Archive for January, 2017

Housing: Where’s the Plan

As we wait for the Housing White Paper, it is worth considering the economist Kate Barker’s ideas for getting more houses built.

Kate Barker produced two influential reports[1] for Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, the first on housing supply (calling for a step change in house building to bring down the rate of house price inflation), the second on planning (which argued that it should be more responsive to market signals).

She was attacked by the Conservative opposition of the time – “Barker” became shorthand for building on greenfield land – but her views still carry great weight in the Treasury. And the Treasury view still carries great weight across government.

In September 2014 Kate Barker published Housing: Where’s the Plan? She says she has “become less convinced that it will be possible to build enough to meet demand in much of southern England, given the strength of local opposition in many places”. She also accepts that “a further radical reform of planning now would be unhelpful”.

So what is to be done to get more homes built? The book is well worth reading, a hundred well-written pages covering a lot of ground. Here are some talking points with particular relevance the White Paper. Continue reading ‘Housing: Where’s the Plan’

The Housing White Paper: what the government should do

There will be much to welcome in this month’s Housing White Paper. We expect a big emphasis on brownfield development and more support to enable local authority planning departments to do their job. Best of all, the White Paper looks set to address the main cause of the housing shortage: not planning or a lack of land, but the system’s over-dependence on a dozen big companies to deliver the new homes the country needs.

For too long the state’s responsibility for decent housing has been outsourced to private developers who have neither the will nor capacity to build on the scale needed. Now at last Ministers seem willing to tackle this market failure, for instance by helping small builders and promoting custom build and ‘modern methods of construction’. Slow build-out rates and landbanking by developers may also be tackled. There could even be more money for social housing and greater scope for councils to build homes again.

But we will not see a return to the scale of pre-1979 public house building. This is a pity because short of a Harold Macmillan-style building programme, there will be no quick increase in output. The Government is therefore stuck with a policy of setting housing targets[1] and making more land available in the hope that developers increase their output. This approach has failed for years and it will continue to fail.

Not only does the policy not deliver more houses; unachievable targets make planning a battlefield, rather than a way of improving the country for everyone’s benefit.

Most people now accept that we need to build more homes. Too many people live in insecure, over-expensive accommodation: something must be done. Most would also agree this will involve some new housing on greenfield land.

So Ministers have a chance in the White Paper to build a broad national consensus in support of more and better house building. But they will get things badly wrong if it does not address concerns about how the current system is failing. Inflated targets, particularly in ‘high demand’ areas, have made planning toxic. Continue reading ‘The Housing White Paper: what the government should do’