The question should now be about 'how' to get houses built

Shelter have long been campaigning for more houses. We need around 250,000 new homes per year to keep pace with the projected growth in households and even this doesn’t address the cumulative shortfall of past decades. Unfortunately, we are currently building around half of this. If this trend continues, prices will continue to grow at a fast pace putting a strain on families’ lives and budgets.

But the stage on from this is about how we get houses built. Earlier this year, Shelter launched the report Solutions for the Housing Shortage which set out ways in which adopting a range of options would allow us to reach the 250,000 mark. Indeed, our blog shows how we focussed on ensuring investment, particularly at a local level, was directed towards housing; how increased competition within the housebuilders market could create greater choice and competition and; how major new developments, such as a new generation of Garden Cities, is a useful tool to ensure land is released for large housing sites.

Before coming to Shelter, I worked on the topic of housing at the Royal Town Planning Institute. Today saw the launch of the report I most recently worked on there – Delivering Large Scale Housing: Unlocking Schemes and Sites to Help Meet the UK’s Housing Needs.

We understood that we needed to move the debate on from ‘do we need more houses’ to ‘how do we get more homes built’. But we were also aware that the debate in the media seems to either blame the planning system for being too liberal now – i.e. local authorities will have to accept development – or that it is too restrictive and liberalisation is the key. This report sought to show how planners’ skills could be best used and how building more houses is not an impossible task.

We decided to focus on large scale housing schemes (those with thousands of units on) and potential sites across England and Scotland as large sites are an important tool in delivering the number of houses required to bridge the gap with household growth.

The biggest barriers to housing development that were cited in roundtable events were community engagement, land, infrastructure, finance, and leadership and governance. We designed some practical recommendations to overcome these.

Firstly, not everyone opposes development. People do understand the need for houses and many more think it will be tougher for their children to own a house. While there is some opposition, it is important not to overstate this in every area. As opposition voices are often louder than supportive voices, we need to ensure a wider cross-section of the community is engaged with the development process – particularly younger people – to give local politicians a better understanding of the level of support.

Land came up as a big issue for housing development, particularly the ownership of land. Not all land is registered and data is hard to get hold of and analyse. So the report called for all information on land ownership and who owns options on land to be publically available, to ensure private owners can’t simply sit on this asset in a strategically important place.

Bringing the right bits of land together to enable development is also an issue. In this country public authorities take a far more ‘hands-off’ approach to land compared to our European neighbours, where local authorities will parcel up land, put in the necessary infrastructure and capture the uplift in value to pay for that infrastructure. The report called for local authorities to take a more proactive role in land assembly – much like they do in the Netherlands and Germany – and to join up planning and investment in infrastructure and housing as they reinforce the case for each other.

But one of the most important ideas was in finance. The Government will be underwriting loans to ensure people can get a mortgage with Help to Buy. Instead of focussing on the demand side, why not underwrite a certain proportion of the development (perhaps in the early stages due to greater risk) to ensure houses are built?

The mere fact that the debate is moving from ‘needing more houses’ to ‘how do we build more homes’ is very much a welcome sign. But the hard work starts now. I’m sure both the Solutions paper and the Large Scale Housing paper will stimulate that discussion.

One Comment
  1. So long as councils cannot afford to build (168000 council houses in 1981, 1320 in 2010) local builders cannot compete and supply will never meet demand. The Cartel of 44 blacklist subscribers and the mortgage providers will always guard their profits.

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