OXFORD is the least affordable city in the country, according to an independent think tank.

And building 9,500 homes on the county’s Green Belt may be the only way to tackle the housing shortage at the heart of the problem.

The Centre for Cities has warned that a large gap between supply and demand in Oxford could hold back its economy in the future.

It comes after the Oxford Mail revealed figures showing one in three children in some parts of the city were living in poverty – with rising housing costs putting the biggest pressure on families.

And county council leader Ian Hudspeth admitted the county’s road network was at capacity with hundreds of thousands of those unable to afford homes in the city having to commute in their cars.

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The Centre for Cities report said Oxford should prioritise building on brownfield sites – vacant but already developed land – and work together more with neighbouring authorities.

It also urged councils to “confront the need” to build on Green Belt land within 25 minutes of a railway station and cited the controversial Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA).

A Centre for Cities spokesman said: “The shortage of housing in Oxford has pushed up house prices, forcing residents and workers to spend more of their earnings on housing, or pricing them out of the city altogether.

“This in turn limits the ability of Oxford’s businesses to recruit the best workers.

“The economic growth of Oxford relies on the reduction of the affordability gap through the construction of new homes.”

The centre report compared average income to average house price in cities across the UK, with Oxford having the worst “affordability” ratio above cities such as London, Cambridge and Brighton.

It also looked at the brownfield and Green Belt capacity for each city to build homes.

According to the SHMA, a Government-backed report published in March, the county needs 100,000 new homes by 2031.

And Oxford’s need alone is thought to be about 1,400 homes each year.

In the city, the centre’s report said there was space for 1,900 extra homes on brownfield sites, but that Green Belt land surrounding it could provide a further 9,500.

Some 6,599 homes could also be built on brownfield sites outside the city, it added.

On the Green Belt, it singled out land covering Islip, South Hinksey, Radley and Culham as “suitable for development” because of their rail links.

However, all are outside the control of Oxford City Council and development would require co-operation from its district neighbours.

Most have opposed a Green Belt review, but are bound by a “duty to co-operate” with the city.

City council leader Bob Price said the council supported the report’s recommendations.

He said: “Our general view has always been that it is sensible to build houses near places where people work or where they can use public transport to get there. Any sites which reinforce that and are sustainable in the Oxford area would be suitable for a Green Belt review.”

But Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) spokesman Michael Tyce said building on the Green Belt amounted to “environmental vandalism”.

Mr Tyce said: “It is no reason to destroy the universally popular Green Belt, which protects us all from urban sprawl, when real housing need can be met on non-Green Belt land.

“It is environmental vandalism, plain and simple, to seek to destroy our precious Green Belt asset, to accommodate notional housing needs.”

A spokesman for Oxford University said: “‘The high costs of buying or renting in Oxford make it difficult for the University and its fellow employers to recruit the best possible staff from a range of backgrounds, at a range of salary levels.”

'If we pay rent we can stay'

Communications worker Richard Scrase, pictured above, of Owens Way in Oxford, lives in a two-bed housing association flat with his partner and seven-year-old son.

They were living in university accommodation, provided by his partner’s job, and spent four years trying to find a suitable home in the city.

Mr Scrase said they finally found their current home two years ago and pay about £900 each month for rent and other charges.

The 57-year-old said: “In Oxford there is a real shortage of accomm- odation like this and even though the rent is regulated it is still more than many could afford.

“Two years ago we were looking for a home because university accommodation does not really offer enough security. You can only get annual leases.

“Here, if we keep paying our rent, we can stay for the rest of our lives if we want to.

“For me owning my home is not what is most important, but I do want that security. Buying a house in Oxford was not possible for us and we are on reasonable wages.

“Prices in this city now are beyond the means of most people, except the rich, and for anyone starting out it is almost impossible.

“Having to spend so much money on rent affects your quality of life and also your ability to raise a family.

“My son lives in London and at the moment could not afford to start a family, so house prices can affect my chances of becoming a grandparent.

“It is going to happen to a lot of people in my generation.”

THE TOP FIVE

  • According to the Centre for Cities study, “Delivering Change - Building Homes Where We Need Them”, here are the UK’s top most unaffordable cities.

Also included is the change in housing stock between 2008 and 2013.

1 Oxford – 0.38%

2 London – 0.63% 3

Cambridge – 0.74% 4 Brighton – 0.31%

5 Bournemouth – 0.55%