Originally published on August 12 as a column for Inside Housing.
Walk down most High Streets in the country and you’ll see empty shops and offices. What’s the best way to turn them into homes?
That’s the question this month’s extension of permitted development rights (PDR) in England attempts to address but is the answer as simple as the government makes out?
PDR for residential conversion has applied to some commercial buildings since 2013. But the regime has now been significantly expanded to more types of property and in some cases its demolition and replacement as well as conversion.
The results look they will be significant. Enthusiastic analysis by Nimbus Maps, which advises developers, says that around 31,000 properties and more than 8m sq m of floor space could be converted into 135,000 two-bedroom flats. The combined value of the buildings would almost double from £23 billion with commercial use to £43 billion as residential, it says.
A much more sceptical, but equally dramatic, view comes in research by University College London for the Town and Country Planning Association: based on case studies of Barnet, Crawley, Huntingdonshire and Leicester, it concludes that the total floorspace eligible for residential conversion will double under the new regime.
In terms of housing, the issues may seem straightforward. What’s the problem if the policy could create so many extra homes in buildings that would otherwise lie empty or under-utilised?Read the rest of this entry »
Originally published on July 24 as a blog for Inside Housing.
Your own independent evaluation shows that the existing regime of permitted development rights (PDR) delivers poor quality homes that raise serious concerns about ‘the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers’.
Your own consultation showed that an overwhelming majority of consultees opposed major extensions of it.
You’ve previously declared your commitment to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission’s ‘fast track to beauty’ without apparently heeding its report warning that PDR has ‘inadvertently permissioned future slums’.
So naturally enough housing secretary Robert Jenrick has decided to go ahead and allow upwards extensions and demolition and replacement of existing buildings via a PDR system that allows minimal scrutiny by local communities.
Originally published on July 1 as a column for Inside Housing.
It was less ‘build, build, build’ than ‘blah, blah, blah’, less New Deal than reheated old announcements.
They arrived to a chorus of calls for greater investment, Homes for Heroes and a warning from Shelter and Savills that output of new homes will fall by 85,000 this year because of the pandemic, with just 4,300 for social rent.
In that context, the prime minister sank to the occasion and even managed to imply that the Affordable Homes Programme will be cut.
Where the Budget in March had promised £12.2 billion over the next five years, Johnson said it will now run over eight. Taken at face value that means a cut of 38 per cent from £2.4 billion a year to £1.5 billion.
That would be roughly the same annual commitment as in the current AHP and would represent a slap in the face for everyone who has campaigned for or needs an affordable home.
Not so, fast, though. No 10 soon clarified that when he said eight years he was actually talking about the three-year time lag for homes to be built after the end of the programme. Social Housing was given the slightly different line that the extra three years applies only to the £2 bn strategic partnerships announced in September 2018.
Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on May 4.
How will Coronavirus change how we live and work – and how will that change housing?
In one sense these are impossible questions to answer since so much depends on how quickly we find a vaccine or an effective treatment for Covid-19 and how deep the recession will become.
Find either quickly and politics and the economy could soon return to something close to what we knew before February. After all, it seemed obvious that nobody would want to live or work in tall buildings after September 2001 and that house prices would fall after 2008.
If the search takes longer, if there is a second or third wave, if another Coronavirus hits us, the effects could be far more profound as social distancing and self-isolation change how we think about how we should live.
But in between those two scenarios many of the effects of the crisis will linger and a series of more marginal changes may add up to something bigger.
After months in which our homes have become the centre of our lives, not just places to eat and sleep but places to work and stay safe, the effects on housing could be just as profound.
Monday night’s Panorama provided a shocking window on the world of temporary accommodation and permitted development – but it also made me think back to an influential think-tank report from a decade ago.
The programme centred on Templefields House, a converted office block in Harlow run by property company Caridon. It provides temporary accommodation for local authorities across the South East but, according to the programme, also has a contract with an ex-offender re-housing charity.
There is no public transport and it’s 40 minutes’ walk from the town centre and, according to residents, the building is also rife with crime, anti-social behaviour and drugs and the police have been called out 600 times in three years.
The building, the company and another converted block it runs in Harlow, Terminus House, have featured in several previous media investigations of temporary accommodation and permitted development. See here, here and here for more details.
What was new in last night’s Panorama was the level of detail from residents and revelations from an undercover reporter.
Originally published on January 15 as a blog for Inside Housing.
Robert Jenrick and Esther McVey faced their first parliamentary questions as housing secretary and housing minister on Monday – almost six months after they took up their posts.
The reasons for the remarkable delay to their despatch box debuts – the summer recess, Brexit and the December election – are not hard to guess and are also why housing has slipped down the political agenda in the meantime.
But, give or take the odd appearance in parliamentary debates and in front of select committees, the delay also means that we still have only a fuzzy picture of what they really think about the key issues stacking up in their in-trays.
And it came in the wake of a report in the Daily Mail over the weekend about an apparent clash between the two over where the government should spend its housing cash and which voters they should be targeting.
Originally published on December 27 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The second part of my look back at 2019 runs from welfare homelessness to decarbonisation via housebuilding and permitted development.
5) ‘The systematic immiseration of millions’
The election result means that universal credit, the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and all the other welfare ‘reforms’ of the last decade are set to continue into the 2020s.
Chancellor Sajid Javid told us in the September spending round that austerity is over but the only hard evidence of this was an extra £40m for discretionary housing payments and previous cuts are still baked in to the system.
The election had delayed a full spending review until 2020 but better news came in November as the Conservative manifesto confirmed an end to the four-year freeze in most working age benefits, including the local housing allowance.
It remains to be seen, though, whether the government will restore the broken link with rents. It’s also worth noting that Esther McVey, the self-styled architect of Blue Collar Conservatism, called for part of housing benefit to be diverted into Help to Buy during her brief tilt at the Tory leadership.
I blogged about the deeper impacts on the housing system in a post from the Housing Studies Association conference in May that highlighted research on the ‘housing trilemma’ facing social landlords between their social mission, business imperatives and the impacts on tenants.
And the same month brought a damning external review from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty that warned of ‘the systematic immiseration of millions’.
Professor Philip Alston noted ‘a striking and complete disconnect’ between the picture painted by ministers and what he had heard and seen from people across the UK.
As for the chief architect of it all, the year finished with the decade summed up in four words: Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
Originally published on October 1 on my blog for Inside Housing.
The first two days of the Conservative Party conference make this look like a government that is scraping the barrel for ideas.
Boris Johnson might still have a surprise in store on Wednesday but speeches by housing secretary Robert Jenrick and housing minister Esther McVey were underwhelming at best while chancellor Sajid Javid did not even mention housing in his check-the-small-print bonanza of infrastructure investment.
Jenrick’s big new idea of a right to shared ownership for housing association tenants is not that big and not that new either but it could still have a damaging impact on people who need an affordable home.
Originally published on April 4 as a blog for Inside Housing.
What do you think have been the two fastest-growing forms of housing over the last decade?
The trends since the financial crisis of falling home ownership, declining social renting and surging private renting have only recently shown signs of going into reverse and we’ve also seen the blurring of social and ‘affordable’ housing.
But you would struggle to fit two of the biggest changes highlighted in the 2019 edition of the UK Housing Review (launched on Thursday) into those three traditional categories.
First up is temporary accommodation. The latest stats show there that 82,000 homeless families were living in it in England in the year to June 2018, an increase of 71 per cent since 2011. Of these, 57,000 were in London.
Second is short-term lets through sites like Airbnb. There are no reliable stats on this but the latest data suggests there are now over 77,000 Airbnb listings in London, of which 43,000 are entire homes and 34,000 rooms or shared rooms.
It’s tempting to join the dots between those numbers and see a direct connection between these two forms of short-term letting, especially in London – the more permanent homes that are converted into short-term holiday lets on Airbnb the more temporary accommodation is likely to be needed. Neither of them is necessarily that short term or temporary.