How can research benefit housing policy?

20 September 2016


Reported by Ryan Hamnett, MRC-funded CSaP Policy Intern (September - December 2016)

With the prospect of devolution on the horizon and the greater local power that it would entail, attendees at a recent CSaP Policy Workshop on Cambridgeshire housing policy were keen to form stronger links between policy and academia, with the aim of laying the strategic groundwork for housing in the decades to come.

Representatives from local government and private real estate development came together with experts from the University of Cambridge to establish how to better use emerging research to inform and enable development of residential housing in Cambridgeshire.

A report of the workshop can be downloaded here.

One participant from the Flagship Group noted that: "Both practitioners and academics often operate in a bubble – it’s important to create a forum for discussion."

Discussions particularly focussed on the need for a regional plan, transport links within Cambridge and extending out to rural areas, potential conflicts between those living in Cambridge and those working in Cambridge, and the promise of new methods of construction.

New technologies, new industry

Mark Reeve of Greater Cambridge, Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGP LEP) kicked off the workshop with a presentation emphasising the lack of skills in the current housing sector, primarily as a result of the 2008 recession.

However, researchers from the University’s Engineering Department highlighted that new technologies are emerging from research which may help to combat this. One such example is modular building, where construction of separate parts of a building takes place off-site before on-site assembly. This approach is heavily dependent on good design initially, and may utilise approaches such as 3D printing, but the ultimate assembly requires fewer skills than typical construction.

Challenges of new developments

Housing demand in Cambridge is regularly outstripping supply; during the roundtable discussion attendees pointed out the attractiveness of the city as a place to live, noting its pleasing aesthetics, transport links to London and prestigious university. However, large developments are often undesirable for current residents, while small developments add strain to existing infrastructure. Therefore discussions at the workshop centred on how research could help to determine the best approach for new sites, including migratory patterns around the Cambridge area, employment and its effect on housing, and social and economic modelling to help predict likely investment returns for large projects which may make them more feasible.

This sentiment was mirrored in an earlier presentation by Michael Oxley (Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research), who underlined the benefits research could bring to policy, such as in making international comparisons with other countries who have tried to implement similar policies.

Overall, attendees at the workshop found the concept of previously unexplored interactions between policy and research highly valuable. Claire Flowers (GCGP) stated that “understanding some of the work that researchers at the University have already undertaken could help support our case locally for investment”.

(Banner image from Trumpington Meadows Community)

Professor Michael Oxley

Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research

Mark Reeve

Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough LEP