Chamberlain Walker

Northern Powerhouse Liveability Index

During the last few months, we have been working with Your Housing Group and WPI Strategy to develop a new housing index for the North of England, which we have called the ‘Northern Powerhouse Liveability Index’. Your Housing Group are a large housing association with around 30,000 homes, based primarily in the North West.


Housing associations are traditionally about providing not just housing for those in need, but improving the quality of lives of their customers.

The concept of a Liveability Index arises very much from this mindset. It is designed to capture not just the basic affordability of housing (i.e. on simple metrics like house price to earnings ratios) but also the quality of life that the housing gives access to, based on location. It can be thought of as how far the housing enables residents to ‘get on in life’ (and enjoy it):

opportunity for and in employment as well as educational attainment in the local area;

desirability of the local area’s settings i.e. its neighbourhoods, its natural environment and/or quality of the urban built environment, captured by wealth and housing deprivation indicators; and

availability (space) of housing, in terms of household sizes

The attributes ‘opportunity’, ‘desirability’, ‘housing availability (space)’ are factors considered positive for quality of life. They are combined into a single ‘quality of life’ score for each local authority – a high index score indicates a high quality of life. However, a better quality of life offering is often reflected in higher house prices and rents (i.e. ‘great place to live, but completely unaffordable’). We add in an affordability measure to recognise this.

The ‘Liveability Index’ combines quality of life and affordability – it gives a measure of the liveability of a place for those on average incomes. The Index covers all local authorities in the North – hence the ‘Northern Powerhouse Liveability Index’ (NPLI).

So, which Northern local authority scored highest on the Liveability Index?

South Lakeland in Cumbria came out top. Although affordability is close to the Northern average, at 98/100, with higher house prices and rents cancelled out by higher resident earnings and employment, South Lakeland’s quality of life offering is very good at 367/300. Given South Lakeland’s location – much of it in the Lake District, it also captures some of the Yorkshire Dales – it is perhaps unsurprising to see it score well on desirability.

Bradford in West Yorkshire scored lowest for liveability. Affordability in Bradford is also close to the Northern average, at 96/100, but Bradford’s quality of life offering is poor at 235/300. It has large household sizes, which could be indicative of overcrowding, and suffers poor opportunity – particularly a lack of jobs which some have attributed to its poor rail transport links.

South Lakeland’s report card:

Affordability (98/100 = near average):
House prices £254,500, rents £645 per month, resident employment 86%, resident earnings £27,300 p.a.

Quality of life (367/300 = very good) of which,

Opportunity (115 = good):
Job density 1.06:1, earnings in local jobs £21,990, Attainment 8 score 52.0

Desirability (116 = good):
Homeownership premium +21.5%, older population 27.7%, empty homes 1.5%

Housing availability (136 = excellent):
1.88 people per home

NPLI = 465

Bradford’s report card:

Affordability (96/100 = near average):
House prices £160,700, rents £515 per month, resident employment 69%, resident earnings £24,400 p.a.

Quality of life (235/300 = very poor) of which,

Opportunity (85 = poor):
Job density 0.69:1, earnings in local jobs £24,600, Attainment 8 score 45.7

Desirability (81 = poor):
Homeownership premium +9.7%, older population 14.4%, empty homes 1.9%

Housing availability (69 = very poor):
2.52 people per home

NPLI = 331

What does the Liveability Index tell us about where to build new homes? Generally speaking:

 local authorities with poor affordability but good quality of life need to increase their new house building

 local authorities with poor affordability and poor quality of life may need to increase their new house building, but alongside other policy interventions

local authorities with good affordability and poor quality of life do not need to increase their new house building

When it comes to new house building, market signals (house prices and rents) should always be an important determinant of where new homes are built, and commercial home builders naturally respond well to these. But housing associations are uniquely positioned to build new housing taking a more holistic view.
Building new housing in some local authorities, including some of the more deprived areas, needs to be considered carefully alongside other interventions, such as those to bolster opportunity e.g. in Bradford, policies to encourage foreign direct investment and job creation and investment in better infrastructure. Many there are campaigning for a station on the new Northern Powerhouse rail.

We need to take that holistic view, not just ‘building housing for housing’s sake’, but building where it is needed the most. That means new housing where it makes a difference to peoples’ lives, not where it locks them into poverty. That way, new housing can also contribute to a thriving Northern Powerhouse. Hopefully, the Liveability Index can help to inform that debate.

Our new report commissioned by WPI Strategy for Your Housing Group can be downloaded here

Selected media coverage

Yorkshire Post

Place North West

BBC Radio