Our housing dilemma – time to start building

By Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

The scale of our housing problem is immense with a great chasm between demand and supply, escalating prices across the UK to levels way beyond what a first time buyer can ever hope to achieve.  In a bid to reform the market and boost the supply of new homes, the Government’s much-awaited housing white paper, Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, was greeted with cautious optimism by some, but is a much needed step in the right direction.

To put some of the key housebuilding pledges in perspective, the figure of £1.4 billion allocated to the housing sector will lead to the construction of 40,000 new affordable homes across the country, but in terms of the target rate of 250,000 houses a year, this equates to the same number of houses in Newcastle and Sunderland put together.  Do we have the capability of building the equivalent of two cities per year?

The government is also committed to ‘bringing a halt to the decline in housing affordability.’  I don’t believe you can bring a halt to the affordability issue.  All we can do is reduce that decline as there is no way you can stop a problem overnight that has been going on for years.

The series of tweaks to planning laws is a good thing. Councils will be able to cut planning permissions to last just two years instead of their current three, in what some have termed a ‘use-it or lose it’ threat to developers.  What would be even better is putting a deadline on when a building needs to be completed.  A deadline on the completion of a project will shift the emphasis from the housing provider to the interests of the potential homeowner.

There is no mention on the impact of new housing on schools, hospitals and transportation which leads to the longstanding ‘not in my backyard’ or NIMBY syndrome. What can we do to educate people to support building new homes?  Is it not better to build on brownfield land or in deprived areas rather than adding to cities where there are already existing issues with schools, hospitals and infrastructure?

If you build homes outside of existing cities then these areas become more affordable. People might have to move 30-50 miles from where they currently are, but they escape the current housing crisis in that area.  It therefore relieves the more built-up areas and elevates another previously deprived area to a better place. The place they have left also improves because there is more space for people.

When it comes to support for local planning authorities, why has he taken so long to figure out that 40% of local authorities are reporting inaccurately on their projected growth?  Why has this not been picked up or supported?  Surely, this will lead to the right homes, in the right places.

With 60% of all properties constructed by only 10 developers, it’s great they are increasing competition with incentives to help small builders who are more dynamic and better for the economy. They recruit locally and their profit margins are not as aggressive as the largest commercial builders.  Their desire to turn things around is a lot quicker and slicker than the bigger outfits and they are also better at producing sustainable and high quality homes.

While it is no silver bullet, the housing white paper is a good start and a road to somewhere from which all parties can ‘build on’.  It would however benefit all of us to understand the longer term vision, not just in terms of the current government, but with consecutive administrations.