Challenge of getting on the property ladder continues

With Chichester voted the best retirement location by a national newspaper last month, the stark reality for many is it’s one of the least affordable places to live in the country. Neill Barston and Tom Cotterill investigate the difficulties of those trying to gain a vital foot on the housing ladder.

With thousands waiting on the district council’s housing list, getting on to the property ladder remains a worryingly major challenge for many families in the local area.

According to latest statistics, the city is, in relative terms, the third most expensive place to live in the south east, with property costing more than 16 times the average wage.

The problem has heightened considerably as the demand for housing increases with people reluctant to place property on the market as the recession continues to bite.

This coupled with the largely retail-based local economy having lower-than-average wages of under £20,000, means the situation has become a major issue for the district.

With unemployment at its highest levels for a generation among the under-25s, many of those in their 20s and 30s are forced to continue living with their parents for extended periods to gain the large deposits which many banks are now demanding.

While there is undoubtedly building activity taking place despite the weakened economy, many new-build developments are out of reach for first-time buyers.

In Chichester, much hype has surrounded the emergence of the eco-friendly Graylingwell Park scheme. This offers part-rent part-buy properties, but with the price of a three-bedroom home on its exclusive estate being more than £300,000 (just short of twice the national average price) they are out of reach for most.

In Felpham, the Lillies Hill development has homes available from around £195,000, which are still beyond the budget of most young couples and families.

Simon Nunn, head of the south region for the National Housing Federation which produced the report revealing area’s prohibitively high property values, highlighted an urgent need for a greater number of affordable houses.

He said: “It is clear from our report that housing need in the south east is reaching desperate levels, with sweeping changes brought in by the government coupled with the ongoing impact of the economic downturn, it looks like the situation is only going to get worse.”

After canvassing estate agents in the area, there appeared general agreement that Bognor Regis proved the most popular for more-affordable homes.

Its average property price of £243,000 for a family home is still more than £70,000 over the national average, but significantly less than figures commanded in Chichester.

Henry Adams estate agents in Chichester believed there was ‘a good property supply’ at present but acknowledged that Chichester’s desirability came with a premium.

According to Halifax, property prices fell at a rate of 2.8 per cent in February, the fastest pace since October 2009 which you might think would be good news for first-time buyers. However, the mortgage market is somewhat sluggish as banks remain cautious about lending, resulting in a continued trend of low completion rates for property purchases.

In response, Chichester District Council has acknowledge the need for urgent action on affordable housing availability.

A spokesperson said: “There are currently 4,589 households on the council’s housing register.

“The council considers that access to affordable housing for residents is one of its top priorities. “Currently, there is an average of 92 bids for every property advertised in the Homemove Magazine.

“Therefore, there is a need to deliver more affordable housing to reduce the local housing need, and maintain and improve the sustainability of our villages.

“We are working hard to identify small rural sites that can be used for new affordable housing. We have developed the Chichester Rural Housing Partnership with Hyde Martlet to deliver 125 new homes in rural areas over five years. We are working with parish councils and communities to assess their local housing needs.

“We currently have a number of schemes either in the pipeline or being developed on site. These will make a great difference to the sustainability of our rural areas.”