Sharing my thoughts about a subject which The Independent publication had asked for expert commentary on: Is more building the answer to the UK housing question?
1. With today’s sweeping changes to relax and simplify the UK’s planning laws sparking controversy, are we right to assume that building more and more properties is the answer to our needs as a nation? Where does that founding belief come from and is it correct to blindly follow it?
Whatever we believe about our needs as a nation, some basic facts remain. We currently have a shortage of suitable housing stock. It is estimated that 8.4 million people in England are living in an unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable home. The main thing that keeps us from dealing with these issues is the planning system. By placing constraints on the number of properties that can be built, it limits the supply of new housing stock and keeps house prices rising. It’s basic economics – supply and demand. Shelter – a suitable place to live is right at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. That’s why it is so important to us and why we need to find solutions which enable us to build more homes – and better places for people to live.
2. What problems do the new plans expect to solve that the old ones haven’t? And how long might we have to wait to find out?
By creating certainty about what can be built where the proposed changes to the planning system will reduce risk for developers and provide greater confidence for them to proceed with projects. It will also provide flexibility about what can be built where. This should take the pressure off local planning authorities and streamline the delivery of new homes. It will take at least a few years for the impact to be seen, although it will depend on the detail of the plans, some of which are yet to be clarified.
3. At a time of seismic and sudden consumer attitudes to where and how they want to live, is it time to think more radically than even today’s overhaul?
Planning policy faces the difficulty of striking the right balance between public opinion about development near them and public opinion about the availability of suitable, affordable homes. These two sets of opinions are difficult to reconcile. It is often the same people who object to development that call for more and better homes. While more radical changes might ultimately be needed, these latest announcements by the Government appear to be a welcome step in the right direction while not being so radical that they will be unacceptable.