The new PM's housing to-do list

David Alcock MRICS, MD at specialist development finance lender, Blend, shares his thoughts on how the next resident of 10 Downing Street could potentially solve the growing list of housing issues currently facing the UK.

Related topics:  Housing,  Government
David Alcock | Blend
11th April 2024
"Even if compared to Barker’s central scenario for increasing housing supply (requiring 240,000 homes to be built a year on average) England has still fallen 900,000 homes short of the total number needed to make the market more affordable over the past 20 years"
- David Alcock - Blend

The next person to move into Downing Street will need to show they're serious about doing things differently when it comes to housing. They'll have their work cut out to fix Britain's housing crisis and build long-term solutions that ultimately deliver more affordable homes. Here's my 3-point plan.

We are likely only a few months away from having a new Prime Minister, following several years in which housing has played a small-to-non-existent part in policy debate. When it has been mentioned, it's been treated with the usual glib terminology of building more, faster, better. We've heard it all before.

Unravelling a property crisis that's decades in the making will require ambitious policy changes, long-term investment, and regulatory reform.

Challenging? Yes. Doable? Absolutely with the right strategy but it's not going to be an overnight fix. Here's how our next PM could actually solve the housing crisis with 3 highly targeted actions.

First, whoever moves into Number 10 will need to appoint a group of leading delivery-focused industry experts to help accelerate stalled developments and boost housing delivery across the communities.

I believe the best way to do this is to create an independent Housing Delivery Expert Committee or Taskforce that will work alongside the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities by providing independent advice to ministers, acting as a sounding board and providing recommendations.

The group must include leaders from local councils, developers and housing associations, financial organisations and lenders, unions, construction bodies, community groups and industry organisations. I urge the incoming government to bring together key figures in the housing sector to put forward recommendations on how to solve the crisis, but importantly to work on their implementation.

The Home Builders Federation's recent report ‘Beyond Barker’s Report’ highlights the devastating consequences of great advice that goes without implementation. According to the report, England would have 2 million more homes today - equivalent to the entire housing stock of Ireland, or the urban areas of Manchester and Birmingham combined - if the Barker Review’s most ambitious housing supply scenario had been achieved.

Even if compared to Barker’s central scenario for increasing housing supply (requiring 240,000 homes to be built a year on average) England has still fallen 900,000 homes short of the total number needed to make the market more affordable over the past 20 years.

Listen to those working in the many areas of housing delivery with experience and expertise in their respective areas of the market.

Next on the to-do list is biting the bullet on planning reform to ramp up the supply of new homes. The Centre for Cities estimates that the UK is missing 4.3 million homes that were never built due to problems with the current planning system, dating back to the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. Since the act’s introduction, housebuilding rates have never recovered to the rates they reached in the 1920s and 1930s.

Over the last 70 years, the planning system has enlarged the size of green belts and empowered local opponents to new developments, which has made trying to build new housing in Britain increasingly difficult. It is a very discretionary, case-by-case system in which even if you meet all the requirements, local objections (as we often see being in contradiction to Officer recommendation) can still topple a planning application at the final hurdle.

All in all, it is fair to say that the UK’s planning system is unnecessarily complex and unpredictable; it is effectively broken. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority recently declared that the UK cannot boost housebuilding rates significantly without reforming the planning system.

To bring about the big surge in construction that Britain requires, the next government must reinvigorate the ailing planning system, which the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has labelled “antiquated”.

Finally, we urge the incoming government to work on introducing a replacement to the Help to Buy. The government’s Help to Buy scheme, introduced in 2013, offered a solution for many first-time buyers who would have initially found house prices unaffordable.

It has also been a key pillar of the UK mortgage industry over the past decade and has accounted for between 40% and 50% of site sales on many new developments in the UK. The government’s failure to design and implement a fit-for-purpose alternative to the Help to Buy scheme is a fatal blow to the nation’s housing delivery efforts.

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