Much like a typical planning application, the housing white paper has already become mired in delay.
The policy document, a central plank of Theresa May’s government, was originally due out last year and then put back until January. The smart money is now on publication on 6 February although that date remains unconfirmed.
The white paper may be unpublished but it is already causing political waves. Allies of Sajid Javid, the secretary of state communities and local government, claim he was frustrated that early drafts were deemed too radical by the Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, well-placed sources contend that the early blueprint did not contain enough detail for May, and that she sent it back to be beefed up into a deliverable policy.
The confusion is a hallmark of housing policy reform. Mark Farmer, author of a recent government report on UK construction, recently told City A.M. that the planning elements of the white paper will be something of a hot-potato among the Tories, with some MPs determined to protect their constituencies from the disruption of construction work.
However, given the current state of the UK housing market the government has no choice but to make difficult choices if it wants to meet its ambitious target of building 1m new homes by 2020.
Instinctively, Javid knows this. So what will the white paper say? Javid has shown a real interest in modular construction methods and it is hoped the blueprint will contain practical help for smaller developers such as Pockit, maker of affordable homes.
But pre-fab housing alone will not solve the housing crisis. Among all the schemes, incentives, consultations and government support, a straightforward solution exists: just let people build.
Farmer believes the white paper’s development policies are likely to focus on brownfield sites on the edge of urban areas. But there is another option: building on the green belt.
There’s a good chance that when you picture the green belt, it’s scenes of parkland, forests, and wetlands, thronging with animal and birdlife, that come to mind. But research by London First found 22 per cent of the Greater London Authority’s area is so-called green belt land.
That’s around 35,000 hectares. Could Javid really slaughter the sacred cow of the green belt? Now that really would be radical.
It may be unpalatable to some (shire-dwelling Tories, in particular) but without bold policies such as these, targets will be unattainable and the housing crisis will only deepen.