This month, we were all waiting with bated breath to find out about this “radical” white paper on housing by Sajid Javid. Unfortunately, it felt more like an old shopping list full of rhetoric rather than radical action, as how any of the measured announced will be achieved is yet to be explained fully.
Amid all the smoke screens, the long-awaited document focused on freeing up land and altering building regulations to allow for thousands of new homes to be built. This includes auditing and forcing local councils to meet ambitious targets, encouraging small firms to build 25,000 new homes by 2020 and adopting a ‘use it or lose it’ attitude to house builders sitting on undeveloped land.
Despite proposing this whitepaper as one which tackled the chronic supply shortage, a previous commitment of building one million homes by 2020 was not uttered. It is also interesting how the Tory manifesto which promised 200,000 starter homes by end of parliament has been watered down to focus on ‘helping over 200,000 people become homeowners’.
The proposed reduction in time between planning permission and the start of building will barely make a dent to the overall outcome. Cutting the time local authorities have to approve planning applications from three years to two is foolish. What should be emphasised is that it is not the timescale that hinders building across the UK, but the planning system itself. Greater collaboration and communication is needed between different parties involved in the process.
The Government has also said very little on the quality of these new-build homes. It is absolutely crucial that the increased supply is not at the expense of quality. Should quality be compromised, we could be in danger of causing more harm than good with housing that is not suitable for future generations.
The fact that the Government has been so forthright in its protection of the green belt is another reason why they have not looked at the broken housing market holistically. We are all for building at greater density, and making better use of surplus public land; however, the green belt should not be disregarded completely. Some of the green belt is beautiful and needs protection, but to claim all of it falls under this category would be an outright lie. It could play a very helpful role in accommodating the new homes this country needs.
This new wave of house-building requires far greater scrutiny from the government, and stronger regulation to tackle malpractice. Unfortunately, we are yet to see a bold housing policy that offers a real solution to delivering the homes the country so desperately needs.