New proposals with cross-party support show there's light at the end of the tunnelby Toby Lloyd / February 8, 2018 / Leave a comment
We’ve all become accustomed to the housing crisis and there are plenty of statistics that illustrate its depth. Here are two: there are more than 300,000 people currently homeless in the UK; and the number of social homes we built last year was the lowest since the second world war.
The government has acknowledged the problem, and routinely refers to “our broken housing market.” But until recently there had been little sign of the systemic reform needed to fix it, just more targets and “initiatives” that haven’t added up to much.
That might finally be starting to change.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, in particular, has staked his name on transforming our housing system. Speaking to the Times last week, he didn’t pull any punches in targeting developers who sit on land and wait for its value to rise instead of building homes on it. “There is definitely some hoarding of land by developers,” he said. “The government needs to play a more active, more muscular role.”
A similarly robust tone has been struck by former Conservative Minister for Government Policy Oliver Letwin, who is leading a year-long review into “land banking” and the delay in homes being built after planning permission is already granted. “There’s definitely an issue… The delay on these big sites between the time when they’re completely ready to start work and the time when they’ve finished the last house is quite considerable,” he said.
Our research shows that Letwin is correct: the number of planning permissions granted has been accelerating far beyond the number of homes actually being built. For the thousands of homeless families suffering in temporary accommodation, or the millions of renters having to shell out huge chunks of their income for eye-wateringly expensive rents, fundamental change is needed now.
New measures to disincentivise unnecessary landbanking—such as levying taxes on unbuilt planning permissions—would be welcome, but not enough on their own.
Thankfully, there are other housebuilding options on the table. The government is currently re-writing the rules which dictate how homes are planned and delivered. Planning policy doesn’t often get the pulse racing, but it should: this is what determines the shape of the communities we live in.
We hope this rewrite will close a particularly murky and damaging loophole that undermines our ability to get affordable homes built. The “viability loophole” allows developers to argue down their affordable housing commitments if they…