The main party conferences are over, and the latest Government reshuffle has quickly faded from the headlines. Housing is a serious issue in need of attention but ministers do not appear to have a clear strategy for solving the problem.
Sadly, the situation in 2013 is like any other year. It has been about a quarter of a century since the UK was building anywhere near enough homes to meet its needs. We are currently at around 100,000 per annum, while the estimate of need stands at 230,000 – not including the severe backlog.
This graph from the FT shows the huge decline in housebuilding since the 1950s, 60s and 70s:
Mark Prisk, the outgoing housing minister, was very effective at making things happen according to many in the sector. But he’s been moved to make way for a more media savvy operator, which appears to be unnecessary disruption for a policy which is driven by No 10 and the Treasury in any case. It is the Government’s role to create the right environment for new homes to be delivered but locally and nationally, it is failing.
Despite the Localism agenda and more supposed freedom for local authorities, councils are unlikely to get heavily involved in housebuilding ever again due to financial and capacity issues. Conversely, our councils in their role as local planning authorities are sometimes actively obstructing new development. This happens through short term political decisions to reject schemes in the face of local objections or by not getting their local plans in order and allocating housing land in the right places. Meanwhile, housing associations do good work, but are generally reliant on others for funding and represent a small proportion of the new homes that are built.
Therefore, the only people who can really solve the national housing crisis are the private sector. It is up to developers to push the case for new homes and infrastructure – corporately and locally.
We cannot wait another quarter century for local and national government to get their house in order.