An­other so­lu­tion to the hous­ing cri­sis

With the price of land a ma­jor in­flu­ence on de­vel­op­ment, Ru­pert Bates rec­om­mends a cease­fire be­tween the bull­dozer bul­lies and BANANAS

The Field - - Property -

So, we have an­other “so­lu­tion” to the hous­ing cri­sis. If we built a home ev­ery time some­body came up with a so­lu­tion, we wouldn’t have a cri­sis. The lat­est is driven by on­ward – a new think tank to ap­peal to “cen­tre-right thinkers and lead­ers” – which has sent an open let­ter to the Sec­re­tary of State for Hous­ing, James Bro­ken­shire, signed by or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Cam­paign to Pro­tect Ru­ral Eng­land and Shel­ter. The let­ter says when agri­cul­tural land is granted per­mis­sion for hous­ing, “the land typ­i­cally be­comes at least 100 times more valu­able”.

Cer­tainly there are landown­ers plough­ing fields of gold at the stroke of a plan­ning ap­proval pen and many a land “pro­moter” has knocked on a farmer’s door like a dairy god­mother promis­ing to turn the cows in the yard into Fer­raris.

It makes sense to cap­ture some of this up­lift in value for com­mu­nity ben­e­fit, the pre­sump­tion be­ing this would also soften the protest­ing hearts of NIMBYS (Not In My Back Yard), if not BANANAS (Build Ab­so­lutely Noth­ing Any­where Near Any­one).

House­builders would wel­come this as what they pay for land is the big­gest in­flu­encer on their busi­nesses. With less in­fla­tion­ary com­pe­ti­tion for acres and more ac­tive per­mis­sions granted, maybe house­builders could start com­pet­ing on qual­ity and value.

The trou­ble is the let­ter can’t help hav­ing a pop at the de­vel­op­ers who, “wig­gle out of their com­mit­ments” when it comes to Sec­tion 106 agree­ments and their com­mu­nity obli­ga­tions. Pri­vate house­builders will seek to chal­lenge vi­a­bil­ity but they con­tribute plenty. A re­port by plan­ning con­sul­tants Lich­fields for the Home Builders Fed­er­a­tion re­veals that the in­dus­try pays £841m a year to­wards in­fra­struc­ture and £4bn to­wards af­ford­able homes. The vol­ume builders and their share­hold­ers do very nicely in the cur­rent mar­ket but an­other “so­lu­tion” to the hous­ing short­age is to stop the ad­ver­sar­ial na­ture of the de­bate and paint­ing builders as Beelze­bubs in hard hats.

The most wor­ry­ing line in the let­ter is the call for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties, “to com­pul­so­rily pur­chase land at fair mar­ket value that does not in­clude prospec­tive plan­ning per­mis­sion, rather than spec­u­la­tive hope value”. I’m not sure that qual­i­fies as “cen­tre-right think­ing”.

Lo­cal plan­ning au­thor­i­ties are too of­ten mired in red tape, which slows down de­vel­op­ment at what­ever price; they are un­der­staffed, yet it is not about stand­ing up to the bull­dozer bul­lies but work­ing with them in part­ner­ship to cre­ate well-de­signed homes at price points that serve all.

Bear in mind one of the UK’S largest landown­ers is the Min­istry of De­fence, hold­ing around 570,000 acres and com­mit­ted to re­duc­ing its es­tate by 30% by 2040. Per­haps the let­ter should have been copied in to the De­fence Sec­re­tary, Gavin Wil­liamson.

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