A ‘Once and for All’ Solution in the Housing White Paper – What to Expect

Javid is sounding very bold in the Sun talking of a ‘once for all’ solution to the Housing Crisis and ‘very radical’ changes to Planning.

Of course ever since Lord Falconer every minister has talked about changes to the planning system and the extent of change has in many cases been counterproductive to delivery.

This is different though to the last round under Boles and Pickles – driven by an ideological urge towards ‘none planning’ and freeing up developers from restrictions. an expectation that spontaneous neighborhood planning would solve everything and a contradictory desire to block Green Belt reviews caused by regional strategies.

Even the main proponents of this NPPF regime John Rhodes and Alex Morton have criticised it as if it was not of their making and advocated the kinds of changes that critics like myself have long advocated.

So where next.

Well with the continued recovery from the Great Depression and the appeals driven increase in planning permissions things have improved.

190 odd thousand is not far off the low ball 200,000 a year target set by government.

The government might be encouraged to raise it to the 240,000 or so to meet household formation, the 260,000 or so to meet suppressed household formation and some of the backlog, the 300,000 or so to maintain housing affordability at current levels, or even the 320,000 or so to bring house prices in real terms to 2010 levels within 20 years.

The HBF would claim that with a 3 year development pipeline 190,000 completions is the same as 190,000 permissions in 2014, but that includes permitted development and change of use which doesn’t need three years, the evidence is now pretty clear, even taking into account pipeline that there is landbanking and drip feeding and housebuilders themselves have said they will struggle to exceed 200,000 a year.

Also completions may have hit a plateau with declining affordable housebuilding, starter homes were expected to fill the gap and lever to more housing but they have been a flop in delivery terms, completions rates have fallen in the last quarters following Brexit and some change of use sources such as industrial conversions have inevitable limits to supply.  Hence 2016 may be as good as it gets showing the maximum potential of an oligoplistic housing industry under a build what you like where you like system.

So what might we see in the housing White Paper, if we were to fill the gap between (say) 180,000/year and a White Paper Target of say 270,000/year this is undoubtedly breachable, and there are bodies such as Shelter with costed action plans of how to do so.

Clearly the approach of Javid is not that of Shapps cynically claiming to meet statistics manipulated by himself notwithstanding the growing housing shortage.  So I think Javid will set a target which would palpebly reduce teh housing shortage rather than reduce teh rate at which it gets worse, so that means something significantly over 250,000 a year.

Im sure civil servants will point out three things

  1. In the post war period such development rates have only been met when there has been significant state provision of affordable housing and building of New Towns
  2. Internationally the countries that have done most to bridge the affordability gap – like Turkey, South Korea and Singapore have strong state agencies assembling land, building infrastructure and promoting modular infrastructure, also ensuring land value capture.
  3. Countries that build more homes per head of population, like Canada, France, Germany all have zoning and subdivision systems and not development control systems like the UK.

The third point has definitely been grasped by the government and I have been gently urging them in this direction for years. I hope this time there is a much greater push, not just for housing and not just for new sites but for upzoning of existing urban areas.  The research is clear cities like Tokoyo that allow upwards density redevelopment dont have the affordability problems like English cities do

Javid has already hinted that there should be some modest redefinition of Green Belt boundaries around Transport hubs and to some extent this is happening already.  The somewhat outdated pre soundness pre DTC rules under which the Mayor of London operates however allows him a veto and this must change.

The big missing component in meeting housing need is the overspill from London and Brum – as the LPEG report makes clear – with no incentive under the DTC to plug the gap.

Oxford-MK-Cambridge is critical here as it covers both.

One thing the White Paper could do is commission a series of corridor studies around London and Brum – perhaps chaired by the Mayor of London and the work being cordinated by Andrew Adonis.  That might just be enough short of old style regional planning to get through.

I would also be very surprised if a revision of the New Town Act was not announced, soe some provision for land value capture – so much simpler than PGS or CIL.  The Act could also cover major Garden Town extensions to existing towns.

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