At the start of Britain's most ambitious housebuilding programme for a generation, housing minister Yvette Cooper talks about the balance between quantity and ecological quality, eco-towns—and magic wallpaperby Rowan Moore / December 22, 2007 / Leave a comment
Rowan Moore: Housing is now higher up the British political agenda than it has been for a very long time. The government believes that an awful lot of houses have to be built very quickly, and the question this raises is: does this mean we will go back to the instruments that were used in the past, such as new towns, planning from the centre, major public investment in creating settlements at a large scale? Are we going back to the 1950s and 1960s?
Yvette Cooper: We need a very significant increase in housebuilding. Over the last 30 years of the 20th century, we saw a 30 per cent increase in the number of households and yet a 50 per cent drop in the level of housebuilding, and that’s clearly unsustainable. We are building more new homes than at any time since 1990—last year 185,000 were added to existing stock—but it is clearly not enough to keep up with rising demand, which is why we have set a target of 240,000 new homes a year by 2016, or 3m additional homes by 2020. But we need to make sure that we build those homes in a sustainable way, not just in terms of carbon emissions but also in terms of local communities. Part of that is recognising that every community has to build more homes, right across the country, and it should be for local councils and communities to decide where these homes should go within their area.
RM: So without exception all communities everywhere have to build more homes?
YC: One of the things that has changed compared to even five or six years ago is the fact that we are seeing serious pressures on affordability, as well as household growth, in the north as well as the south. As recently as the end of the 1990s, a lot of the northern regions and cities were experiencing population decline.
RM: So does that mean demolition of housing stock in the north is not going to happen?
YC: Some areas still suffer from low demand, like Hull and east Lancashire, but other areas have seen the problem change. Look at the Yorkshire region as a whole—the gap between the number of new households and the level of new housebuilding is bigger than it is in the southeast. Little wonder you…