Broken dreams – the slow erosion of the quality of life equation

Broken dreams – the slow erosion of the quality of life equation

The North East was one of the UK’s best-kept secrets.  In the 1960s and 70s, for many, knowledge of the region was largely based on watching Get Carter, The Likely Lads or When The Boat Comes In, or reading Catherine Cookson’s novels.  It seemed a pretty grim place.  Then, in 1982, Kevin Keegan, still then one of football’s biggest stars, signed for Newcastle United.

Later that year Channel 4 was launched and started broadcasting The Tube from Tyne Tees’ studios.  Suddenly Newcastle was trendy.

Visitors began discovering that the North East was also full of friendly people, great towns and cities, a stunning countryside and coastline – and it was cheap.  Restaurants were cheap, entertainment was cheap and houses were cheap.  People began to do the sums: decent job (although less well-paid), lower rent or mortgage payments equals more disposable income equals higher quality of life.  The streets suddenly seemed full of posh cars.  Certain streets still are and there remains a good proportion of people enjoying a great lifestyle, but the gap between them and the less affluent has grown. For many, wages have stayed low as house prices, mortgages and rent rocketed.

In its report, The North East Broken Market, Broken Dreams, The National Housing Federation says people hoping to buy a home in the North East have to pay six times the average income.  The cost of private rent has also soared to an average of £482 per month. That’s a quarter of the average income.

Over the last two decades when we have celebrated the regeneration of the North East – with The Baltic, Sage Gateshead, Millennium Bridge et al – the slow erosion of the quality of life equation has occurred right under our noses.

And it’s not just the aspirational postcodes of Gosforth, Ponteland, Hexham and Tynemouth which are out of reach for the majority.  The National Housing Federation says homes in Darlington and Stockton-on-Tees cost six times the average salary.

Understandably, some people are struggling, even if they have a job. More than one in six are having to claim housing benefit even though they are working. That’s double the figure for 2008.  On top of that, this month’s unemployment figures show that the North East has, by some distance, the highest unemployment rate.

The landmarks will survive, the stunning countryside and coastline will remain, the well-off will continue to enjoy their lifestyles, but there are very real fears about the North East’s future sustainability. Broken Market, Broken Dreams warns that unless properties are brought back into use or new homes built, there will be a 75,000 shortage of homes by 2031.

Launching the report, Monica Burns – external affairs manager for the National Housing Federation in the North East – said: “The property market in the region isn’t working and will only get worse for working people, local families and the next generation if we don’t take action. Building the right houses in the right places, and improving the ones that are already there is integral to creating stronger communities where people want to stay.

“It’s taken us a generation to get into this housing crisis and will take us a generation to get out of it. Successive governments have failed to tackle the country’s major housing challenges and we are calling on the next Government to commit to end the housing crisis within a generation and to publishing a long term plan within a year of taking office detailing how they will do this.”