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
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.