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Cambridge is UK’s top city for innovation and skills, but lack of affordable housing threatens future success

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2018

New research shows the strength and potential pitfalls of future growth in Cambridge, including our residents having the highest levels of qualifications in the UK, but we’re also one of the least affordable cities with the average house price costing £505,200.

The research has been published by the Centre for Cities in their Cities Outlook 2018 report this week – assessing the 63 largest cities in the UK by 18 indicators – including housing, innovation and cost of living.

Photo of sculpture and new housing at Great Kneighton development in Cambridge

New housing at Great Kneighton, Cambridge

The new report highlights the issues of housing and skills in Cambridge, which was echoed in recent research by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) during their autumn ‘Big Conversation’. Rachel Stopard, Chief Executive of the Greater Cambridge Partnership said: “The Centre for Cities report highlights our city’s ongoing success, in terms of innovation, business and job creation, but also pinpoints the issues we have continuing to grow.”

The Centre for Cities report shows that while Cambridge was in second place for the level of housing growth in the UK, it is only behind London and Oxford regarding affordability. The Greater Cambridge Partnership aims to help build 33,500 new homes in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, with the majority planned in Cambourne, Northstowe, Bourn Airfield and the north of Waterbeach. 

Almost three quarters of the people the GCP spoke to during the Big Conversation were unhappy with their current housing situation - with most people recognising that a key problem for the area was a lack of affordable housing. Over 50% stated the cost of buying as the key issue and 44% of Cambridge respondents cited the cost of rent.

Cambridge continues to lead on innovation and skills, with the Centre for Cities reporting that it has the highest number of patent applications published per resident – three times the number of Coventry which was the second highest city. Cambridge residents are also the most qualified– 66.8% of residents of working age have an NVQ4 or higher.

However, businesses told the GCP during the Big Conversation that one of their biggest problems was recruiting and staff turnover, especially due to the high cost of housing. Some also talked about a ‘wages gap’ for different professions, with high-earning jobs pushing up the cost of renting and buying houses, making it harder to find staff to fill service or administrative positions. The GCP aims to create better transport links that connects communities with employment opportunities.

The Centre for Cities research also showed that Cambridge is in a strong position for economic growth, with almost half of all jobs expecting an increase in demand and the largest share of high-skill private occupations likely to grow by 2030. The Greater Cambridge Partnership is working with business and education providers to develop a future workforce, including ensuring residents have the skills they need to succeed in the local economy.

The preliminary findings of the GCP’s Big Conversation will be taken to the Executive Board on 16 February.