New houses built on NHS land ‘unaffordable’ for nursing staff

Analysis by think tank the New Economics Foundation found the average sale price of many houses planned for NHS land was 9.6 times the average annual salary of a nurse at more than £306,000.

“It would take the average nurse 64 years to save for a deposit for a home on this site”

New Economics Foundation

It suggested 67% of homes due to be built will be “unaffordable” for most nurses – a situation described as “disgraceful” by the Royal College of Nursing.

The report follows research published by the New Economics Foundation in January last year on the sale of NHS land between 2015 and 2017.

This found four out of five homes built on these sites – including hospitals and community health centres – would be unaffordable to a nurse on an average salary.

The latest report – Still No Homes for Nurses – takes a fresh look at 23 of the sites declared surplus by the NHS in England in 2017-18, with space for more than 80 new homes.

The analysis, which looks in detail at the planning documents for the different locations, found 83% of proposed homes would be on sale for market rates beyond the reach of most nurses.

The remaining 17% were classed as “affordable”, but most would still be too expensive for the average nurse to rent or buy.

According to the report, just 5% of homes being built on sold-off NHS land will be available at “genuinely affordable social rent”.

“Our community desperately needs genuinely affordable social housing”

Kate Sheehan

It said plans for 30% of the sites do not include any affordable housing at all, while 61% include no socially rented housing – “widely understood as the only housing that is genuinely affordable to people on low incomes”.

According to the report, a lack of affordable homes would only make the current NHS staffing crisis worse, with problems recruiting and retaining staff “often related to the price of housing”.

This was especially an issue in cities like London, where house prices were particularly high, it warned.

A 2016 survey by the Royal College of Nursing found 40% of nurses planned to leave the capital within five years because of the cost of housing.

It found the average RCN member spent half of their take-home pay on housing and transport.

However, when researchers looked at two large NHS site in London with planning permission for development in 2017-18, they found “none of the homes being built for sale would be at a price which would be affordable to nurses”.

The sites in question are Thorpe Coombe Hospital in Waltham Forest, which is being redeveloped into 91 homes.

According to the report, it would take an average nurse “over a century” to afford the deposit for a market-rate home at this development.

Meanwhile, it would take the average nurse 93 years to save for a deposit for a new market-rate home on the site of Ealing Hospital, researchers said.

Other case studies included in the report include plans to build more than 780 new homes on the site of the Derbyshire Royal Infirmary “with not a single social or affordable home among them”.

“The government’s approach to the public land sale is a shambles” 

Hanna Weatley

According to the report, the site of the former Royal Infirmary hospital in Stoke-on-Trent has been given planning permission for a development that has “no affordable housing”.

Instead, the developer has promised to build some on-site “play equipment” and also give some money to the council for affordable housing elsewhere – “an amount which adds up to less than 1% of the price they paid for the land”.

“It would take the average nurse 64 years to save for a deposit for a home on this site,” said the report.

In Southend, campaigners have been fighting to secure affordable housing on a former NHS site called Fossett’s Farm, which was sold to government housing body Homes England for £7.8m.

NHS nurse Kate Sheehan, who lives in Southend and is a member of the Fossett’s For the People group, said she felt strongly the community should get something back from the land sale.

“Our community desperately needs genuinely affordable social housing and homes for key workers which will assist our local housing and NHS staff crisis,” she said.

“That is nothing short of disgraceful and a painfully short-sighted way to manage land”

Jude Diggins

Report author Hanna Weatley said that finding a decent, affordable place to live was becoming “harder and harder” for individuals and families across the country.

“Public land, if it must be sold, represents an opportunity to produce the kinds of homes people need. But the government’s approach to the public land sale is a shambles,” she said.

The report calls on the government to end the “fire sale” of NHS and other public land and, instead, set up a “People’s Land Bank” to be used to create affordable housing based on the needs of local communities.

“The government should lead the way with the NHS by creating an ‘NHS Land community-lock’, where any land asset sold by the NHS through choice, necessity or obligation can only be used for community benefit,” it said.

The report also called on the government to close a legal loophole that means developers can get out of providing affordable homes if they can show their profits will fall below a set threshold.

It also said local authorities should be able to purchase “at a fair price” to use it for building affordable homes.

Royal College of Nursing London

Jude Diggins

Jude Diggins

RCN London regional director Jude Diggins said the report’s findings would be “hugely disappointing” for members “who work day and night caring for people in the capital”.

“Our members have repeatedly told us that they will have to leave the city if their housing needs are not met soon, yet this report shows us that NHS trusts are selling land for homes that would take a nurse 100 years to save a deposit up for,” she said.

“That is nothing short of disgraceful and a painfully short-sighted way to manage land which could help house vital health care workers and low income Londoners,” said Ms Diggins.

She acknowledged the financial pressures on trusts but said selling valuable land in order to balance the books was “counter-productive and does little to solve the cost of living pressures that are driving nurses out of London and fuelling a recruitment and retention crisis in the profession”.

She welcomed the call for an “NHS land community-lock” and increased focus on the housing needs of NHS staff, and said these ideas “should be taken seriously by policy makers in Westminster and in City Hall”.

A government spokesman said it gave NHS staff “first refusal” on affordable housing schemes built on NHS land sold for development. 

He said there had been more than 400,000 affordable homes provided in England since April 2010 and more than £11bn was being invested in creating more.  

“This government is determined to make sure the housing market works for everyone,” he added.