01Policy priority 1: Build more homes to improve local affordability
- Double the target housing growth rate. WECA’s spatial development strategy (SDS) should set a clear annual target for social and non-social housing construction.
- Call for a strategic review of green belt land. In particular, land around railway stations should be released for over 50,000 climate-friendly new homes with excellent access to existing transport infrastructure.
- Recognise the importance of commercial space in Bristol’s city centre. Promote housing development in suburban areas in order to avoid competition between housing and office space in the city centre.
The WECA area is a successful economy, driven by Bristol’s city centre, which attracts high-skilled businesses that pay comparatively high wages.1 But this strong economic performance comes with costs, which are mostly reflected in house prices, as the area has become one of the least affordable in Britain. The next mayor must tackle housing affordability by ensuring more homes are built, while keeping the city centre thriving for business. This will require some tough decisions from the mayor, such as promoting construction in suburban areas and calling for a strategic review of green belt land. The benefits will be improved affordability for residents and reduced local inequality.
In the next Spatial Development Strategy, the mayor should set a target of increasing the area’s housing stock by 2 per cent a year. This target would be in line with Cambridge, which has been able to stabilise housing affordability in recent years, by allowing housing supply to respond to housing needs. Between 2016 and 2020, house prices increased by 17 per cent in Bristol and the adjacent South Gloucestershire local authority, significantly above the national average, causing housing affordability to deteriorate. Unless housing supply is able to meet demand, prices will continue to rise. As part of such a policy, the mayor should publish and promote targets that prioritise new supply, for both social and non-social housing – as Bristol City Council already does.2 A transparent strategy like this will increase political accountability on this important issue.
The mayor should call for a strategic review of green belt land. In Bristol itself, brownfield land is fairly limited, so it cannot be seen as a major source of land to meet ambitious housing targets.3 While one approach would be to release land piece by piece from the green belt in an uncoordinated way, a strategic review across all the local authorities would ensure that the most appropriate land with the best infrastructure would be developed and the rest protected.
Research by the Centre for Cities shows that is it possible to build 55,200 homes in existing green belt and agricultural areas next to train stations at suburban densities, which will allow for climate-friendly commuting into Bristol city centre.4 This approach would continue to protect National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and public recreational areas.
The expansion of housing in Bristol city centre should be carefully monitored so that it does not squeeze out commercial space. Bristol has a strong city centre, which is home to a large number of high-skilled jobs that support prosperity for the wide WECA area.1 But the economy could be weakened in the long-term if commercial property is squeezed out by residential development.
Increasing the supply of suburban housing would ease this city centre squeeze, and protect the prosperity of the local economy for all residents. If the metro mayor successfully accomplishes this but a city centre squeeze on commercial property continues, it may become appropriate to work with the Mayor of Bristol to ask the Government for an Article 4 direction in order to reduce the loss of commercial property due to permitted development rights within Bristol city centre.6