Bor­row-to-build, the lat­est pledge to sort out the UK hous­ing cri­sis

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The pledges are com­ing fast and fu­ri­ous now, as the UK gov­ern­ment has wo­ken from its do-noth­ing-on-hous­ing slum­ber. It is even talk­ing about build­ing 300,000 new homes a year, although this is an un­likely short-term as­pi­ra­tion.

At least we have some fight­ing talk, con­sul­ta­tions be­ing launched, a call for ev­i­dence on mak­ing buy­ing a home cheaper, faster and less stress­ful, and hous­ing hit­ting the po­lit­i­cal agenda again.

Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid has de­clared that the gov­ern­ment should take ad­van­tage of the ul­tra-low hous­ing rates to bor­row to build. He told the BBC’s An­drew Marr Show at the week­end that there is an ur­gent need to build 300,000 new homes a year.

This is in­deed a bold pledge. Javid also promised more an­nounce­ments in the Bud­get in a few week’s time. It is in­deed good news and also pos­si­ble that stamp duty change might be on the agenda, even though of­fi­cial spokes­men have de­nied that Chan­cel­lor Philip Ham­mond is con­sid­er­ing a change in prop­erty tax lev­els.

The prob­lem with hav­ing an aim of build­ing 300,000 new homes a year, which would be at a level not seen since the 1960s, is that this is not a quick so­lu­tion. The bro­ken hous­ing mar­ket needs fix­ing now and per­haps Ham­mond will bring some­thing to the Bud­get. What is clear is that this eight week call for ev­i­dence is un­likely to in­flu­ence any plans Ham­mond may have. Why didn’t they put this in mo­tion months ago so that it could give Min­is­ters a bet­ter idea of what needs to be done from those who know about the hous­ing in­dus­try?

Javid also de­nied that green belt land is at risk of be­ing built on.

“I don’t be­lieve that we need to fo­cus on the green belt here, there is lots of brown­field land, and brown­field first has been a pol­icy of ours for a while,” he said and hinted that high rise hous­ing is seen as the way for­ward, point­ing out that Lon­don is less densely built up than many other Euro­pean cities.

One man who is de­ter­mined to move things for­ward quickly is the Mayor of Lon­don, Sadiq Khan. For a sec­ond time in just two weeks he used his plan­ning pow­ers to their fullest ex­tent and in­creased the num­ber of af­ford­able homes in a key de­vel­op­ment.

Later this year, the Mayor will pub­lish his draft Lon­don Plan, which will set clear home build­ing tar­gets for ev­ery coun­cil in Lon­don. This is what we need, strong lead­er­ship at a lo­cal level.

Ev­ery Mayor in the coun­try should be do­ing this, mak­ing sure that plan­ners are al­low­ing for enough new homes for sale at the right price are be­ing built.

It is the plan­ning sys­tem that needs to be changed. I know moves are be­ing made, but not quickly enough. A new re­port from Sir Mark Boleat, for­mer pol­icy chair­man of the City of Lon­don Cor­po­ra­tion, calls for a rad­i­cal plan­ning shake up to solve Lon­don’s hous­ing cri­sis.

What Sir Mark says ap­plies to the whole of the na­tion. He states that there is a need to pro­fes­sion­alise de­ci­sion mak­ing in plan­ning de­part­ments and in­crease the sup­ply of land suit­able for house build­ing.

He clearly iden­ti­fies a short­age of de­vel­opable land and the plan­ning sys­tem as the ma­jor hin­drances to house build­ing and calls for ac­tion to force lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, cen­tral gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, the health ser­vice and trans­port bod­ies to stop hang­ing on to sur­plus space, or face fi­nan­cial penal­ties.

This comes at a time when land for house build­ing in ur­ban ar­eas in the UK has risen by 4.7% year-on-year, more than the prices of homes, with de­vel­oper de­mand for large sites push­ing up val­ues, ac­cord­ing to a new anal­y­sis from Sav­ills.

What I would like to see is bold, pro­fes­sional plan­ners be­ing put into coun­cils across the na­tion, plan­ners who will em­brace the need for speedy change. As Sir Mark’s in­formed re­port says, we must be rad­i­cal and clear about the real rea­sons why not enough homes are be­ing built.

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