16th December 2014

Affordability, availability, access and infrastructure


Following Roland Harwood’s guest blog, we bring you a second guest blog from one of the judges on our Housing Challenge panel, Jane Davidson. Jane introduces herself and discusses affordability, availability, access and infrastructure: the main themes of the challenge.

GeoVation Housing Challenge

I’m a sucker for a good system – a system that works, is both efficient and effective and opens up access to better information to the widest group of people, preferably on something which can improve their opportunities. So when I was asked to be a judge on the latest GeoVation Challenge, calling for better ideas to enable people in Britain to live in better places, I jumped at the chance.

I have spent years of my life considering housing issues – in the 1980s, as a local councillor in a ward with hundreds of poor quality houses in multiple occupation and as parliamentary researcher on the 1988 Housing Act; in the 1990s, as Head of Housing and Social Care for the Welsh Local Government Association; and, in the 2000s, as the Minister with the overarching responsibility for Environment, Sustainability, Planning, Energy and Housing in the Welsh Government. There are a number of areas on which action can be taken to effect different housing outcomes, both now and for the future, most of which lie in the responsibility of governments – e.g. changing the planning system to produce low carbon, energy efficient buildings, changing tax systems at UK or local council level, releasing more land for building, requiring more social housing, requiring greater energy efficiency obligations, developing incentives for target groups, e.g. first time buyers. All need to be underpinned by a better evidence base  in relation to current practice and opportunity.

Jane Davidson

Jane Davidson, GeoVation Housing Challenge judging panel

In the GeoVation Challenge, we’re focused on affordability, availability, access and infrastructure and how we best use the assets we have. These challenges were identified through a Geovation PowWow, in July in Coventry – a chance to test what needed to be addressed and under what heading with a group of volunteer experts. There are a series of questions that this year’s Challenge, led by Ordnance Survey and sponsored for the first time by the Land Registry, is designed to address:

– How can we enable a more meaningful use of the term ‘affordability’? ‘Affordability’ varies considerably by geography, community, household and individual. In the 1950s the average house cost just over four times the average salary, but by 2008 it had risen to over eight times. When I was in my early 20s in 1982, I was able to buy a house at three times my salary as a newly qualified teacher. My three adult children, all of whom are older than I was when I first became a home owner, have no opportunity to purchase in the immediate future.

– How do we ensure there are enough suitable properties available for first time buyers to get on the property ladder? Only 18% of more than 325,000 properties with at least two bedrooms for sale in England were within financial reach of a household with children in an average local wage. What alternatives to traditional housing occupancy and outright purchase could be promoted?

– How can we reduce the distance travelled from home to work? Between 2008 and 2012, people living in rural villages, hamlets & isolated dwellings travelled around 10,000 miles per year on average to work. Those in urban areas travelled 6,200 miles per year to work. Are there new ideas about access to information which would make housing decisions in the round easier?

How can we make it easier and cheaper to upgrade the energy performance of peoples’ homes and communities? Annual fuel bills for the average household have reached £1,420, according to the energy regulator Ofgem. 40% of the UK’s energy consumption and carbon emissions come from the way our buildings are lit, heated and used. Tackling fuel poverty and increasing the energy efficiency of our homes to keep energy affordable  and not waste it is increasingly important.

This year’s challenge is now in the hands of those who have been invited to present their ideas at a GeoVation Camp in mid-January. To see the full list of those invited to work up their ideas to this next stage, have a look at Viv’s blog of 12/12. Personally, I am looking for ideas that are practical, simple to deliver, meet an identified need and will open up new housing opportunities through wider community engagement. Using reliable data to influence decision making and create new opportunities seems to me to be one of the biggest opportunities in our information rich world. So let’s make sure together that the £101,000 available to fund this challenge is truly transformative.