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