. The perception of a better life in the South East prevails currently but things can change. If catalysts can be found to encourage more workers to move north it will greatly decrease the pressure on the London market.
If half the people who visit from the South East for their summer holidays can be persuaded that it’s worth staying permanently, it could be a significant victory in the battle to create a British economy that isn’t powered by the London bubble. Surely renting or owning a house in Yorkshire would be an improvement on sharing beds with strangers in London, as reported in the Guardian this week? If not then the superior fish and chips should be enough to convince anyone!
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