12 Jun 2020
Many people are currently reappraising what is important in a home as a result of COVID-19, with a recent survey undertaken by Rightmove finding that bigger gardens or at least access to one, and proximity to outdoor space are amongst the top 5 priorities for both buyers and renters. This suggests that the demand for high-density apartment living may decrease, with the traditional home (and garden) outside of the city centre becoming an attractive option for those who have recently been confined to a more limited living space.
It is important to consider what implications this will have on strategic plans such as Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF), which as set out in my colleague Brian O’Connor’s recent blog, has been delayed further, ostensibly to account for the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the announcement of this delay on 3rd June, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has stated that “it is essential that any plan recognises and responds to these new circumstances. Acknowledging these circumstances will be vital to ensuring that Greater Manchester is prepared for the challenges that lay ahead, and that we seize the opportunity to build back in a way that’s better and fairer for all.”
At the moment it is unclear what strategy for housing the GMCA will pursue in the next iteration of the GMSF. As currently drafted, it focuses on delivering high density homes and distributes 43% of housing to Manchester and Salford. Many of these homes will comprise 1 / 2-bed apartments. This is despite evidence which demonstrated that many families want to live in larger suburban family homes with private outdoor amenity space. For example, the 2017 GM Housing Survey suggested that 80% of 2,000 local respondents want to own a home in a suburb; 84% seeking a home with a private garden; and just 8% want to live in an apartment in the City. The need for traditional homes with gardens can only have increased as people begin to reflect on their living environments as a result of COVID-19.
The implications of COVID-19 on plan-making has already begun to be acknowledged by local authorities, with Lichfields being approached to undertake evidence base updates in light of the ‘new normal’ economic conditions resulting from the pandemic.
Going forward, it will be necessary for the GMCA to reconsider how it will meet its future housing needs. The focus can no longer be on maximising the delivery of high-density homes in Manchester and Salford. A more realistic and balanced approached is required, which may shift the focus to suburban areas, where there are also opportunities to improve connectivity and create more jobs. This will inevitably result in suitable Green Belt sites being forward for development.
Another dimension to consider is the supply and demand of new homes. Anecdotal evidence from housebuilders suggests that sales have remained on track and there have been strong number of reservations. However, delivery will be significantly affected by the suspension of construction activities early in the lockdown period and whilst many firms are now back on-site, the requirement for social distancing will mean that completions have slowed down considerably.
All in all, the likely increase in demand for traditional homes is yet another challenge arising from COVID-19 which will need to be in addressed in strategic plans such as the GMSF. It is imperative that authorities have the right evidence base to ensure that housing needs are genuinely being met and in Greater Manchester, it is clear that additional Green Belt release across the city region is the only means of delivering the homes that are required. Watch this space.