Business Leaders and Town Planners Launch Initiative to Tell More Home Truths about Housing

When it comes to housing Oxfordshire’s workforce that’s the new message from a cross-section of the county’s planning and business community.

Crisis? What crisis?

They say there are many serious issues facing the region and the shortfall in the number of affordable homes for its workforce is the most pressing.

But, they also say a negative perception over the way the issues are being handled is overshadowing the far brighter reality and discouraging thousands of much-needed employees from coming to live and work in Oxfordshire.

Now, town planners, elected officials and the business community are coming together on a mission to explain the real issues facing the county and its housing problems and what is being done to address them.

Through the Oxfordshire Voice organisation (oxvoice.co.uk) they have launched an initiative to ensure the public get a much clearer and more accurate picture of what is being done to solve the housing shortage facing the country.

Nigel Tipple – Chief Executive of the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP) said: “We are recognised globally as a place that can support innovation-led growth, greater productivity and major ‘place potential’ as we move towards an ever-increasing internationally-focused economy – and with a GVA of £23billion per annum – we are one of only three net county contributors to the Exchequer.

“We also have a track record of nurturing genuine innovation and taking it to a world-stage, whilst – between 2012 and 2017 – we have seen a total of 50,000 new jobs created in the county.

“With this demand, it’s really important that – as a county – we create forums for discussion between business, local authorities and property developers to improve the diversity and availability of quality housing for our communities.”

This misconception was highlighted in a recent Oxfordshire Voice survey which found more than nine out of ten (95%) business people in the county think there is a looming housing crisis and a lack of vision and management skills amongst planning organisations to address it.

However, at the Oxfordshire Voice forum, it was agreed this widespread misconception needed to be addressed to set the record straight and provide people with easy to access information on what housing options are available now and in the future.

That forum was held at Blenheim Palace – which is also undertaking a multi-million-pound community and house building scheme.

“Oxfordshire needs more affordable homes for our children and grandchildren and if we are to attract and retain teachers and nurses for our schools and hospitals. The market alone cannot be relied upon to do that so the challenge for Oxfordshire is how public, private and third sector partners can work together to influence the market.” says Paul Staines from the Oxfordshire Growth Board.

Bob Price – former city council Leader – reinforced the Growth Board claims. He says of the hundred thousand new homes already designated, 19,000 have already been built. The rate of new home construction has accelerated substantially in the past three years in line with the Housing and Growth Deal.

To meet the 102,000 figure, we need an improvement in construction industry capabilities – skilled workers, capital investment and material supplies,” he says.

The waiting lists for social housing across the county add up to around 10,000 families. This highlights the need for a massive increase in the supply of social homes for rent.

Jayne Woodley of Oxfordshire Community Foundation agrees: “The real issue should not be between social and affordable,” she says. “Affordable housing should mean affordable housing. That’s a range of homes which are affordable to everyone who needs to put a roof over their head.

There are a host of very attractive and workable schemes in place already which will meet many of the housing demands for people working in the county – whatever their income,” says Simon Howson-Green from Oxfordshire Voice. “We are now working together under the Oxfordshire Voice banner to make sure people know this.

The OV forum debated the pros and cons of releasing some green belt land to create more homes and build communities. The hundreds of acres of brownfield land which is currently laying fallow were also discussed. Bringing the cost not housing down to suit everyone pocket is dependent on finding more land on which to build.

Oxfordshire faces a real challenge in delivering 100,000 houses in the period to 2031, however, the unique mix of land ownership where many of the landowners have very long term roots in the area including Blenheim and the Oxford Colleges does present an opportunity to do things differently and create a long term positive legacy for both themselves and the county,” says Roger File of Blenheim Palace.

The forum concluded the problem is one of perception. Companies are desperate to bring workers into Oxfordshire. It’s a thriving business community with huge potential. But the failure to inform people of home building plans in the pipeline or the range of ownership and rental schemes available is persuading potential workers to strike Oxfordshire off their wish list of places to live and work before they know the facts.

You can sum up the communication problem like this,” says Kate Faulkner – a property expert in the private sector.

Employers offer people a job and before anyone agrees to an interview, they log on to Rightmove. This gives a very skewed snapshot of the housing market and gives the impression that buying a home here is beyond most people’s reach.

We need a far more effective approach to telling the housing story and letting people see the range of buying and renting options available.” says Richard Rosser of Oxfordshire Voice “That’s where this initiative with Oxfordshire Voice comes in.”

Upcoming Oxfordshire Voice Events

Connectivity Conference at Unipart House (Open to all)

OV Forum at St Catherine’s College (Open to OV Partners only)

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