Nurses priced out of housing developments on former NHS sites

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By Robert Booth

Four out of five homes on NHS land sold by government too expensive for nursing staff and only one in 10 offered at social rent

Four out of five homes built on former NHS sites that have been sold off to private developers will cost more than nurses can afford, according to new research.

Fifty-nine NHS sites, including many former hospitals, have already been sold to housebuilders as part of the government’s public land sale programme to boost housing supply. But the large majority will be unaffordable to nurses, according to the New Economics Foundation (NEF) thinktank. It found that in London none of the homes will be in reach.

Neither are the new developments adding much to the supply of affordable or social housing, the NEF found. Across the UK, only one in 10 of the homes built on the sold-off NHS sites analysed will be available at social rent. The average sale price is expected to be £315,000 – 10 times a nurse’s average annual salary.

The Royal College of Nursing has previously warned that high housing costs could force 40% of nurses out of the capital by 2021. For newly qualified nurses the price of a typical first-time-buyer home is 16 times their salary in inner London, seven times in the West Midlands and six times in the north-west of England, the RCN said.

In Colchester, Essex, the former psychiatric hospital Severalls is being transformed into more than 700 homes, none of which will be affordable to nurses and only 87 of which are classed as “affordable”, the NEF research showed. In St John’s Wood, north London, an NHS site has been sold to developers building three five-bedroom homes expected to cost around £3.75m – 121 times a nurse’s annual salary. There will be no affordable housing.

Persimmon, whose chief executive, Jeff Fairburn, is in line for a bonus worth over £100m, is developing the site of Pontefract general infirmary in West Yorkshire with 117 homes, only seven of which will be social or affordable housing. However, the prices are mostly below £200,000.

The report, No Homes for Nurses, estimated it would take a midwife over a century to afford the deposit for a market-rate home in Enfield where Chase Farm hospital is being redeveloped into 138 residential dwellings. Only 19% of them will be affordable, despite the borough having a target of 40%.

“These NHS sites are community assets – they should be used to deliver community benefits,” said Joe Beswick, housing lead at NEF. “Public land, which is owned by all of us, is being flogged off to developers so they can make massive profits, while producing a tiny amount of affordable housing.”

“This is a government with the wrong priorities on housing,” said John Healey, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for housing. “Ministers should be maximising the number of new genuinely affordable homes on public land, not treating low-cost housing as an afterthought.”

The government has identified surplus Department of Health sites with capacity for 26,000 homes. Between 2015 and 2017 it was expecting to sell sites for 4,000 homes.

In November, the government announced nurses would have first refusal on affordable housing generated through the sale of surplus NHS land. But the NEF argued that in London even affordable rent, which can be as high as 80% of market rent, is not affordable for nurses.

A government spokesperson said“Since April 2010 there have been more than 357,000 affordable homes provided in England, but we’re aware that more needs to be done, which is why we’re investing over £9bn in affordable housing.

“For NHS staff in particular, we announced plans in October last year to give first refusal on affordable housing schemes built on NHS land sold for development.”

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