'Don't let city housing boom be hijacked'
- Credit: Jon Williamson
City folk have raised fears that Norwich's housing boom may be 'hijacked' by buy-to-let landlords and second home owners, rather than help young people get on the property ladder.
They have called for more measures to make sure that local first time buyers are given priority for many of the thousands of new homes currently in the pipeline.
Under the Greater Norwich Local Plan (GNLP), more than 40,000 homes could be built in the city and surrounding areas in the coming years.
The properties are intended to ease the housing crisis facing young people, by creating more opportunities for them to buy their first property.
But there are concerns that a large proportion of the new homes could instead be snapped up as investments, second homes, Airbnb lets or buy-to-let opportunities.
As well as making it harder for locals to buy homes, there are also fears that such properties could create 'ghost towns' in new city developments, because many flats remain empty for long periods.
Parts of some developments in the city - such as St Anne's Quarter in King Street - have already been earmarked for first-time buyers.
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But young people and campaigners say similar measures should be placed on more housing schemes.
Green councillor Jamie Osborn, who represents Mancroft ward on both city and county council, said that more needs to be done to get those in need of homes into Norwich's new properties.
"The number of landlords that are buying up to let is not sustainable. It's driving up prices for everyone.
"People can't afford to rent and they can even less afford to buy.
"There needs to be enforcement to make sure homes are affordable.
"It's very difficult for young people to get on to the housing ladder now.
"They're usually in insecure work as well which makes it really difficult to get a mortgage.
"It's about making sure that housing serves the needs of the people in Norwich.
"Some neighbourhoods could become ghost towns because people can't live in them.
"I'm aware of blocks in my ward where the flats have been unoccupied for two or three years."
David Hinton, sales manager at Brown and Co in Norwich, said: "It's harder now than it ever has been for first-time buyers. There certainly needs to be more measures in place.
"House prices have gone up significantly in Norwich alone. In the last two years they've gone up between 15pc and 20pc.
Mr Hinton said there was currently no guarantee the new housing in the pipeline would solve the crisis, as people may purchase the property for investment opportunities.
"The changing demographic of what people are buying property for has priced buyers out of the market. Property has gone up so much that people can't afford what they need.
"Those looking for an Airbnb opportunity will be looking for something cheaper - a one-bed apartment or two-bed terrace - which return a fairly good yield.
"They are going to impact those looking at property from a primary residence perspective as they will pay slightly more to get it."
IS THIS JUST A PROBLEM IN NORWICH?
Similar concerns have been raised in many other parts of the UK about young, local people being priced out of the housing market, and about 'ghost town' effects being created in housing developments where flats are vacant for long periods.
It is also a particularly controversial topic in popular tourist hotspots on the Norfolk coast, where Wells-next-the-Sea has been dubbed 'Airbnb-next-the-Sea'.
In Sheringham, one housing scheme is attempting to solve the issue by ensuring local families are given first refusal on new properties.
Meanwhile, locals in Heacham are thought to be the first in the county to add a clause to their 'neighbourhood plan' - the document governing housing developments in the area - to say that any new homes must be for the purposes of "primary residence".
But experts warn that the issue is complex, and solutions difficult.
For instance, some critics say that imposing restrictions to prevent second home owners buying new homes simply pushes up the price for older properties, making them less affordable.
Others argue about the economic contribution that second homes and Airbnb lets can make to areas, by bringing visitors in.
City's housing boom
Many building projects are under way in the city and more are to follow.
The Greater Norwich Local Plan is the blueprint for assessing where these should be built.
It has been drawn up by local councils and is now being assessed by government planning inspectors.
Norwich City Council, Broadland District Council and South Norfolk Council are working together for the project.
They have suggested more than 500 locations after a call for sites in 2015 and another 200 were subsequently put forward in 2018.
The plan's objectives include providing "high-quality homes of the right density, size, mix and tenure to meet people’s needs".
But there has been debate about how the homes should be spread out across the three districts.
Councillor Shaun Vincent, chairman of the Greater Norwich Development Partnership said: "We need to make sure that future growth brings benefits for all, while protecting our environment and providing for a sustainable future."