In his New Year message, Prime Minister David Cameron promised to ‘get to grips’ with four key issues, one being home ownership. This included a pledge to build 200,000 starter homes, and to quote Cameron: ‘if local councils can’t get their act together and build the homes their areas need, we [the government] will intervene directly’.
All well and good. Much is to be applauded if this is to be the case, but the government needs to go beyond the rhetoric and deliver – and it must examine options to achieve these new-build goals.
Let’s take London, for example. It’s fair to say that the capital has suffered most from house price increases in the UK and appears to be in the midst of a housing crisis. Unsurprisingly, the Greater London Authority suggests that the capital is ‘struggling to deliver’ sufficient homes but predicts that the that the population will increase by 1.5m to 10m by 2030. If you do the sums, this means that up to 60,000 new homes each year are needed. That’s no small ask when you consider that last year only 27,000 homes were built.
So what’s to be done? In an article for Mortgage Solutions last year I discussed the possible solutions, from the development of existing infrastructure (converting offices, shops and even garages into living accommodation) to the creation of denser development in inner London. One critical recommendation by the London Housing Commission is to develop greenbelt land around the capital to ease the crisis. The commission has called for urgent identification and release of land that is ripe for development.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is also lobbying the government to create more schemes to encourage building on unused land and has called upon England’s wealthiest landowners to assist by releasing land for affordable homes.
I wholeheartedly support these initiatives but my concern is the length of time required. How can we speed up the planning and approval process? We need a comprehensive housing strategy which doesn’t just make promises but addresses the how and the when, too.