UK Housing White Paper Review
Construction firms encouraged to find quicker ways of building councils told they must rewrite their plans to ensure they meet housing demand planning to become more clear, and quicker to work through.
The title of today’s Housing White Paper says it all – ‘Fixing Our Broken Housing Market’. It sets out the Government’s ambitious proposals for turning around the housing deficit in England so the country is no longer in a position where demand outstrips supply.
And it doesn’t hold back with its honesty about the current problem. The very first paragraph simply reads: “The housing market in this country is broken, and the cause is very simple: for too long, we haven’t built enough homes.”
Published by DCLG, the paper goes on to say we have been under-building since the 1970s… how house prices are more than 7 times typical earnings in most counties, and how we need at least 225,000 new homes a year just to keep supply steady.
There are three main issues the document focuses on.
- Firstly, local authorities need to do more to plan ahead. More than 40% of councils don’t have a plan that meets the projected growth in their area.
- Secondly, builders are not putting houses up fast enough. More than a third of homes which were granted permission since 2010 still haven’t been built.
- Thirdly, just 10% of housebuilding companies construct 60% of our private housing market.
So what can be done about it?..
Councils are to be given a new way of working out where houses are needed, and the planning framework is going to be opened up so it’s clearer to understand and easier to work through.
By considering where the right places are to build the right type of homes, there should be less to-ing and fro-ing between developers and planners. There’s an expectation that Greenfield boundaries will be maintained until a local council ‘can demonstrate they have examined fully all other reasonable options’. And if they do tap into a Greenfield site, they need to offset the environmental impact.
Existing communities will benefit through easier access to planning information, and may be allowed to set up New Town Development Corporations if there’s a local need.
The Government is going to ‘insist’ that every council has an up to date, ‘sufficiently ambitious’ plan which follows these new methods, and is refreshed every five years. Central Government will intervene to ensure these plans are put in place throughout England.
To cover off the second main issue, we need to build faster. Investing in the planning process will certainly be a key part to answering this. The speed of build also needs to focus on better communication between builders, utility companies, the Highways Agency etc. to stop projects from being held up because the infrastructure isn’t ready. Local authorities will be expected to play a big part in making sure they do their bit to minimise delays.
The White Paper also calls for the housing market to be diversified – it is calling for more homes to be built by smaller companies. If incentives are given out for building in a more innovative and efficient way, it’s felt smaller builders will be more likely to sign up, and doing so could give them a better chance of competing against the biggest housebuilders in the country. One example of this would be to promote the use of flat-pack houses, which can be completed in a fraction of the time compared to a masonry home.
These are all long-term solutions. But there are also plans to help ease our housing problem now. This includes continued support for Help to Buy schemes, the Affordable Homes Programme cracking down on councils and landlords which are sitting on lots of empty houses, and doing more to help the vulnerable from losing their homes.
It's clear the current housing crisis can’t be solved by any one team of people or by fixing one particular problem. There’s a long chain of groups, bodies, departments, companies and communities that all need to play their part in keeping the housebuilding cogs turning.