“Build, Build, Build”
Over the last three decades, various governments tried to solve the housing crisis. All have failed to get Britain building enough, and attempts to correct this. Will the Housing White Paper be the exception?
It is sold as a bold, radical vision for housing in this country. Shadow housing secretary, Labour MP John Healey said: “Really, is that it?” The best description probably was from one big investment fund said the White Paper is “Kicking the can down the road”.
It is all down to the fact that not enough houses are being built. The government clearly recognises the scale of the problem and have put forward some useful suggestions on speeding up the planning system but we believe it doesn’t go far enough.
The problem is threefold: not enough local authorities planning for the homes they need; house building that is simply too slow; and a construction industry that is too reliant on a small number of big players.
With the White Paper, the onus is placed on councils to ensure more homes are delivered. Councils will be forced to produce more realistic housing plans for their areas, which is new, and promising to release public land for new housing, which isn’t.
The document puts more pressure on housebuilders to get on with the job. This means having a spade in the ground within two years after obtaining permission in an attempt to prevent land-banking. We do not believe the “new” timetable would speed up the process, however attempts to tackle unnecessary delays caused by planning conditions is a step forward.
With some difficult times during and after the recession, there is some light at the end of the tunnel for some smaller firms with government set to help this sector grow and develop again. The £3 billion Home Building Fund, launched on 3 October 2016 is an effort to increase competition, with the new Accelerated Construction programme ensuring more diversity across the housing market.
Land remains a critical barrier; we know that brownfield land alone is not enough. We have all heard the message before about building on brownfield land. Although “great weight” will be attached to housing applications on brownfield sites, we have to be realistic, brownfield in itself can’t possibly sustain the long-term housing requirements of the UK. When one reads the White Paper, there is little to report on Green Belt and it only maintains or strengthens the existing protection. For years house builders beseeched government to relax green belt policies to enable house builders to deliver the numbers that are expected of them. There needs to be an urgent and honest conversation between the government, developers and councils about how greenbelt land is used. Ultimately the message remains the same that development on the Green Belt should only be in `exceptional circumstances’ and authorities will also have to demonstrate that they have exhausted `all other reasonable options’ before releasing it for housing.
Although the housing white paper recognised that housing markets are broken in areas across the country, the government appears to be think it can achieve change without having to introduce radical policies.
We asked our Director of Planning Pieter De Villiers and he said “whilst this is a small step in the right direction, the lags we experience in the property market means government must go further to fix the “broken” market. As a country we have not been building enough resulting in the price of properties being out of reach for so many. We need quick and bold action in the form of radical policy reform with a caveat – use it or lose it!
“Fixing the broken housing market” will not be a quick fix without the introduction of radical policies especially when there is an identified the need for 250,000 new homes per year, with a target of building 1m homes by 2020. It may be that the proposals put forward go some way to fix a housing market, but is it enough? Watch this space!