Boom in executive homes may cause housing shortage

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The dream of the executive home - detached with four bedrooms - has lost none of its potency and is spreading around the country.

Despite a shifting social fabric in which the size of the average family is becoming smaller, because of divorce and a boom in single-person households, more detached homes are being built than ever before.

Figures from the Halifax, Britain's biggest mortgage lender, show many of the new executive homes are being built in areas such as the Midlands, East Anglia and the South-west.

In 1992, 41 per cent of the new houses sold in Britain were detached but, by 2002, the figure was 46 per cent. And while a decade ago the majority of houses completed had two to three bedrooms (59 per cent), the balance has shifted and most (66 per cent) now have three or more bedrooms.

The report cites as a reason the steep rise in house prices - which means that larger houses become more lucrative for developers - and the rising aspirations of homebuyers.

However, the social reality is different, says Mark Hemingway, a spokesman for the Halifax. He said greater numbers of smaller homes were needed: "The time is coming when the demand for one-bedroom homes will exceed anything else," he said.

The report warns that if the pattern of house-building does not change, there will be shortages of suitable housing stock, which will drive house prices higher still. "Growth in the numbers of households in the UK has been a little over 200,000 per annum, indicating that new house-building has not kept pace with the numbers of new households."

In particular, developers appear to be less interested in compact dwellings. In 1990-91, about 20 per cent of new houses had one bedroom, but by 2000-01 this had dropped below 7 per cent.

The increase in the number of detached homes does not derive from the affluent South-east, but comes from the Midlands, East Anglia and Wales. The proportion of detached homes built in the South-east has decreased by 1 per cent over the decade, and in London it has remained static. Yet in the East Midlands, the percentage has risen by 13 points over 10 years to 66 per cent in 2002.

In the West Midlands the proportion of detached homes built rose by 12 percentage points, and in East Anglia by 13 percentage points. In the South-west figures are up 5 points to 43 per cent. But way ahead of the field is Wales, where figures have rocketed from 38 per cent to an astonishing 89 per cent - meaning nine out of ten new houses sold in the principality last year were detached.

"These are areas which have had high-density housing in the past and they are rebalancing their housing stock," said Pierre Williams of the House Builders' Federation.

But Martin Ellis, chief economist at the Halifax, warned: "If the pace of new house build continues, there will be a major shortage of homes in the UK by 2021."