Building new homes and tackling the housing crisis – a decade of progress?

In October, The Strategic Land Group celebrated its tenth birthday – it’s not only an important milestone for the business, but one that led us to question how far things have come during the last decade in terms of tackling the housing crisis.

Is the UK housebuilding industry better equipped now than it was in 2008 to deliver the homes that we need?

Collaboration beyond rhetoric

Perhaps the biggest battle the house building industry has faced during the past decade is recognition within government that housing deserves the attention of policy makers beyond the usual pre-general election rhetoric – the department’s revolving door as ministers came and went in quick succession was painfully illustrative of this point. However, it would be fair to say that we seem to have turned a corner. It very much feels like the government has woken up to the huge shortfall and the need to tackle it.

Reports such as The Letwin Review have also been helpful in clearing up misconceptions around land banking, making clear that it isn’t a desirable strategy for developers, nor one that is widespread.

We’ve also seen more onus on councils to support development and pave the way for new homes to be built.

While we’re moving in the right direction, we need to go further still if we’re to succeed in making the housing crisis a thing of the past. For example, only 51% of councils have an up-to-date Local Plan, while the Green Belt has actually increased in size since the 1990’s, constraining major urban centres and continuing to decrease affordability. The government must provide more encouragement to local councils to address both of those constraints.

Shared commitment and investment

We need all the players on the pitch.

The last time we consistently built more than 200,000 homes a year, councils were responsible for a significant proportion of them. The recent news that councils will be allowed to borrow more to fund house building should make them important contributors again, which is vital if we are to meet housing targets.

Other initiatives like the introduction of Permitted Development Rights for office to residential conversions and support for SME developers have also made small, but significant, contributions to supply.

This being said, in 2017 we delivered 180,000 new-build homes and, while that’s less than the 300,000 we need, the number of completions has increased every year since the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was introduced with the aim of boosting supply. Supply is clearly heading in the right direction.

The great northern housing gap

Housing has an important role to play in closing the huge chasm between North and South, yet recent changes within the new NPPF threaten to not only prevent growth in the North, but cause that gap to continue to widen.

One of the critical challenges for the North is delivering the economic growth needed to close the gap in GVA with the South East and London. In its current form, the NPPF could frustrate that objective – primarily due to the new standard method for housing calculation, which takes no account of planned job growth. Providing homes for additional workers is critical to the success of economic regeneration. The new standard method needs more thought if we are to avoid seeing higher housing targets in the South East and London, and lower ones across the North.

Such unhelpful policies need urgently reconsidering – they have the potential to frustrate progress in the North, perpetuating the less-than-desirable status quo and consigning the regions to another decade as the poor relation, unloved and under-funded. The government seems alive to this and has already promised a detailed review of the standard method.

Overhauling green belt policy

One thing that hasn’t changed at all during the past decade – to our continued chagrin and to the detriment of house building targets – is green belt policy.

It’s past its sell-by date.

There’s no question that pervasive miseducation around the green belt and its purpose has perpetuated the housing crisis and continues to do so. Rather than the rolling hills, lush greenery and open space that people picture, instead much of the green belt consists of previously developed land, poor quality grassland and roadside verges.

Much of Britain is under the impression that the country is about to disappear under a swathe of concrete when in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth – there is actually 29,690 ha more green belt today than in 1997; enough for around 42,000 football pitches and which, at current rates, would take almost 3,000 years to be developed. If we’re to stand a chance of tackling the housing crisis and building anywhere near the 300,000 homes a year that the country needs, green belt policy needs an urgent rethink. Alongside an education exercise to communicate the difference between green belt and greenfield!

Housing in 2028

We’ve come a long way in ten years, but more must be done if we’re to equip the industry – and councils – to embrace a collaborative, partnership approach and make the housing crisis a thing of the past.

Will #HousingCrisis still be relevant in 2028?

Watch this space.

As a specialist land promoter, The Strategic Land Group work with land owners to deliver planning permission for new homes . We do that entirely at our own cost and risk – if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost you anything.

If you have a site that you think might suitable for housing development, get in touch for a free consultation with no obligation.

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