How can we really tackle the housing crisis?

From increasing credit to unhelpful side-shows like the extensions debacle, it's clear the Government needs new ideas on housing. So what should they do?

Share

The Government has rightly made house building one of its top priorities. The problem is the Coalition isn’t being entirely clear about the problem or the solution. Some individual ministers and civil servants grasp that the current system is not working. But there is no reforming direction or narrative. There is only a muddle.

Firstly, the argument that the housing crisis can be solved by increasing credit is simply false. New mortgage lending doubled from 2001 to 2008. Home ownership fell from 71 per cent to 68 per cent. The amount of new housing space created each year remained the same. Understandable specific concerns about first time buyers lending can be partially and more safely dealt with by changing banking regulations.   

Secondly, promises to give more power to local people are at best half-fulfilled. Planning inspectors remain able to override local councils. Local people and new homes must comply with huge levels of regulation and local council bureaucrat diktats. So local people have little to no say over how new development looks in their area.

Finally, there are unnecessary and unhelpful side-shows like the extensions debacle last week, which stripped immediate neighbours of their powers to object to major changes next door, and which even most supporters of planning liberalisation felt went too far. 

This muddle is simply not working. So what should the Government do instead?

Firstly, they are right to focus on planning. Only 10 per cent of England has actually been built on. The idea we are about to run out of land is laughable. But just because only a little of England is developed doesn’t make ugly development acceptable. Politicians need to realise local people must be brought onside. If each reform was judged against this template, much could be done in two years.

To start with neighbourhood plans can continue to be strengthened. Local people should easily be able to amend council rules if they don’t suit their area. National regulation needs to be almost completely stripped away. Bad developments should be able to be blocked, not bulldozed through by planning inspectors. Incentives for local people should be increased and also allowed to be spent on whatever local people think their area needs.

Councils that fail to hit their own housing targets should have to release land to local people who want to custom-build. The Government could use this custom-build model to double the amount of new homes to over 200,000 by 2014, boosting construction.

The idea of forcing down housing from the top through a broken 1940s planning system is not the answer. It will be a failure economically, aesthetically and politically. It will neither deliver the numbers or quality of homes we need, nor electoral success.

Sticking to the current top down approach is akin to driving full steam ahead into a tree. Fortunately there’s still time to swerve onto a better path that will get Britain building in a way that doesn’t annoy local people or involve starting from scratch.

Alex Morton is head of housing and planning at Policy Exchange

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Bookkeeper

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This accountancy firm have an e...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Developer / Mobile Apps / Java / C# / HTML 5 / JS

£17000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Junior Mobile Application Devel...

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?