In a recent interview in The Times, Housing Minister Kit Malthouse discussed his intention to increase housing delivery in the UK. He describes this challenge as an “urgent moral mission.” Most eye-catchingly, he says: “If we want to achieve 300,000 homes a year, we need to have one million homes in production, and four to five million in planning.”
The Housing Minister’s intentions are clear – and remarkably consistent with his many predecessors. But it’s less clear precisely how these numbers are to be achieved.
Pace of change
The current Conservative government has consulted on a large number of planning reforms. But they’ve been much slower to get the changes onto the statute book. We’re still waiting for a number of promised regulations, including those that would allow for the introduction of starter homes on a wide scale.
For example, the changes that have been introduced so far, most notably the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), contain a number of mixed messages or, even worse, omissions. Examples include championing large increases in housing numbers while simultaneously strengthening greenbelt protections and neighbourhood planning.
It also doesn’t help when the Secretary of State refuses large-scale residential consents, which would otherwise be approved, such as the Thornsett tower development in Purley, or a new housing estate in Kensington & Chelsea.
Steps to success
It’s hard to argue with the government’s aspirations. But at the same time, it’s difficult to see how these housing targets will be reached without the following:
A willingness to move away from localism, and towards a more directed approach. Local politics too often lines up against large-scale housing delivery, particularly in the south-east (which houses the highest level of demand). Being able to look at these decisions from a more strategic (and, perhaps, a more regional) perspective may help address this issue.
The government subsidising social housing delivery. All of the rhetoric about greedy developers not wanting to deliver affordable housing completely overlooks the fact that they are the only ones required to do so. Over recent years, central government has cut public subsidy for affordable housing to the bone. The cap on local authority borrowing has also prevented councils from raising finance for development schemes on the open market. This combination has led to a massive drop in local authority development projects – particularly residential ones. If we’re to have a hope of getting up to 300,000 homes a year, this has to change.
A willingness to invest in the support network and infrastructure necessary to deliver such an ambitious building programme. This doesn’t just mean physical infrastructure, such as transport, education and utilities – the following are needed too:
Funding for further education colleges (to train more builders, carpenters and skilled engineers)
More money for local authorities, so they can recruit and resource their planning departments properly, and not have to sacrifice their policy teams in favour of development control (or vice-versa)
Investing in and subsidising alternative or innovative methods of construction, and generally smoothing away the stumbling blocks that delay starts on site.
The sentiment is admirable – but will asking the sector to ‘keep calm and carry on building’ be good enough?
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