The Housing and Planning Bill, winging its way through Parliament is proving less than popular, whilst a series of amendments attempt to temper the worst excesses, there is a fundamental flaw in the Bill and that is the very policy premise upon which it is based.
For a number of years successive governments have sort to rely upon market driven solutions to the housing crisis, wedded to the idea of a ‘home owning democracy’. In reality, we have many people on low and middle incomes who will never be able to afford their own home and have no real interest in doing so, yet we have failed to support an affordable rental sector.
The scale of the crisis, as outlined in APSE’s research with the TCPA, ‘Housing the nation’, means that if proposals contained within the Bill come to fruition then we risk losing even more affordable homes to rent through the extension of the ‘Right to Buy’. Meanwhile waiting lists for council and social rented homes head towards 5 million. It is clear from our research that we simply cannot meet the future and current housing needs of the UK by relying upon a failed public policy, which excludes councils and the social rented sector.
A welcome intervention in the housing debate came recently from Civitas in their report ‘The Housing Question: Overcoming the shortage of homes’. The report argues that the supply of housing by the private sector has only ever been sufficient when it is topped up by public investment. It is not in the interests of developers to hugely increase supply if it reduces profits. This is one of the reasons why the private sector has never developed the capacity to build more than 150,000 new homes annually in the UK. At a time when we need to be building 250,000 annually, not only to tackle any backlog but just to meet current demand, the current policy approach is hugely flawed.
What history tells us is that public investment in housing allows homes to be rented to those on the lowest incomes. Councils and social landlords building new homes also has a moderating effect on rent and house prices. Most importantly public house building enables realistic growth in the overall numbers of homes being built – the only achievable way we can meet our housing needs.
To tackle our housing crisis we need to demolish current public policy on housing – then maybe we will get Britain building again.