4 July 2016
Cumbria’s housing market is thriving, in part due to extensive current and planned investment in the Nuclear and Energy sectors and specifically the prospect of three new AP1000 nuclear reactors being built by NuGen at Moorside. Formal confirmation is not due until at least 2018, however it is fully expected that this project will go ahead and construction work could start as early as 2020. Recent indicators of positive momentum towards this new build, such as planning consents and land acquisition, have started to boost confidence in the local residential development sector.
Challenges do, however, remain before the new power plants become a reality. A funding solution and the strike price have yet to be agreed upon, the combination of which will determine the price that NuGen will charge the National Grid for the electricity generated. Although these challenges exist, the appetite for investment in land seems to be gathering momentum, and national housing developers are once again beginning to look at Cumbria and in particular West Cumbria. The NuGen development, once confirmed, will inevitably create an influx of both temporary and permanent workers that will certainly increase the demand for housing, so the house builders are now preparing for this inevitability.
Due to the scale of the proposed projects at NuGen the local workforce will need to be supplemented by attracting a skilled workforce from beyond the Cumbrian borders to within commuting distance of the site. New residential development will also be required to house both local and non-local workers and families - those who directly work on the project, but also to accommodate the increase in indirect workforce numbers created through supply chain growth and service led growth in areas such as retail and leisure. This prospect is likely to further encourage developers to seek land in the county, but the impact of this potential future development is likely to increase stress on the County's communication and transport infrastructure, and whilst there are plans by the Cumbria LEP to attract Goverment funding for infrastructure upgrades on stretched of road and rail on a county wide basis, such funding if it arrives may be too little too late to prevent communication problems.
The growth in the energy sector undoubtedly presents a unique opportunity for Cumbria to become a world leader in nuclear (and indeed other energy sector) consultancy, research and development. Cumbria is also in an ideal position to take full advantage of the nuclear pound and the supply chain companies located in the region to diversify into other forms of energy sources such as tidal, wind, hydrogen production, CHP (Combined Heat and Power) plants, and biomass. This is attracting the attention of the house builders, as they have learned from similar market movements in other parts of the UK? We have a duty to act together as a Cumbrian unit to support these activities, and ensure we can provide the right infrastructure and communications network to allow this growth to happen without delay. After all, without a growth in population, economic growth in the County will stutter - and this opportunity may just be the greatest many generations will have seen. Let's welcome it.
Andy Ross is Director of Strategic Asset Management at North Associates in Carlisle, which is part of the WYG group of companies.
This feature also appeared in In Cumbria on Saturday, 2 July.