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To fix the housing crisis we need fresh thinking

To meet ambitious homebuilding targets the process must be revamped

By Bob Blackman  

In the United Kingdom right now, we have an acute shortage of homes and properties which meet the demands of our population.

By homes, I mean somewhere people can lay foundations for the rest of their lives, engage with and become a member of the community, and prosper. Building communities—which include well thought through infrastructure and person-minded planning—is integral to fixing the housing crisis.

The primary areas which I feel are important if we are to resolve the housing crisis are: freeing up land for development, bolstering local authorities, and giving housing associations and developers incentives to commence building.

According to Full Fact, upwards of 88 per cent of the United Kingdom is not developed on. However, that does not automatically mean it is available for development as the law stands. Some parts of the UK are protected as part of the Green Belt: in a government report from September 2017, that land was estimated at 1.6m hectares.

I oppose ruining our beautiful countryside, of which we should be very proud. We instead need to focus building on brownfield sites and take away the perverse financial incentive of building on undeveloped land, that dramatically increases in value following the granting of planning permission.

All too often a proposed development is met with opposition from existing residents. If improvements to local infrastructure are included in the plans—paid for by the developer—would that not help those already living in the area? This would also feed into the previous point made about building communities.

Local authorities are, on the whole, staffed by good people fulfilling a variety of important roles. Planning departments are a case in point: teams with a thorough knowledge of planning legislation and building regulations, yet in a lot of cases they are simply overworked and thus they come across as harried and obtuse.

More resources should be allocated to planning and development departments at local authorities across the UK, as we cannot meet homebuilding targets if developers cannot make progress with individual local authorities. Equally, a thorough shake up of existing pathways is required as the needs of the nation exceed ideas at present.

Radical thought is sorely needed and my colleague Nick Boles—MP for Grantham and Stamfordand a former planning minister in the coalition years—repeatedly makes the case for original and new ideas when we talk about solving the housing dilemma. Siobhan McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden, is another colleague who has brought forward fresh thought and made an impassioned case for London-centric planning reform.

While I do not wholly agree with their ideas, we do need fresh thinking on how to bring forward new housing developments.

We have to incentivise housing associations to build more homes. At present there are too many associations content to manage their existing stock built using government grants; housing associations are required to keep this funding on their accounts as loans. The government should allow these to be written off after a 10-year period, subject to the funding being used to build new housing. If they refuse, then the government must demand that the funding be returned and allocated to those that will.

We also need to encourage the creation of new small-scale developers. Since the 2008 financial crash we have been dependent on a small number of large-scale developers who, naturally, ration development to maximise profit. The government needs to provide tax incentives for new small-scale developers to commence work.

Evidently, the current process is stale and policymakers and decision makers have to work harder to fulfill the homebuilding needs of the nation.

Attitudes and ideas must be refreshed.

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