Originally published as a column for Inside Housing on August 29.
‘What makes the housing crisis so maddening is that there is a simple solution: Britain needs to get building.’
So ran a tweet a couple of weeks ago from The Economist about an article on How to Solve Britain’s Crisis. Unleash the market, build on the green belt and, hey presto, the housing crisis is over.
In fairness, the article’s proposition was a bit more complicated than the tweet implied – it also proposed reform of stamp duty and council tax – but it is still an illustration of the way that ‘simple solutions’ plague our thinking about housing.
What I mean by that is that there may well be good arguments that can be made for building on the green belt, or rent control, or building a million council houses, or prefabrication or any of the other quick fixes that are routinely trotted out.
It’s certainly hard to see a solution that does not involve more homes, better conditions for private renters, a greater role for local authorities and innovations in construction.
However, it’s quite different when one of them is proposed as the solution. Usually this is by one of the ‘unleash the market’ brigade who believe that the housing crisis is all down to planning.
Originally posted on January 25 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Even if 50 is the new 40 (I rationalised that one long ago) this week’s anniversary of the birth of Milton Keynes is a significant moment in the history of housing – and what was once its future.
MK, as locals call it, has come a long way since it was designated a new town in January 1967 with a brief to become a city. The population is now 250,000 and rising and it has even imported its own football team.In much of the birthday coverage this week it’s called “Britain’s last new town”, probably because it was the biggest and the last to be finished.
In fact, it was the first of the third wave of post-War new towns to be designated: Peterborough celebrates its 50th birthday in July, with Northampton, Warrington, an expanded Telford, and Central Lancashire to follow over the next three years.
But in a week when Theresa May’s cabinet met in Warrington for the launch of her industrial strategy, it’s worth asking why no more have followed. After all, one of the key problems that all three waves of the new towns programme were partly designed to address – how to cope with population overspill from London and other major cities – has not gone away.
Originally published on January 3 on my blog for Inside Housing.
Two major housing announcements before most people have gone back to work sets some sort of record even by recent standards.
Late on Monday the government confirmed the go-ahead for the first of “thousands” of Starter Homes to be sold at a 20% discount to first-time buyers aged between 23 and 40. And on Monday morning, the government named 17 sites for new garden villages and garden towns. If only it were as easy to build homes as it is to put out press releases on a bank holiday.
I’ll come back to Starter Homes soon. But first off, those 17 garden towns and villages. As far as it goes, the idea is a welcome acknowledgement of the need for radical action to build more new homes.
But the emphasis on them being “locally led” only underlines the desperate need for national leadership if the response to the housing crisis is to go beyond leaving it to the market with a few extra bits tacked on around the edges.
As it is, Monday’s first government announcement of the year is eerily reminiscent of the “radical new policy shift” promised by David Cameron 12 months ago: initiatives that are promising in themselves and get media coverage but do not go remotely far enough to make any real difference.
Originally published on November 15 on my blog for Inside Housing
On the basis of figures released today, the government is much more likely to achieve its ambition of a million new homes in this parliament than many people realise.
Total net additional housing supply was 189,950 homes in 2015/16. That means that in the first year of the five covered by the target, output was just 10,000 short of the 200,000 a year required.
As the graph shows, that total is the highest achieved since the peak of 2007/08, the last year before the impact of the financial crisis was felt. It’s also the fourth-largest annual output since this series was first published for 1991/92.
This level of output will come as a surprise to those relying on quarterly housebuilding statistics that show 139,880 new homes completed in 2015/16, well short of what’s needed.
Originally posted on September 29 on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing
Gavin Barwell told the NHF conference last week that he’s spent his first two months as housing minister asking everyone one simple question: ‘Why don’t we build enough homes in this country?’
It’s a good question that instantly made me think that he should ask one of his predecessors in the housing and planning job. I’m in the middle of reading Nick Raynsford’s new book Substance not Spin. After 43 years of experience as a campaigner and minister it’s subtitled ‘an insider’s view of success and failure in government’.
Any book from (for my money) one of the best housing ministers we’ve had during that time is going to be well worth reading. However, the title of one chapter in particular chimes exactly with what Barwell was talking about: ‘Why can’t we build enough homes?’