Has lockdown changed our view of what we need from housing-led regeneration

Anna Seddon – Policy and Public Affairs Officer, NHC

Many of us over the last 18 months have built a different relationship with our local area which has led to changed expectations of ‘home’. I know that for me, the pandemic has made it much clearer that I expect ‘home’ to be safe, secure, sustainable, and connected to the wider area. For regeneration schemes to be successful in the future, these renewed expectations for high-quality homes in thriving areas that are resilient to future crises must be accounted for.

The pandemic has spotlighted the condition of our homes and our local areas which presents a golden opportunity to drive improvements in the spaces in which we live. We know that good-quality housing is fundamental to the social, environmental, and economic health of communities; improving the quality of existing homes in the North was central to the Commission on Housing in the North’s recommendations to revitalise places in the region. Housing renewal and wider regeneration schemes must now factor in our changed expectations to maximise potential benefits and ensure no one is left out of accessing these.

With new ways of working becoming more established and an increase in the number of people working from home, local areas have become places of work and leisure. Access to local green spaces, good local services and a warm, safe home have never been more critical. Like many others now without a daily commute, I’m spending more time in the area I live in Newcastle, and appreciating being near a large public park more than I ever have, especially being without private outdoor space. The pandemic has created new demands on local places as we spend more time (and often more cash) within them and it has broadened our ambitions for thriving, sustainable places.

Though post-pandemic planning should not be reduced to the redesigning of places for those who now work at home more often than they used to. ONS data shows that a quarter of workers worked from home at some point in 2019, this figure rose to around a third in 2020. While this increase is significant, homeworkers still only account for a small proportion of working age adults and the figures for some Northern towns were the lowest in England, with as few as 14% of employees in some areas having ever worked from home. Infrastructure to make life easier for those employed in sectors such as healthcare, construction, retail and hospitality must also be at the forefront of planning, such as increasing good, green transport links.

It’s five years since the publication of the Commission for Housing in the North’s report and we have a real opportunity to reshape communities into fairer and greener places for everyone. Underpinning the housing-led renewal of our local areas must be the commitment to a fair transition to a zero-carbon future. Housing’s role in this will be to deliver a neighbourhood-based approach to increase the energy efficiency of homes and manage the shift away from gas boilers to decarbonised heat to reduce emissions and improve housing quality in the North.

Renewing places across the region will also involve working with communities to support local businesses and encourage the spread of consumer spend, develop clean and integrated public transport, and invest in accessible green spaces and walking/cycling paths. This would reduce economic isolation and create more attractive places for mixed, sustainable communities to live.

Understanding and responding to altered expectations of housing will be fundamental to how cities and towns across the North adapt. We know a one-size-fits-all approach to post-Covid regeneration will not be sufficient to address challenges across the North, but a good starting point would be to connect our new relationships with ‘home’ to our response to the climate crisis, ensuring everyone has access to the benefits generated from the transition to net zero.