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 Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The old 1,000 Greek drachma notes and current 20 euros  

Greece debt crisis: History shows 'new drachma' is nothing to fear

Ben Chu
David Cameron leaves Number 10 to speak at Parliament  

Tunisia attack: To prevent more bloodshed we must accept that containment has not worked

Patrick Cockburn
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue